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Pennsylvania borough revokes protections for its LGBTQ+ citizens

The Republican-majority Chambersburg Borough Council made good on its promise repealing the ordinance in the 7-3 vote

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Chambersburg Borough Council voting to repeal protections for LGBTQ residents (Screenshot via ZOOM)

CHAMBERSBURG – The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) met on Monday, and voted to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

The Republican-majority Chambersburg Borough Council made good on its promise repealing the ordinance in the 7-3 vote, citing a litany of reasons.

Opposition to the ordinance was led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. 

Coffman told Penn Live prior to the vote this past week that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

“We are a very diverse community,” said council vice president Bill Everly, a lifelong resident. “For that reason I don’t understand why we need to have special protections for people. I think by creating special protections for people we open the door for other protections for other people. I think we need to come together and not divide us. I think this would divide us.”

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

For more than three hours, council heard the impassioned pleas from scores of borough residents, overwhelmingly speaking out in support for the ordinance. Only a few borough residents spoke in favor of repeal, Penn Live reported.

Some visibly overcome with emotion, resident after resident implored council members to keep intact the ordinance citing a litany of personal challenges faced as members of the LGBTQ community, while others spoke about the stain on the reputation of the borough if repealed.

“It feels like we are going backwards,” said Kierstin Stockum, a borough resident. “This is just protecting somebody. Why would we not want that as a community? A repeal says we not welcoming to anybody whether LGBTQ or not. It’s saying we discriminate here. Why would we want to send that message?”

Dawn Abraham, a high school teacher and cosponsor of the gay-straight alliance, noted that the LGBTQ population at Chambersburg High School had grown exponentially in recent years.

“Kids are reporting being bullied, being pushed down the stairs, barked at and called multiple expletives,” she said. “By pulling support for this you are showing our community that you don’t support the school children in the community.”

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Pennsylvania

Teachers told to deadname or misgender students in Pennsylvania

U.S. Office of Civil Rights recognizes a school’s policy or practice of refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns violates Title IX

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Central Bucks West High School (Photo Credit: Central Bucks West High School/Twitter)

DOYLESTOWN, Pa.  Teachers at Central Bucks West High School in Bucks County say they were told by administrators to not use a student’s preferred name or pronoun if it does not match with the information in the school’s database. 

The new policy known as the “Gender Identification Procedure” introduced at a faculty meeting six days into the school year, prohibits staff and faculty from using a student’s chosen gender identity by administrators who also told them they have to follow parents’ or guardians’ wishes if they differ from a student’s.

Philadelphia’s local PBS and NPR outlet WHYY News reported that the new policy has received pushback from teachers including Becky Cartee-Haring, who has taught English at Central Bucks West for 16 years.

“A lot of us are distraught,” she told WHYY adding, “I physically felt sick in that meeting, listening to an administrator basically argue that we were going to protect ourselves by outing children … it’s heart wrenching … It’s just cruel.”

“What the children wanted was completely irrelevant,” said David Klein, who has been teaching social studies at Central Bucks West for 26 years.

Klein said he’s not going to follow the new procedure.

“There’s no way I’m hurting a kid. Hell no. I cannot be complicit in harming children,” Klein said, raising his voice. “And I said this in the meeting … this is the most at-risk marginalized group of students, they need our support more than anyone else. No! Kid says, ‘Call me Tony,’ I’m calling them Tony!”

Being forced to misgender or deadname a student is unacceptable to some of the teachers including Klein at Central Bucks West.

Klein said even if he faces a parent who does not want their child to be called a name that the child prefers, he will continue to prioritize the student.

“My job is to educate your kids, to prepare them for the future, to make them feel safe, period. That’s my calling. Pardon me,” Klein told WHYY choking up. “I’m calling you Tony because you need to feel safe in my classroom. How else are you going to learn? And if they want to fire me, that’s their business.”

Two Legal groups say this new policy may run the risk of putting the school district ‘legal hot water.’ The ACLU of Pennsylvania’s legal director Vic Walczak warned “That right does not exist, at least not in the way that these parents are trying to claim it does,” referring to the impetus behind the new policy by some parents who had pushed for it.

WHYY also reported that Kristina Moon, senior staff attorney at the Education Law Center, pointed out that federal courts have recognized “a student’s right to privacy in their sexual orientation and gender identity, including with respect to their family members.”

“Persistently and purposely misgendering students … can also be considered harassment that violates both federal anti-discrimination laws and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Walczak added. “It potentially is going to get the school district into legal hot water.”

