Downingtown Adopts Non-Discrimination Ordinance

At their Wednesday, March 19th meeting, the Downingtown Borough Council adopted a non-discrimination ordinance inclusive of protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC) congratulates the Downingtown community, Mayor Joshua Maxwell, and the borough councilmembers who led the efforts for the ordinance’s passage.

Downingtown has become the 33rd municipality in Pennsylvania to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance. The small borough of approximately 8,000 people is the second municipality in Chester County to ratify this type of local law. The Borough of West Chester, located just six miles from Downingtown, enacted a non-discrimination ordinance in September 2006.

Without an inclusive statewide non-discrimination law, Pennsylvanians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), or those perceived as LGBT, can be legally discriminated against. Countless LGBT Pennsylvanians have been fired, evicted from their homes, or denied a public accommodation.

The ordinance was adopted in a 3-2 vote, with Councilmembers Ann Feldman (D-East) and Nick Winkler (R-West) opposing the measure. There was over one hour of discussion between the councilmembers before the final vote.

Only two residents spoke during the public comment period, both of whom were in favor of the ordinance’s passage. Karen Steinbach shared that upon learning about the ordinance she “was reminded of how proud [she is] to be a member of this community.” She asserted that “When it comes to equality, there should be no price tag. No objections. There should be no politics. There should only be humanity. We should all be able to agree that discrimination has no place here.”

Councilmembers Feldman and Winkler repeatedly spoke about issues they believe exist with the ordinance’s power. Councilperson Feldman stated her belief that “this is outside our authority and ability to protect these people.” She called the ordinance “premature” as HB 300 “is already on its way – we would be wise to not do this yet.”

Downingtown’s state representative, first-term Rep. Becky Corbin (R-155), is not currently a co-sponsor of HB 300, the state’s leading non-discrimination legislation. The counterpart bill in the State Senate, SB 300, is co-sponsored by the borough’s Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19). At the previous borough council meeting, several Councilmembers suggested that they send letters to their legislators in support of HB 300 and SB 300. LGBT non-discrimination efforts have been stalled for nearly 40 years in Pennsylvania. The first non-discrimination bill to include sexual orientation as a protected class was introduced into the General Assembly in 1976.

The dialogue became more pointed as the meeting progressed. In discussing a scenario when an organization would prohibit women from attending an event in the borough, Councilperson Winkler exclaimed he was “worried that long-standing things in our borough may be affected by this.” Mayor Maxwell quickly shot back in response saying “I’m hopeful long-standing things in the borough are affected by this.”

Councilperson Feldman later asked: “Are you looking to encourage people to utilize this? To complain? Because that’s what it sounded like.” Council President Anthony Gazzerro, a proponent of the ordinance, responded by saying “that’s a ridiculous question. Nobody wants to encourage discrimination. If someone is being discriminated against, they should come forward. And people today are being discriminated against who can’t come forward. They can’t do anything.

PSEC supports the adoption of local non-discrimination ordinances in order to protect all citizens from discrimination. Currently 32% of Pennsylvania’s population (4.1 million citizens) lives in the 33 municipalities with inclusive non-discrimination laws.

For further information on local non-discrimination ordinances in Pennsylvania you may visit the website of the Suburban and Rural Alliance (SARA) of Pennsylvania.