Thursday, December 9, 2010

18 Municipalities in Penna. Prohibit Discrimination -- When Will Venango County Communities Join The List? Oil City, Franklin, What Do Ya Say?

Lower Merion Township Becomes 18th Municipality In Pa. To Ban Discrimination

by Cheryl Allison for The Main Line Times:

Lower Merion Township tonight became the 18th municipality in Pennsylvania to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The board of commissioners, following a public hearing on a third draft of an anti-discrimination ordinance, voted unanimously to adopt the legislation.

The measure affects discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

It also creates a seven-member local Human Relations Commission to receive, evaluate and investigate complaints, and potentially impose penalties – including fines up to $10,000 – in some cases.

For more than half a century, discrimination based on a number of other factors, including race, religion, sex, gender, age and disability, has been prohibited under Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act. The law has not provided such protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and efforts to extend it to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens has so far been unsuccessful.

The state law, however, does not preclude local municipalities from adopting their own anti-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT individuals, and, beginning in the 1980s with Philadelphia, 17 have done so.

The movement toward an ordinance in Lower Merion began this summer, when a 21-year-old Bala Cynwyd resident, Jason Landau Goodman, first asked commissioners in a public meeting to draft legislation.

Goodman also announced the formation of a new organization, Equality Lower Merion, supporting a local ordinance.

Over the past several months, three draft versions of an ordinance have been discussed, leading to tonight’s public hearing.

The ordinance has broadened in scope to some extent, in that it calls for the new commission to receive complaints of discrimination on any of the factors also covered by the state law. Any cases that cannot be resolved by initial mediation on factors other than sexual orientation or identity, however, are to be referred to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The Lower Merion ordinance lays out a progression of steps, beginning with mediation and ending with a formal public hearing and order, by which complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexuality may be resolved.

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