Moon said the U.S. Office of Civil Rights has also recognized that a school’s policy or practice of refusing to use a transgender student’s pronouns violates Title IX and equal protection rights.

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor bans conversion therapy using state funds

Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, (D) signed an executive order Tuesday that banned use of state funds for conversion therapy and also directs state agencies to discourage conversion therapy. The order will also put measures in place to ensure state offices implement culturally appropriate care and services to LGBTQ constituents.

“Conversion therapy is a traumatic practice based on junk science that actively harms the people it supposedly seeks to treat,” said Governor Wolf in a press statement. “This discriminatory practice is widely rejected by medical and scientific professionals and has been proven to lead to worse mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ youth subjected to it. This is about keeping our children safe from bullying and extreme practices that harm them.”

Advocates from The Trevor Project attended Tuesday’s signing of the executive order, commemorating it as a victory for LGBTQ young people in the state. On Wednesday, The Trevor Project will be hosting a town hall meeting in Philadelphia to discuss the impact of the executive order with community members.

“Taxpayers’ dollars must never again be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy’ — which has been consistently associated with increased suicide risk and an estimated $9.23 billion economic burden in the U.S.,” said Troy Stevenson, Senior Campaign Manager for Advocacy and Government Affairs of The Trevor Project.

“Thank you Gov. Wolf for your leadership and for taking bold action to protect and affirm LGBTQ young people across the Commonwealth. We urge the state legislature to pass comprehensive state-wide protections and for governors across the nation to follow the Keystone State’s lead in ending this abusive practice.”

After the signing the Governor also noted:

“The Trevor Project’s Youth Mental Health Survey showed that rates of negative mental health outcomes among LGBTQIA+ youth are much lower in communities, schools and families that are accepting and supportive of LGBTQIA+ people. That’s why I signed this executive order to protect Pennsylvanians from conversion therapy and the damage it does to our communities. Because all of our youth deserve to grow up in a commonwealth that accepts and respects them.

“I want LGBTQIA+ youth and individuals across Pennsylvania to know that I stand with you. I see you, I respect you and I support you. My administration will continue to support policies to keep children safe from bullying and harmful practices.”

“We have worked tirelessly over the last year to collaboratively get this executive order drafted, through discussions with advocates, parents, and many stakeholders. With this action, the practice of conversion therapy has its days numbered in Pennsylvania​,” said Rafael Alvarez Febo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. “Young people should never be punished for being who they are and that’s what socalled conversion therapy does, while causing sometimes irreparable trauma to individuals.” 

With the signing of this executive order, Pennsylvania is now the 27th state in the country to enact statewide protections against the practice of conversion therapy.

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Pennsylvania

A School board is first in Pennsylvania to ban trans youth in sports

Hempfield School District board approved a policy limiting trans athletic participation on sports teams to align with their sex at birth only

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Hempfield School District in Lancaster, Pennsylvania social media notification (Facebook/Instagram)

LANCASTER, Pa. – In a 6-2 vote Tuesday evening, the Hempfield School District’s board approved a policy limiting transgender student athletic participation on sports teams aligning with their sex at birth.

This move by the school board makes it the first Pennsylvania school district to effectively ban trans youth athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

The local news media outlet Lancaster Online reported that Hempfield’s new rule may attract court challenges that will determine if such a policy can withstand legal and constitutional scrutiny. However, in a statement attributed to the full school board, President Grant Keener said Hempfield is “confident in the legality of the policy.”

Izzy Smith-Wade-El the President of the Lancaster City Council, who is running for the state House and is backed by the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, reacted to the board vote via a press release from his campaign Wednesday:

Last night, after months of community organizing to fight for every student to enjoy their public school experience no matter how they look, Hempfield School District approved a policy to discriminate against trans students and prohibit them from playing sports. The school board took legal advice from a Christian extremist law firm in its deliberations and will face lawsuits from the ACLU, among others.

“Public schools are a public good, and public goods are for every single child, no matter how they look, where they live, or how they pray” said Smith-Wade-El. “Our students deserve an education, both work and play, regardless of who they are. Religious and far-right extremists push policies that authorize invasive and embarrassing discrimination to distract us from pursuing our shared vision: Full school funding, excellently funded and staffed special education programs, recreation, safe affordable housing, accessible childcare, and thriving families. These are the things that make a child’s education better, and the things that matter to working people.

