By Tim Cwiek
The borough of Gettysburg this week became the 63rd municipality in Pennsylvania to enact an LGBT-inclusive antibias ordinance. On Dec. 14, in a vote of 7-0, the Democrat controlled borough council passed the new ordinance, effective immediately.
“We did something really important,” said Councilmember Matthew Moon, an ardent supporter of the ordinance, after the unanimous vote. “I’m really proud of all of you.”
Local businessperson Chad-Alan Carr commended the council for working so hard on the ordinance for the past 14 months. “That [unanimous vote] was unexpected,” Carr told the council. “I’m so thankful to you for that. As we end a horrible year, it’s a light for many in Gettysburg.”
Gettysburg is a small town in Adams County, about 100 miles west of Philadelphia, with about 7,700 residents. Its geographic boundaries encompass Gettysburg National Cemetery and part of the Gettysburg Battlefield. In 1863, during the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg was considered a turning point in that conflict, paving the way for a Union victory two years later. More recently, it’s been the site of multiple protests and counter-protests relating to racial justice.
The new ordinance covers bias acts within Gettysburg in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations and commercial property. The ordinance has jurisdiction over federal property within the borough, such as General Lee’s Headquarters and Gettysburg National Cemetery — where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
The ordinance also has jurisdiction over Gettysburg College adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield, which is a private liberal arts institution with about 2,600 students.
Alleged bias victims may file a complaint with the borough manager’s office within 60 days of the alleged bias act. The complaint will be referred to a five-member Gettysburg Human Relations Commission, to be appointed in January. If the complaint cannot be resolved through a voluntary mediation process, an aggrieved party may file suit in Adams County Court of Common Pleas.
In previous meetings, council members debated whether to include LGBT status as a stand-alone protected category within the ordinance. The council’s solicitor, Harold A. Eastman, advised against doing so. Instead, LGBT protections are spelled out under the definition for “sex,” which is a stand-alone protected category in the ordinance.
Council members were asked by PGN about the ordinance’s 60-day filing deadline for antibias complaints — which is shorter than deadlines in state or federal antibias laws. They brushed aside the question, saying they would take the matter “under advisement.”
After the meeting, attorney Justin F. Robinette expressed concern about the 60-day deadline, though he commended the council for passing the ordinance. “They’re going in the wrong direction with that strict deadline,” Robinette told PGN. “I just hope bias victims take heart and know that even if they miss the 60-day local deadline for pursuing a complaint, they can still pursue a claim with the state Human Relations Commission within 180 days or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days if the employer has 15 or more employees.”
Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of Pennsylvania Youth Congress, praised the ordinance’s enactment. “Let this vote be a lightning rod to Harrisburg that they must take action on LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation,” Goodman said, in a statement. “When communities including Gettysburg are stepping up, it’s beyond time for our General Assembly to do the same.”
Goodman added: “We are extremely proud of Gettysburg Borough Council for taking decisive action to protect LGBTQ individuals in their community from discrimination. We have appreciated the opportunity to work with them since this proposal was conceived — through this evening, upon passage. We will continue to support local communities adopting these protections until our General Assembly addresses this urgent issue of protecting vulnerable LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.”
Chad Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, echoed similar sentiments. “The passage of this LGBT-inclusive antibias ordinance is historical and monumental,” Lassiter said, in an email. “The Gettysburg Borough [Council] should be commended for their social justice efforts. We must all continue to create ‘brave spaces’ throughout the Commonwealth that speak to a Pennsylvania free of discrimination.”
Tim Cwiek is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.