Com­mis­sion­ers mull cre­at­ing Hu­man Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion

Com­mis­sion would ad­dress LGBTQ dis­crim­i­na­tion

Springfield Sun - - NEWS - By Linda Finarelli lfinarelli@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @lk­finarelli on Twit­ter

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.”

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