“Policies that target and bully children are part of a national strategy to turn working families against one another, using vulnerable young people as props in a game. I am humbled and encouraged by all the community members who have organized to protect trans kids for months, and who will stay in this fight until every child is celebrated and welcomed as they are. When we are great, it is because we can make space for all people in pursuing our vision for our community.”

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Pennsylvania set to erase ‘homosexuality’ from state criminal code

“Eliminating this archaic language will also help promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion for our LGBTQ community across Pennsylvania”

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Out Democratic PA State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta/Twitter personal account

HARRISBURG – In a unanimous vote Wednesday, lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Bill 2125, a measure that remove the word “homosexuality” from sexual acts proscribed by the Commonwealth’s criminal code.

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, an Out gay married 31-year-old Democratic state representative hailing from North Philadelphia told the Associated Press that under existing law state residents are vulnerable to losing their jobs or homes “simply because of who they are and who they love.”

“I hope that we have these same votes for enshrining nondiscrimination protections, which we sorely need to do,” Kenyatta said.

A Democratic colleague of Kenyatta’s, Rep. Dan Frankel, from Allegheny County described by the Associated Press as someone “who has long fought to expand nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people,” said the current law’s language is “cruel and absurd.”

“In this General Assembly, sadly, it’s a huge lift to merely agree that being gay shouldn’t be illegal,” Frankel said, urging members to move on anti-discrimination legislation.

The measure received bipartisan support. “This bill provides a long overdue update to our crimes code to ensure nobody is prosecuted because of who they love,” said the sponsor, Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery. “Eliminating this archaic language will also help promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion for our LGBTQ community across Pennsylvania.”

As sent to the state’s Senate, the language of House Bill 2125 changes the definition to “includes sexual intercourse and deviate sexual intercourse … and any touching on the sexual or other intimate parts of an individual for the purpose of gratifying sexual desire of either person,” as opposed to the current definition under “prostitution,” state statues currently define sexual activity so that it “includes homosexual and other deviate sexual relations.”

The AP also notes that the bill also cuts “homosexuality” from the definition of sexual conduct in a section on “obscene and other sexual materials and performances.”

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Philadelphia DA charges bouncer with murder in death of gay man

“Frye is alleged to have punched a patron with such force that it knocked him to the ground. “The victim, Eric Pope, passed from his injuries”

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Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (Screenshot/ABC 6 Action News)

PHILADELPHIA – A bouncer working at a Philadelphia gay bar who was captured on video punching a gay former D.C. resident in the head outside the bar on April 16, resulting in the man’s death one week later, has been charged with third degree murder in connection with the incident.

Philadelphia police on April 27 issued a warrant for the arrest of Kenneth Frye, 24, after police homicide investigators determined that Eric Pope, 41, a long time D.C. resident who recently moved to Philadelphia, died from a fatal head injury he suffered after Frye allegedly punched him in the head, knocking him down and causing his head to hit the pavement.

Police said the fatal assault took place shortly after Frye escorted Pope out of the Tabu Lounge and Sports Bar in the heart of a gay neighborhood in Center City Philadelphia on grounds, according to the bar, that Pope allegedly was intoxicated.

A surveillance video of the incident broadcast by Philadelphia TV news stations shows Pope appearing to be dancing in the street by himself in front of the bar seconds before Frye can be seen walking toward him, pulling back his arm and swinging a forceful punch to Pope’s head, knocking him down.

Eric Pope died after being punched by a bouncer. (Photo courtesy Pope’s Facebook)

The video shows Pope lying unconscious on the street for a minute or two before Frye and another bouncer pull his limp body out of the street and onto the sidewalk in front of the bar. He is seen lying on the sidewalk for a few minutes before a small crowd of people gather around him. At that time the video ends.

A police statement says Pope was unconscious when emergency medical technicians arrived and took him by ambulance to a hospital in critical condition, where he died one week later on April 23.

A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner sent the Washington Blade a statement that the District Attorney’s Office released at the time a warrant was issued for Frye’s arrest and one day before Frye turned himself into police on April 28.

“Following investigation by Philadelphia Police Homicide, the District Attorney’s Office is charging Kenneth Frye with Murder in the 3rd Degree for an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of April 16 outside Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar in the Gayborhood section of Center City,” the statement says.

