Chambersburg Borough Council approves exploratory committee for non-discrimination

Carley Bonk
Chambersburg Public Opinion

Chambersburg has taken a first step toward creating an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination. 

In a meeting Monday evening, Chambersburg Borough Council approved a memorandum for the creation of an exploratory committee as the first step toward the implementation of a non-discrimination ordinance. 

This comes two weeks after a number of people voiced support for an ordinance in response to the LGBTQ community expressing a need for such a protective measure. 

The committee is to research, gather information and consider amendments to the Code of Ordinances of the Borough of Chambersburg. Further, the committee would consider whether Chambersburg should investigate, adjudicate and enforce complaints with a separate body such as a local Human Relations Commission. 

Findings from this committee would be given to council in a written report, according to the memorandum. Following three months of public meetings beginning in May, including the determination of experts for consultation, the committee would return to council with recommendations.

Three council members were named to the committee: Kathy Leedy, Michael Herbert and Heath Talhelm.

More:Locals support LQBTQ+, urges Chambersburg Borough Council for non-discrimination ordinance

More:Shippensburg joins list of Pa. towns that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination

Some residents expressed their thoughts on the idea of creating an exploratory committee.

Michele Jansen, news director and anchor at NewsTalk103.7FM, was the only person during public comment at the meeting who rejected the idea of an ordinance. 

"We have to tread very carefully when we enact new laws," she said. "I don't think it meets the standard, again, of anti-discrimination groups that need protected in the sense of the ones we established before because that's when the government had laws against these groups."

Jansen argued that "the science, psychology, the sociology" is not yet settled on the approval of transgender rights.

However, a 20-year sociology professor whose studies have focused on the area of social inequality as that relates to race, class, gender, sexual orientation and ability issues disagreed.

Julie Raulli, of Wilson College, addressed the council in her support of an ordinance through Zoom.

"Let's be clear about what this social scientific research says - what it says, unequivocally, is that the LGBT community has been discriminated against for decades - it's what the gay and lesbian movement coming out of Stonewall in the late 1960s fought against and has been fighting against for decades," she said.

The research is clear, Raulli continued.

"Members of the LGBT community, are discriminated against in a whole host of ways - housing, jobs, for example," she said. "We've finally got equality with respect to marriage but that is, as you all know, relatively recent. When people spoke two weeks ago about their everyday experience of discrimination - when we talk about is there documentation - there is documentation in terms of scholarly literature, but you also had individual testimonials about people's fear of being themselves in public, expressing their admiration for their partners publicly, for fear of violence - really is what we're talking about with respect to this exploratory committee."

Following over an hour of public comment on the matter, council moved to a vote, where the memorandum was approved, seven to three.

In the meeting two weeks prior, local dermatologist Rachel Day was the first to address the council on this matter after a letter she sent to her First Ward representative, Allen Coffman, regarding the adoption of a non-discrimination ordinance prompted a discouraging response.

In the response that Coffman sent to Day on this issue, he questioned why she moved to a "conservative" area in the first place.

"Quite frankly, I am offended by your accusations of lack of transparency, oppression, exclusion and marginalization of minorities," he wrote in a letter, which Day posted on her Facebook page. "You really don't know our community at all."

Day joined the call from a local organization, the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, to write letters to borough representatives to get the topic of adopting a non-discrimination ordinance on the agenda. Such measures have already been approved in nearby towns, including Gettysburg and Shippensburg.

Following the meeting, Day filed a formal complaint against the borough.

The Public Opinion will continue to follow this developing story. Do you have a personal story to share regarding discrimination in Chambersburg? Reach out to Carley Bonk at cbonk@publicopinionnews.com. 

Carley Bonk is a Watchdog Reporter for the USA Today Network - Pennsylvania. Her coverage spans across the southcentral region of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at cbonk@publicopinionnews.com or on Twitter at @carls_marie.