The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act on Feb. 25, which has garnered support from the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown and the university’s Pride Center.
If passed by the Senate, the Equality Act would ban discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
The act was met with mostly partisan support from Pennsylvania’s representatives.
Bethlehem has local ordinances in place that protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination. Called public accommodation laws, they specifically call for support of non-discrimination efforts in public facilities said Scott Burden, interim director of the Pride Center.
The Pride Center’s mission is to create a campus community where students of all gender identities and sexualities are able to thrive. Several student organizations are in place to aid this mission, as well as peer facilitation groups, community-building events, and support spaces.
The act would federalize efforts already being seen in Bethlehem and allow courts to protect these communities on a larger scale. Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, sees a federal solution as the only way of offering consistent and comprehensive protection.
While both the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown and the university’s Pride Center advocate for the passing of the act, they have differing perspectives on how such legislation will impact Pennsylvania.
Shanker works to educate, organize, and inform the community on the importance of LGBTQ+ protection, as well as broaden public support for the Equality Act. The center offers a variety of programs as well as advocacy and supportive services for LGBTQ people in the Lehigh Valley.
Shanker said the center focuses on partnering with community organizations, where people are able to share their stories and show others how important it is to urge the Senate to pass the act.
“We work with allies from businesses to faith leaders, to other LGBTQ community partners, to help them tell their experiences about why LGBTQ non-discrimination is something really critical for all of Pennsylvania,” Shanker said.
A federal law like the Equality Act is important for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as it would unite the patchwork that exists currently across the state, Shanker said.
“If someone’s mailing address says Bethlehem, but they live in Fountain Hill, they are no longer protected in housing or in public accommodations,” Shanker said of the unsustainability of the current respective municipal protections that fracture the commonwealth.
Burden has reservations about the productivity of the act and how it would impact Lehigh Valley and the university’s campus.
While Burden acknowledges the importance of the act, he believes it may be more of a symbolic piece of legislation, and wonders how it will actually impact the behavior of those discriminating against LGBTQ+ individuals, on campus, and elsewhere.
“The passing of this act would put practices in place, yet the importance lies within focusing on our own community and climate on campus,” Burden said. “They do allow mechanisms to be in place for individuals to make claims against businesses that are discriminating against them, which is very important, although what we know about legislation is that it does not always impact people’s actions.”
While Spectrum president Griffin Fox, ’22, believes passing the Equality Act on a federal level would be a huge milestone, it would do little to none to change the perception of queerness on Lehigh’s campus, which he describes as being “overwhelmingly negative.”
“Lehigh’s campus climate is wholly independent from legislation, and I don’t think the equality act being passed would result in any noticeable change in Lehigh’s culture,” Fox said.