“Frye is alleged to have punched a patron with such force that it knocked him to the ground,” the statement says. “The victim, Eric Pope, passed from his injuries, which included trauma to the brain, on Saturday, April 23,” says the statement, which adds, “A District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness coordinator and member of the DAO LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee established contact with family members of the victim last week [days after he was hospitalized] and has been offering supportive services.”

Tim Craig, one of Pope’s friends from D.C., said that Pope bought a small house in Philadelphia shortly before the start of the COVID pandemic and had been going back and forth from D.C. to Philadelphia during the pandemic while continuing to work at his job with the D.C.-based U.S. Federal Reserve Board. Craig said he thought that Pope recently sold his D.C. house and may have been living full time in Philadelphia at the time of his death.
A Zoominfo profile of Pope’s career says he worked as a project coordinator at the Federal Reserve Board’s Monetary Affairs Division.

“Eric worked at the Federal Reserve Board for more than seven years and is remembered by his co-workers as an energetic, gentle, and empathetic person who was strongly motivated by his desire to help others,” a statement released by a Federal Reserve Board spokesperson says. “He was instrumental in helping to advance the Board’s diversity and inclusion goals and helped set up a mentoring program,” the statement says. “We are thankful for all of his positive contributions and will miss him.”

Craig and others who knew Pope have said they are skeptical over claims that Pope had to be escorted out of a bar for being intoxicated.

The Inquirer reports that officials with the company that the newspaper tried to reach did not respond to requests for comment. But in response to some of the lawsuits, the company has disputed claims that its employees acted improperly, according to the Inquirer.

“Everyone who knew him is quite shocked,” Craig told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Because he really wasn’t the type of person you would think would be kicked out of a bar. He didn’t get involved in fights,” the Inquirer quoted Craig as saying. “He wasn’t belligerent. He didn’t get involved in fights. It’s truly a shock to anyone that knew him.”

Kenneth Frye was charged with third degree murder in the death of Eric Pope.
(Mugshot: Philadelphia Police Department)

One of the owners of the Tabu bar told local news media outlets that Frye was not employed by Tabu but worked for a private security company that the bar retained to provide bouncers. “When it was reported to them, they immediately called 911 and are cooperating with the police investigation,” Philadelphia’s Fox 29 TV news station reported the Tabu owner as saying.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in an April 26 story that the security company retained by Tabu Lounge & Sport Bar, Mainline Private Security, has been sued a dozen times since 2020, “frequently over bouncers’ alleged use of force or failure to summon medics in response to injuries.”

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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania school board ‘apologizes’ for GSA hosted drag show

“We are appalled at what took place & in no way condone this type of activity in our schools. [and] commit to a thorough investigation”

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Photo Credit: Hempfield School District

LANDISVILLE, Pa. – The Hempfield School District administration in this semi-rural community located 32 miles Southeast of Harrisburg issued a public statement of apology after photos and video of a drag show sponsored by the Hempfield High School Gay Sexuality Alliance Club were leaked online.

Community outrage over the event, which the school administration admitted that parents were not notified, exploded when a local right-wing blog, the Harrisburg 100, reported on April 29: “Professional dancers were hired by Hempfield School District to perform an erotic sex show for students after school hours on Monday. The event was organized by Hempfield teacher Kelly Tyson. No permission slips were issued.”

The anti-LGBTQ+ Twitter account, ‘Libs of TikTok, then tweeted about the event causing it to go viral:

On Friday the school board reacted to the controversy issuing this statement:

The Hempfield School District administration was made aware of a serious situation that took place at the high school on Monday, April 25, after school hours. Administration was notified of a concerning social media post and photo, and later videos, of a performance that occurred during an after-school event for GSA (Gay Sexuality Alliance) Club students. Immediately following the notification, an investigation into the incident began.

First and foremost, the administration team apologizes to students, parents, and the community on behalf of those involved in this event. We are appalled at what took place and in no way condone this type of activity in our schools. Neither the dress of the invited guests nor the performance was appropriate in our school setting. 

We are taking the incident seriously in our ongoing investigation and follow-up actions. It is important to district administrators that the district has the trust and confidence of the community, and we realize that an incident such as this completely undermines that trust. We commit to completing a thorough investigation and holding those involved accountable, up to and including disciplinary action that is commensurate with any findings. Currently, an individual has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Since this is a personnel issue, there will be certain information the district is unable to share with the public.

We respectfully request that while the appropriate district personnel investigate and address this serious matter, individuals refrain from speculation and furthering currently circulating misinformation that can get in the way of a thorough and accurate investigation.  

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