On January 24, Chambersburg Borough Council voted 7-3 to repeal the LGBTQ nondiscrimination law that was passed in September 2021. The reason for the law’s hasty demise was that the council’s political majority shifted dramatically because of the 2021 election, and the new members decided the law had to go. Chambersburg, located 52 miles southwest of Harrisburg, is the first municipality in the state to reverse nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.
According to ABC27, around 60 constituents spoke at the January 24 council meeting, with all but five or six in favor of keeping the law. Council members who supported the law said it was an important symbol about where the community stands. Comments from the council members who repealed the law ranged from touting its lack of explicit protections to comparing discrimination against LGBTQ people with discrimination against overweight people.
Let’s address both of those severely misguided lines of thought.
Shows of support for the LGBTQ community, even symbolic ones, have always been vital. Rainbow flags in windows, bumper stickers, supportive posts on social media; they all signify acceptance. Such shows often lead others to do the same, and they serve as deterrents to people who might think they could discriminate against an LGBTQ person without facing consequences (social or legal).
There’s a reason that the LGBTQ civil rights movement was launched with symbolic gestures. The Annual Reminder marches in front of Independence Hall did not change any legislation. Stonewall was not a bill brought up in city council. But they were necessary steps in the road to acceptance. Legislation never happens first. The public has to show their support, show that the issue matters to them. It doesn’t matter if the Chambersburg law had little physical consequences for people who broke it. The point is that constituents knew it existed, and that alone was enough to make people reconsider discriminating against the LGBTQ community.
As for the second council member, the one who spoke about the discrimination they faced for being overweight and how they did not feel the need for special protections in that regard, here’s a question to them: have you ever been fired from your job because of your weight? Because other people have been, and some courts are now dealing with the issue of whether the Americans with Disabilities Act covers body size. Clearly there is a need for special protections there, whether the council member believes it or not.
They bring up a good point about indifference, though, which includes the LGBTQ community. A lot of LGBTQ people have lived their lives without facing the same level of discrimination as some of their peers. And those people who haven’t faced as much adversity might not feel as pressing a need for to fight for such legal protections. They might not care about attending rallies, or writing their elected officials, or signing petitions, or donating to organizations. They might read a news story about discrimination and go about their day. And thinking like that is what leads to a reversal of rights.
The more people who are casual about the movement for LGBTQ equality, the more chance that something like what happened in Chambersburg happens elsewhere. All it takes is one election. Think about how many LGBTQ protections were rolled back when Republicans took control of Washington in 2017.
We need constant shows of support, symbolic and tangible, from as many people in as many regions as possible. We need organized advocacy and we also need neighbors simply speaking out against discrimination. When people in one region lose vital protections, those in neighboring regions are immediately at risk. And that risk can spread exponentially quickly.
It happened in Chambersburg. It happened in Washington. It can happen anywhere.