Six months of sometimes heated discussion came to a close Thursday after Carlisle Borough Council voted 5-2 vote to pass a Human Relations Ordinance.
Carlisle becomes the 37th municipality in the state to have such an ordinance.
Council members Sean Crampsie, Dawn Flower-Webb, Robin Guido, Sean Shultz and Tim Scott voted yes. Council members Perry Heath and Connie Bires voted against it. Crampsie proposed the ordinance.
“Carlisle is an open and accepting community. We’re open for business for everyone,” Crampsie said. “Everyone can rent here, and we’re going to serve everyone in Carlisle. We’re not going to discriminate, and if you do discriminate, there’s going to be an avenue for those discriminated against to now come to,” Crampsie said.
The ordinance is intended to foster equality and equal opportunity for those in the LGBTQ community by establishing a volunteer human relations commission, a complaint procedure and a mediation process. The Human Relations Commission will go into effect in March. Councilman Sean Shultz said council will direct borough staff to advertise the four volunteer positions and get applications printed in the meantime.
The ordinance makes it unlawful for anyone to engage in discrimination related to employment, housing and commercial property or any public accommodation where it is not currently prohibited by other state or federal laws.
Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act — which the ordinance largely mirrors — currently provides these protections, including protection from discrimination at public accommodations, to all of these classes of people except sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Prior to the vote, Council President and Mayor Tim Scott opened the floor up to the 400 or so people in attendance with a desire to have their thoughts on the ordinance heard for the final time.
Some shared their personal experiences on how their lives had been affected by discrimination; others shared how they felt their freedom of conscience was being infringed upon. After more than 1½ hours of public comment and eventual chants of “vote” from the crowd, Scott moved on to comments from his fellow councilors, who thanked one another for a civil process that evolved over the past six months. Crampsie described it as how “democracy works.”
Religious organizations are exempt from the ordinance but individuals are not. Several business owners expressed concern about this at the meeting.
“What I fear most about this ordinance is that it will empower the LGBT community to punish me,” said Brad Wenger, of Wenger Meats & Ice.
“No, we’re not going to discriminate based on religion,” Crampsie said. “No matter what you believe in, no matter who you are, you’re going to have an opportunity in Carlisle.”
Guido thanked council, saying she appreciated the fact that through discussions and legal questions, council was able to “be kind to each other and civil.”
After the meeting, Christin Kapp, a vocal supporter of the ordinance since its introduction, had one word to describe how she felt: “Relieved.”
“I think it’s a mistake,” said Art Amundsen, a financial adviser in the borough. “I think it’s a very unhealthy thing. It’s led to serious problems in other communities.”
Display of support
Borough hall’s front steps saw arguably just as much action as the meeting chambers inside as multiple shows of support preceded the actual meeting. Around 200 members of Dickinson College’s representatives, including students, faculty, staff and interim President Neil Weissman, marched in the cold from the Stern Center on campus to borough hall.
“We just hope to express support,” Weissman said.
The college had been a proponent for the ordinance at recent meetings, with students expressing their desire for an inclusive community to learn in. Weissman wrote a letter to council and spoke with The Sentinel about why the ordinance’s passage was important to the college and the borough.
A prayer vigil also took place outside Borough Hall with candles handed out by Jennifer McKenna, a local minister. Kapp, Pat LaMarche (a local advocate for the borough’s homeless), and their friends strung a chain of more than 850 feet of safety pins around the hall in an attempt to show that Carlisle was a safe place.