Chambersburg Monday became the first municipality in Pennsylvania to repeal an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.
The Borough Council adopted the ordinance last October, when it had a Democratic majority. Now, after the November election, Republicans hold a majority on the council, and they said repeal is what voters expected them to do, The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reports.
The ordinance banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity, and it covered employment, housing, and public accommodations. Chambersburg, a town of about 20,000 people in south-central Pennsylvania, was the 70th and most recent municipality in the state to enact such a law. State law does not cover anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
The vote to repeal the ordinance was 7-3, mirroring the vote to adopt it. Council members who favored scrapping it cited “a host of reasons, including redundancy in the ordinance and lack of muscle in its provisions,” The Patriot-News reports.
“We are a very diverse community,” said Bill Everly, the council’s vice president, according to the paper. “For that reason I don’t understand why we need to have special protections for people. I think by creating special protections for people we open the door for other protections for other people. I think we need to come together and not divide us. I think this would divide us.”
“I believe this ordinance will cause more havoc than it’s going to help,” said another council member, Larry Hensley.
But some residents who took part in a lengthy public comment period before the vote said the repeal was motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ hate. “Why do you hate my community?” resident Shannon Brown asked the council, according to TV station WHTM. “Because that’s what this is about. It’s about hatred. And before we came out of the closet, we lived with you. We heard how you talked about us. I grew up with aunts, uncles, and cousins who said people like me should be shot, killed, put out on a raft somewhere, that AIDS was God’s answer to us.”
“It feels like we are going backwards,” said another commenter, Kierstin Stockum, according to The Patriot-News. “This is just protecting somebody. Why would we not want that as a community? A repeal says we not welcoming to anybody, whether LGBTQ or not. It’s saying we discriminate here. Why would we want to send that message?”
About 160 people attended the meeting via Zoom and about 60 in person, WHTM reports. Roughly 60 spoke to the council, and only five or six favored repeal. The public comment period lasted more than three hours.
Alice Elia, a Democratic member of the council and former borough president, tried to stop the repeal vote by moving to table the matter until it could be discussed further, but her motion failed. She expressed disappointment at the repeal, The Patriot-News reports.
“We have a duty to protect,” she said. “Removing that protection not only sends a sad message but it’s a step backwards. It’s disappointing. It’s disheartening and it’s a dangerous message.”