BLOOMSBURG, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – “It means that in Bloomsburg, you’re welcome and you’re welcome to be yourself you know, no matter who you are,” Toni Bell, Vice President of the Bloomsburg Town Council, said.
Monday night, the Bloomsburg Town Council voted unanimously to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance adds sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, veteran status, and genetic information to the protected classes already covered in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
It also protects those discriminated against based on perceived identity. The classes are protected in regards to employment, housing, and other public accommodation open to the general public.
“All night last night, people were celebrating with each other on social media and enjoying our equality,” Ammon Young of the Coalition of Social Equity said.
“I was elated, actually I was crying. You couldn’t see it on camera, thank goodness. But yeah I shed tears of joy. Even though I’m not a person of the LGBT community, many people I love and care for are,” Bell said.
Young tells Eyewitness News he is gay, and grew up in Pittsburgh, where a similar ordinance has been in place since 1990.
“So when I moved here, it was different for me to realize that I could get fired or turned away from a business. And then to know that it actually happened, it made me wonder what businesses would want me to come there,” Young said.
That incident Young is talking about happened in 2014. A lesbian couple was turned away from buying their wedding dresses from a Bloomsburg bridal shop because of their sexual orientation. Young tells me he spoke with the couple in 2014.
“If you haven’t experienced discrimination, you don’t necessarily know what it feels like. One of the women that was turned away from the bridal shop told me ‘Gosh this was the first time I realized that people might not want me here’ and that really hit me,” Young said.
The incident sparked a call for change in Bloomsburg. An anti-discrimination ordinance was discussed at council meetings but did not pass at the time. Mayor Bill Kreisher of Bloomsburg voted then, just as he did now. He says the fact that the 2020 ordinance was unanimously passed shows a shift in the town.
“I think it has shown a general acceptance and understanding of diversity that just did not really hit. People didn’t appreciate that necessity, and I think that has changed in the last four or five years,” Mayor Kreisher said.
Pennsylvania is the only state between Virginia and Maine that does not have an explicit statewide anti-discrimination law protecting sexual orientation. Young says Monday night, Bloomsburg became the 60th local municipality to adopt a specific anti-discrimination ordinance.
“We’re hoping at the state level that people are going through the same process as they went through in Bloomsburg, and realize that LGBT people are their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers and it’s absolutely the right thing to do to protect them from discrimination,” Young said.