How one man’s perseverance led a Pa. borough to adopt its LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance

The county courthouse in Huntingdon County, Pa. (Flickr Commons)

By Frank Pizzoli

Twist the title of a popular jazz song from ‘day’ to ‘What a difference a gay makes.’ And you have Anthony Bullett.

Anthony Bullett and Huntingdon Mayor David Wessels (Photo via The Central Voice)

Bullett spent nearly a decade pushing for an LGBTQ-inclusive ordinance in Huntington, Pa., the county seat of Huntingdon County, in north-central Pennsylvania.

His perseverance finally paid off  last Dec. 17, when the borough council voted 4-3 to adopt protections for employment, housing, and public accommodation. With that vote, Huntingdon joined the ranks of 57 other Pennsylvania municipalities that enacted such protections.

Bullet recently spoke to the Central Voice about his long-awaited accomplishment.

Bullett said he got involved with passing the ordinance “because of remarks made by the now former mayor Dee Dee Brown at a ceremony rededicating the graves of the Colored Soldiers of the Civil War buried in our local cemetery.”

What happened?

Bullett said the mayor told him, “something to the effect that we should be proud that our cemetery was never segregated.” He then wrote a letter to Brown “saying that whatever perceived equality there was in death it did not exist. While the cemetery and the town may not have been segregated there was no equality among races in life.”

“Those who are LGBT do not enjoy the same rights that she does and that she and the borough council could rectify this situation, at least locally, by adopting an inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance,” he explained.

That didn’t happen. At least not right then.

Undeterred, Bullett said, “I learned that things will happen in due time. As long as no one says shut up, then just keep talking.” So he kept the idea alive.

For the first five years of the decade it took to pass civil rights protections, Bullett “wrote letters to the borough council and the town’s largest employers. “I never received replies,” he explains.

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“I attended nearly every monthly borough council meeting for two years. I spoke at each one about the ordinance,” Bullett said. And, regardless of the venue, if given the opportunity to speak, he usually spoke about the ordinance. “I was throwing seeds everywhere I could, hoping that one would take root.”

Bullett said he was surprised the measure netted the support from “senior citizens from Westminster Woods, our local retirement community. Many are transplants so they could very easily keep to themselves. But a few were active with Diversity Huntingdon – Everyone is Welcome Here! since it formed nearly two years ago.”

Bullett added that the measure “did not have the support of the business community as represented by the Huntingdon County Chamber of Commerce (HCCC) and the Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI) … I was told by HCBI that they did not see any business interest in the ordinance.”

In the run up to the 4-3 vote, Bullett advocates “made several attempts to meet with borough council members who voted No so we could hear their concerns,” he said.

Rebuffed in their attempts, advocates found No voters were often absent from committee and workshop meetings where the eventually successful ordinance was discussed.

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“I am also disappointed that this is still a thing in the 21st century. In the 1960s, my late father was part of the Huntingdon Equality League which was a coalition of African Americans, college faculty and clergy formed to eradicate discrimination in Huntingdon. We should have learned the lessons of discrimination back then,” Bullett lamented.

Bullett  said he was “disappointed that more of the LGBTQ community did not come out. I am not sure just how large the community is, but while there were transgender people and lesbians included in our group, adult gay males were noticeably absent.”

Bullett describes himself as a gay man.

Future plans?

Bullett’s perseverance has set other activity into motion. He’s been challenged by a borough council member John Hyde to have a Pride parade next year. “Hopefully, we can work with Juniata College students and add this as a preceding activity to the Pride Festival held on campus in September.”

He’ll also continue assisting with passage of The Fairness Act at the state level and the Equality Act at the federal level. “Most of all, I will just attempt to live my life authentically,” Bullett said.

Frank Pizzoli is the editor and publisher of the Central Voice, where this story first appeared. Readers may email him at [email protected].