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The Post  
 
Haverford Ordinance Facing Court Challenge
 
  by: Rebel - Havertown, PA
started: 10/24/11 8:36 am | updated: 10/24/11 8:36 am
 
Haverford township has people talking... an antidiscrimination ordinance is facing a court challenge.

The ordinance includes provisions for protections in housing, commercial property, employment, and public accommodations against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Resident Fred Teal filed a challenge alleging the township failed to provide proper public notice of changes to the ordinance between first and second readings and exceeded state law.

Teal won a preliminary round when a judge rejected the township's move to have the case dismissed. The township filed an answer to Teal's complaint last Monday, and Teal has 20 days to file a response.



"I personally don't agree with homosexuality," resident Fred Teal said. "While I don't think anyone should be discriminated against, this is a legal issue."

"Despite the complaint to the contrary, the ordinance was a product of a great deal of deliberation, debate, analysis, and careful review by the board members and our solicitor," Haverford Township Commissioner Larry Holmes wrote in an e-mail.

Teal, 76, won a preliminary round when a judge rejected the township's move to have the case dismissed. The township filed an answer to Teal's complaint last Monday, and Teal has 20 days to file a response.

The ordinance at the heart of the dispute includes provisions for protections in housing, commercial property, employment, and public accommodations against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; it makes Haverford one of 23 Pennsylvania municipalities offering such a law.

Teal said he thought the ordinance's definitions of gender identity and gender expression were unclear. He feared it could affect business owners because the language appeared to make it employers' responsibility to prove there was no discrimination.

"Businessmen are in business for the money, not for social issues," Teal said. "The businessman now has to protect himself and accommodate for it."

The ordinance defines gender identity as "the gender(s), or lack thereof, a person self-identifies as, whether or not based on biological fact or sexual orientation."

Gender expression, the ordinance says, is how an individual communicates that identity, or how others perceive it through "appearance, behavior, or physical characteristics" that may or may not align with the biological sex and anatomy.

Liz Bradbury, executive director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocacy group Pennsylvania Diversity Network, said nondiscrimination laws covering gender identity and expression had existed since 1975.

Bradbury said human-relations commissions help advise employers on the best business practices in accordance with such laws and mediate cases before they go to trial. A human-relations commission was included in the township ordinance.

In Haverford, the ordinance was first discussed at an October 2010 Board of Commissioners meeting. The vote in February was taken after board members heard opinions from both sides, including opposition from the conservative American Family Association.

"Increasingly, we see homosexual activists approach 'friendly' local elected officials to pull their victim card and cry discrimination even though no stories of real discrimination exist," Diane Gramley, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the association, said in January as the issue was being debated.

"Too many times the facts and real-world consequences are ignored simply so homosexuals can further their efforts to use the force of law to demand that all Pennsylvanians celebrate their lifestyle."

On the other side of the issue was Havertown resident Lou Devecchis, 50, who asked board members to extend protection from discrimination to LGBT residents.

Devecchis became active after a dispute with a neighbor. After discovering Devecchis was gay, the neighbor quickly told other neighbors. In late summer 2010, Devecchis heard the neighbor fight with his friend Dave Shepley. The neighbor then shouted gay epithets from the street.
Devecchis, who was sitting on his porch, immediately called police.

"The officer was empathetic, something that I take quite personal, but he said he unfortunately could not write up the incident as a hate crime and could only write it up as a neighborly dispute," Devecchis said.

At the board meeting, Devecchis pointed out that neighboring townships such as Lower Merion had enacted similar legislation.

"I became the accidental activist," he said and laughed. "I didn't see anybody standing up [for these protections], and not having them is demeaning to who you are."

"I understand that the antidiscrimination ordinance is an emotionally charged issue," resident Carla Carick wrote in an e-mail.
"What I find more challenging, however, are the efforts to legitimize campaigns of hatred, fear, and misinformation."
 
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