Springfield Township Takes A Stand Against Discrimination

Posted on October 17, 2011


News/Erin Agnew

Since November 2010, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners has been drafting the Springfield Township Human Relations Ordinance. This ordinance eliminates discrimination against anyone in the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning) community in the vein of housing, employment, and commercial property ownership.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1997 does protect from “discrimination against individuals or groups by reason of their race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide or support animals because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap”. However, until last month, discrimination based on sexual orientation was a legal offense in Springfield Township.
In the series of monthly meetings predating the passage of the Ordinance, its contents and viability were hotly contested.  Major conflicts were initially evident between those who see this matter as one for the state government, and those who would prefer it to be handled right here in Springfield.  As it became clear that the Ordinance would be considered at the township level, debate between those in support of the bill and those entirely against it became the central issue of each meeting.
One local religious leader sent an open letter to the Board of Commissioners, accompanied by six pages of endorsement signatures.  The letter argued that this bill undermined the Township’s respect for its religious community by seeming to favor the “progressive wishes of society” over the traditional religious stance on the lifestyle of the LGBT community. In doing so, this letter proposed, the Board of Commissioners would “lessen the historic place and influence of the Church in the lives of the populace”.
Diane Gramley, President of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania (AFAP),  sent a testimonial to the Board, which outlines that the Ordinance is too effective in protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation or expression.  Gramley states that the phrasing of the bill also extends protection to immoral or illegal sexual action, citing incest and pedophilia as examples. “You say impossible, those actions are illegal,” continues her article.  “Engaging in homosexual acts was illegal in Pennsylvania from William Penn’s day until the mid 1990’s.”
Gramley’s second point focuses on the necessity, or lack thereof, of this Ordinance. She states, “This ordinance is simply to overcome a perception that Springfield is not gay-friendly. I believe the fact that there have been no reported cases of discrimination speaks to Springfield Township’s acceptance of homosexuals, bisexuals and transgenders.”
In favor of the Human Relations Ordinance, religious leaders and common citizens again stepped forward, both in person at Board meetings, and through open letters and formal statements.  In a letter to The Springfield Sun, a local reverend and his wife rose to “enthusiastically support the passage of this ordinance.”  Their letter drew parallels between the Commission on Human Relations in Springfield Township, created by the Ordinance, and those existing on the County and State levels. They closed their letter with hopes of increased civic involvement, saying, “We urge our neighbors and all township residents and businesses to support passage of this ordinance and to let your commissioner know of your support.”
One Wyndmoor resident focused her letter to the Board on statistics and facts regarding the LGBT community, and the effect of these truths on the everyday life of an LGBT citizen of Springfield Township.  Her letter emphatically informed the board “that being gay or bisexual or transgendered is more than sexuality. Just as one’s heterosexuality makes up only a part of one’s existence, so are LGBT people more than the sum of their sexual attractions.”  She cited the lack of federal or state protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and expression and called for action on this issue, stating, “It’s time we sent a message to Harrisburg and Washington that we stand against hate and ignorance.”
The Springfield Township Human Relations Ordinance was passed on September 12 and will work to eliminate discrimination against the LGBT community in two parts.  It establishes a Human Relations Commission which, with the consent of both sides of a case, can mediate cases of alleged discrimination against any group protected under the PA Human Rights Act, now inclusive of LGBT citizens.     The Ordinance also enables local courts to hear cases of alleged discrimination based on sexual identity or expression, cases which were previously not entertained or resolved.
Each side of the debate over the Springfield Township Human Relations Ordinance presented extensive, articulate, and heartfelt arguments for its cause. The result is an effective and clear piece of legislation which respects both points of view as much as possible.

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