While the debate over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights continues at the national level, one Penn student is pushing for LBGT equality locally.
College senior Jason Goodman — a resident of the Lower Merion area — has spent the last year advocating for the passage of a local ordinance. It aims to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Today, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners will vote around 6 p.m. to approve the new ordinance. It is widely expected to pass.
“I’m overwhelmed with pride in my hometown,” said Goodman, who is the vice chairman for political affairs of the Lambda Alliance, Penn’s umbrella organization for LGBT groups.
He further explained he was pleased to see the community “coming together on such a highly important issue.”
Federal and state laws have long banned discrimination based on race, age, religion, ethnicity and disability. However, states have mixed records on protecting individuals from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Twenty-one states and 16 municipal and county governments in Pennsylvania have enacted laws protecting members of the LGBT community from discrimination.
So far, neither the federal government nor the Pennsylvania state government has taken action on this issue.
If passed, the Lower Merion ordinance would set up a commission to send complaints to the state government, with the exception of those complaints relating to sexual orientation which the local government would retain.
According to Penn Democrats President and College sophomore Isabel Friedman, the divide between state and local action on non-discrimination policies is due in part to the different political composition between the state and Lower Merion.
Noting the vast difference between the Democratic areas in Philadelphia and the large conservative base of rural voters in central Pennsylvania, Friedman said, “People call [Pennsylvania] ‘Pennsyltucky.’”
Friedman, a Lower Merion resident herself, explained that the rural, conservative base in Pennsylvania is part of what limits the prospect of a statewide ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Goodman — who is the vice-chairman for political affairs of the Lambda Alliance — focused strictly on the local level, avoiding the state altogether.
“The action in Lower Merion is important, a perfect example of thinking globally and acting locally,” Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center President Bob Schoenberg wrote in an e-mail. “If similar steps are taken by other small communities, the cumulative impact will be immense.”
The ordinance has been delayed a number of times over four months. Since the first draft was released on Sept. 10, the law has undergone two additional rounds of revision.
The wording was finalized by Nov. 10, when the Board unanimously agreed to hold a final vote on the ordinance.
However, passage of the new law will not necessarily mean a sudden flood of incoming LGBT discriminatory complaints. New Hope, a northeast Philadelphia borough, passed a similar law in 2002 but has yet to handle such a complaint.
“The act in and of itself is a deterrent,” Goodman said, explaining that not many community members want to go through a lengthy court proceeding.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.