Commissioners mull creating Human Relations Commission
Commission would address LGBTQ discrimination
UPPER DUBLIN » An ordinance creating a township Human Relations Commission to hear discrimination complaints, particularly those involving the LGBTQ community, will be on the agenda at the board of commissioners July meeting.
Discrimination complaints are normally handled by the state Human Relations Commission, but the “state statute does not speak of discrimination based on gender identity,” township Solicitor Gil High said at the board’s June 13 meeting.
“A municipality can ask that the state statute be amended” to include LGBTQ discrimination, “and some have done that,” he said. “Others have created their own local Human Relations Commission.”
Some local commissions pass on to the state HRC complaints regarding housing, transportation and other areas the state oversees, and “if not overseen by the state commission, will make a determination,” and can issue a fine or injunction, he said.
The township commissioners would appoint the Human Relations Commission members — a minimum of five, which would then establish rules and regulations on how to process a complaint, High said. The commissioners would have no oversight other than appointing the members, he said.
Commissioner Ron Feldman said his “only issue” with creating a local commission was its “ability to fine up to $10,000.”
“We would have to have a decent board; it’s a very significant board,” he said.
“We would just have to spend more time vetting people,” Commissioner Sharon Damsker said.
Commissioner Liz Ferry noted a bill amending the state statute to include LGBTQ that had been held up in committee was recently moved to another committee.
“Hopefully the state will step up,” Damsker said. “I don’t have faith that will happen rapidly. It’s a good idea to do it [create a local commission] now.”
“It’s critical to provide protection for the LGBTQ community,” West Bruce Drive resident Ellen Toplin said. “There has been no state protection for 12 years … there is no hope it will be passed in the state Legislature.”
An Upper Dublin resident for 33 years, who also ran a business in the township, Toplin said, “I have been able to live openly through my own life changes … without fear of retribution.” Noting she and her life partner were among the first to be issued a marriage license in Montgomery County, she said, “In some way we’ve served as role models and been accepted in this larger community.
“I also know … there appear to be forces open to bigotry,” she said, referring to Ku Klux Klan fliers distributed in Maple Glen last month. “I know such groups were there all along. It felt safer when they seemed to live under cover.”
Toplin, who noted more than a dozen supporters were at the meeting and presented petitions with 126 signatures, asked the board to pass an ordinance to create a local Human Relations Commission “to afford LGBTQ residents and workers protection from discrimination under the law.”
Forty-three municipalities in the state have passed similar ordinances, she said, citing Upper Merion, Lower Merion, Abington, East Norriton, Whitemarsh, Springfield and Ambler.
“The goal is to give LGBTQ people access to the court system,” Toplin said. “It will not cause legal or financial risks to municipalities. I ask you to do what’s right — to protect the rights of all people.”
“The ordinance makes discrimination of the LGBTQ community unlawful,” High said. “It creates a forum for complainants that have been discriminated against.”
“There should be no reason to have to single out groups to have protection in this country, but we’re forced to,” Dresher resident Beth Lunberg, a relative of Toplin’s said. “It’s not about waiting for Pennsylvania or the country to do what’s right.”
Lauren Rosenberg, a physician and former Upper Dublin resident, cited statistics regarding a higher rate of suicide among those between 10 and 24 in the LGBTQ community. The percentage dropped, she said, in states that enacted equality laws.
“It’s the only historically marginalized group not protected under existing law,” she said.
“The sentiment of the board is to move forward with this,” board President Ira Tackel said. “We will move forward for consideration and advertising for the next meeting,” July 11.
“It’s the right next step,” Toplin said afterward. “I was glad to hear there’s an understanding.” The ordinance would “allow protection and give legal standing in the courts.”