PLYMOUTH >> It’s not often that the passing of a municipal ordinance garners a standing ovation but that’s what happened Monday night as Plymouth Township Council passed an anti-discrimination decree.
A longtime police officer was also applauded at the meeting for two decades of faithful service.
HONORING AN OFFICER
Before the ordinance came to a vote, Council honored Officer Todd Jordan for 20 years of “diligent and dedicated service” as a member of the Plymouth Township Police Department.
In recognizing Jordan, Council Chairman Martin Higgins expressed his appreciation and attributed the long tenures of many Plymouth police officers to the excellence of the department and their commitment to the community.
The ordinance — which is the 45th of its kind to be adopted in Pennsylvania — adds civil protections from discrimination for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to existing protections for race, religious creed, ancestry, gender, national origin and handicap or disability.
It also creates a citizen’s human relations commission to hear and handle complaints.
The ordinance passed unanimously, although Councilwoman Lenore Bruno posited that the county would be better suited to perform investigations and suggested that a consortium of municipalities lobby the Montgomery County Commissioners to form a joint human relations committee.
“I’m very happy at the end of 15 months to see this ordinance coming to Plymouth Township,” said Councilwoman Karen Bramblett. “I know people in this township to whom it matters on a very very personal level.”
“I’m in a very protected majority but I know people who are not and when you hear about things that are happening in other places it hurts me and it hurts all of us,” she said, adding that she thinks the ordinance “will be very good for Plymouth business.”
Higgins recalled the barriers that stood in opposition to anti-discrimination measures in the past and explained the need to take local action.
“Federal and state governments have not seen fit so far to offer protection for our LGBT friends, so it is up to us at the local level to do so,” he said.
“We are not breaking new ground with this ordinance, just catching up with some of our many neighbors in southeastern Pennsylvania. Families are lining up to move into our township because of the excellent schools and the above-average township services. Let’s give them one more reason to make Plymouth Township their home.”
Don Benn, founding and former member of the East Norriton Human Relations Commision, began his remarks by thanking the council for honoring Officer Jordan — whom he has known for more than 20 years.
Benn agreed with Bruno, that county government and municipal consortiums should be involved but explained that the Tri-State, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania human relations commissions offer free assistance.
State Sen. Daylin Leach attended the meeting to support the ordinance and spoke about how difficult it is to get similar measures passed at the state level. He also touted the low risks and high rewards of having such an ordinance in place.
The most poignant comments on the resolution came from Vivian Lotz and her wife Renee Bess.
Lotz was one of the driving forces behind getting council to consider the ordinance.
Inspired by the anti-discrimination oath police officers make upon being sworn in, she and a dedicated group of residents worked for more than a year to see their efforts — despite a former tabling of the ordinance — come to fruition.
“Thank you for what you’re about to do. Lotz said ahead of the vote. “From the bottom of my heart, our hearts, you’ll be making history in Pennsylvania.”
Bess thanked Council for revisiting the ordinance and for addressing an often overlooked issue.
She told the story of experiencing the sting of discrimination while traveling through New Hampshire with her family as a child in the 1950s and being turned away from hotels because of segregation.
“I’m representing two people: The 69-year-old me, and the 7-year-old who couldn’t understand then; why that exclusion, why it existed. I can’t really understand that now, ” she said.
“But now, beyond my failing to understand it, I just don’t accept it. And so I applaud you because in setting this ordinance tonight you are saying that you do not accept it either.”