I’m what you might call a “late bloomer.” I was in my late twenties when I realized my attraction to, well, everyone meant that I wasn’t the straight girl I thought I was. As I began to explore my queer identity, I had to reconcile how my coming out would affect various aspects of my life. One question I found myself asking was, “Can I lose my job for being a queer woman?” As it stands today: yes, I can.
The Supreme Court of the United States of America recently announced that it will take up three cases regarding the question of whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Until that time, however, there are no clear, consistent and explicit federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ2IA+ people. Only 21 states have non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ2IA+ people, meaning. that queer folx have to rely largely on local governmental protections. This is a lot of power to give positions that are usually either elected in non-federal election years or are political appointee positions.
Mirriam-Webster defines “folx” as a term “used especially signal the inclusion of groups commonly marginalized.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) is an independent, nonprofit think-tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help catalyze efforts for equal opportunity for all. One of the things MAP tracks are municipal nondiscrimination ordinances (NDOs). According to MAP, there are currently only 330 municipalities nationwide that have passed NDOs that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in private employment, housing and/or public accommodations.
As a queer student on campus, I thought it was important to know where both Shippensburg University and Shippensburg Borough stand in protecting the LGBTQ2IA+ folx that live, work, and learn here. In 2019, Shippensburg University passed an Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy,which was revised as recently as April of 2021. The scope of this policy is large, with protections outlined for individuals regardless of age, race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, physical or mental disability, marital status, pregnancy and parenting status, religion, or veteran status. In September 2020, PennLive reported on Shippensburg Borough Council passing an NDO by a 5-1 vote. Shippensburg Borough became the 59th municipality in Pennsylvania to enact an NDO, which is something only a little over 2% of municipalities in Pennsylvania have done. Shippensburg Borough’s NDO, however, is too broad and too vague. In fact, their entire NDO can be summed up as follows: “The Council of the Borough of Shippensburg desires that all residents and visitors be treated fairly and equally.” While Ordinance number 20-947 includes a glossary, there are no directives about what “fairly” means. Furthermore, while there is an NDO within the Borough of Shippensburg, once you leave and step foot into Shippensburg Township, the NDO no longer applies. An NDO in Shippensburg Township would further cement protections for LGBTQ2IA+ folx in the area.
It’s difficult to stomach the fact that, as a queer woman, the majority of places I go in my life do not protect me from discrimination based on my sexual orientation. It is evident that LGBTQ2IA+ folx are not offered the same protections as their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. Queer folx may be able to marry, but we can also still be fired from our jobs, denied housing, profiled by law enforcement or kicked out of establishments simply because of who we are. Nondiscrimination laws are important so that discrimination can hopefully be stopped before it happens. A large part of why I chose to get my masters of social work at Shippensburg was the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Shippensburg University’s Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy as well as Shippensburg Borough’s nondiscrimination ordinance are the first lines of defense in protecting queer students from harassment or other unfair practices. While I can only speak for myself, I know that the nondiscrimination efforts made by the university and the Borough make me feel safer as I travel around Shippensburg. I urge Shippensburg Township to stand with LGBTQ2IA+ folx both on and off-campus by passing a nondiscrimination ordinance of their own.