The LGBTQ+ Advisory Council held a Letter Writing Party in McFeely’s Cafe from 6-8 p.m. Friday to push Shippensburg Township to pass a Nondiscrimination Ordinance.
The event involved educating students on the importance of the ordinance and adding signatures to a petition, but primarily urged campus members to write letters to township supervisors expressing their support for explicit protections against discrimination in Shippensburg Township.
The nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) in question would provide protection against employment, housing and public discrimination as a result of one’s gender expression or identity and sexual orientation.
“What we want to try to do is build capacity to really push this forward,” Jayleen Galarza, a social work professor and the co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council, said. “Students have a powerful voice… You’re contributing to the surrounding town.”
Pennsylvania has not passed legislation that grants this safety in particular, so municipalities must enact such policies themselves. The current Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not provide specific protections for gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. Shippensburg Borough has adopted an NDO, but the township has not yet made a move to do so. “I think folks take it for granted and think that these things just happen. The reality is that it doesn’t. No protection, no legislation, no policy just happens,” Galarza said.
The Letter Writing Party set out to bring light to the absence of such policies, which often go unnoticed. Students make up a major portion of Shippensburg’s community, and though some may not permanently reside there, those on campus and in the surrounding town can be affected by this distinct lack of protection.
Mike Fox, a master of Social Work (MSW) student and Pride Center intern, considers not only the incoming student body’s comfort level, but the effect on surrounding areas as well. “[An NDO] sends a clear message to the community about what we value. Anybody who’s running a business, or hiring people, renting space or lending loans, they get that sense from their community that this is the way things are here,” they said. “The progress towards rights for everybody is a journey, and it’s like adding patches or layers to a quilt.”
When asked what students unable to attend the event could do to support this cause, many chimed in with suggestions. “I would invite people to investigate what they are upset about happening in their community and focusing on that, and figuring out how we change that,” Christina Zeigler, a MSW student and Pride Center intern, said. “Go to a Shippensburg town meeting, talk about why it matters and humanize the aspect of why we need an NDO,” she said.
Galarza encourages students to always take action and reach out to the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council if they are interested in doing so.
An NDO may not seem like a significant ordinance, but those in attendance spoke of the weight of enacting the policies. “I don’t think about this as a protection for me, because it’s meant to be a protection for everyone,” Ted Shylock, a Shippensburg Community Research Coalition intern, said. “If you think about these things as, ‘What are they going to do for me?’ you’re definitely going to be shutting people out. It’s good to sign something because you know that you’ll be protected by it — I think that’s helpful — but I think the reason we need to do this is because there’s been a mindset of ‘What am I going to get out of this?’ rather than, ‘What can we benefit from?’”
The link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe7egi_dAx_c6O8v5C8RNYSW4ypQCk0K7vifpMkZ-92if6Z1A/viewform leads to the petition in support of the establishment of an NDO in Shippensburg Township and a fact sheet compiled by Alithia Zamantakis, director of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services, which provides more information on the topic.
If you are interested in learning more about the NDO or have any concerns, contact the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council through co-chairs Galarza (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Nicole Santalucia (NMSantalucia@ship.edu), an English professor. The Pride Center can be reached using email@example.com, or stopping by the Pride Center Monday-Friday 9-5 p.m.