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State College pushes for regional LGBTQ safeguards

Plus: Democrats control the House, a discrimination lawsuit against Penn State, & how to celebrate V-Day.

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

February 9, 2023
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Inside this edition: A regional approach to anti-discrimination, the results of Pennsylvanias special elections, and a chronically ill Penn State student fights back against his insurance company. Its Thursday.
Georgianna Sutherland / For Spotlight PA

Local officials are expanding the reach of State College borough’s protections for LGBTQ people by encouraging other local municipalities to duplicate its anti-discrimination ordinance and creating a Regional Human Relations Commission. 

While state and federal laws prohibit discrimination against people because of race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, and disability — protections against discrimination due to gender identity and sexual orientation in Pennsylvania exist only at the local level.

That results in anti-discrimination policies changing from one town to the next, or between someone’s place of residence and where they work. For more than 15 years, State College was the only municipality in Centre County that prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But the borough is only about 4.6 square miles. 

“That ordinance goes away if you take a 15-minute walk from here,” State College Borough Council President Jesse Barlow said during a January council meeting.

The council voted last month to establish the Regional Human Relations Commission — which will “investigate complaints of discrimination and … facilitate mediation and conciliation of any founded violations” and is seeking other municipalities to join the effort. The commission will “allow for regional jurisdiction and membership from the adopting municipalities.”

Ferguson Township’s supervisors voted unanimously Feb. 7 to adopt the anti-discrimination ordinance and establish the regional commission. In March, Patton Township will consider the same measures.

“This regional approach is unique in Pennsylvania,” Barlow told Spotlight PA. “A number of local elected officials have been pushing for this approach for several years.”

More than 70 of the commonwealth’s 2,500-plus municipalities have anti-discrimination ordinances, which cover about 35% of the state’s LGBTQ population, according to advocacy group Pennsylvania Youth Congress.

The borough has “what is possibly the strongest” anti-discrimination ordinance in Pennsylvania, Barlow told Spotlight PA. But people in nearby communities need protections too.

“If we can get enough Centre County municipalities to sign on, we would like to push the County to enact it,” he wrote in an email. 

The establishment of the regional commission bypasses the Centre Region Council of Governments, which is governed by the elected officials from six municipalities — College, Ferguson, Halfmoon, Harris, and Patton townships, and State College borough — that work together to provide shared services to their residents.

Barlow, who also chairs COG’s General Forum, wrote “it was easier to talk to the individual municipalities” and some of the COG municipalities “have expressed little interest.” However, he stressed that the decision is not a criticism of the COG.

Sarah Rafacz, State College Editor

“The almost unspoken mission of every little box government and every little box school district is to keep our town or keep our schools just the way they are, for people just like us, whoever ‘us’ happens to be.”

—David Rusk, senior fellow at the D.C. Policy Center, discussing Pennsylvania's fragmented local governments
» Democrats sweep special elections, affirming first Pa. House majority in 12 years

» 5 takeaways from our event on Pennsylvania’s fragmented local governments

» Pennsylvanians were asked what they want to change about the state House. Their answer: less partisan deadlock.

» The neighborhood the Pa. Capitol destroyed

» HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us tonight from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on how special elections work, the results of the Feb. 7 elections, and why they matter. This event will be the first of our “How Harrisburg Works” series where we break down how the state government works (or doesn’t). Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A waterfall along the Chuck Keiper Trail, located in Sproul State Forest, captured by Dodie Mercer.

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
» ProPublica: Chronically ill PSU student fights back against insurer
» WPSU: Remote workers moved to Kane and Bellefonte. How did it go?
» CDT: State College school board fills open seat

» CDT: Penn State Behrend professor alleges discrimination
» SC: Arts Fest names new executive director
» NCPA: Marino running for Lycoming County DA
» CDT: PennDOT warns of ‘misleading’ letter over connector project
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Feb. 9: Celebrate Valentine’s Day at the Pajama Factory in Williamsport with darkroom portraits and cocktails

» Feb. 10-11: Wellsboro celebrates winter with ice carvings, games, and more.

» Feb. 10: Essence 2 performs its Black History Month concert “Traditions and Trends in African American Sacred Music” in State College.

» Feb. 11: Centre Region Parks and Recreation hosts its annual Winter Carnival in Boalsburg.

» Feb. 11: Batfest at Lincoln Caverns offers an opportunity to learn all about the nocturnal creatures.

» Feb. 11: Rock The 80’s, an annual fundraising concert for Bob Perks Cancer Assistance Fund, takes over The State Theatre.
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

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Congrats to
Ada M., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Matt P., Darlene P., Tish M., Donna D., Don H., and Jeffrey F.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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