One of these speakers, ironically, was a former Bethlehem City Council member. Ismael Arcelay, who now serves on the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, talked about his life in Bethlehem as a Latino. He claimed that twenty years ago, if he walked down a Bethlehem street without a suit and tie, he would be treated much differently because he s a Latino. He lamented that even now, there is still "disparate treatment," and it extends to Bethlehem's educational institutions and even exists inside City Hall.
Discrimination is alive and well in the housing industry, too, according to former Bethlehem realtor Rob Hopkins, who now works as an assessor in Lehigh County. He claims to have personally experienced seeing tenants ejected from apartments because of who they are. He has seen homeowners refuse to sell to a person who is different.
Racism still rears its ugly head, even in the rarefied academic atmosphere of Lehigh University, according to Professor Addison Gross. After Obama's election as President, Gross told Council that several black students were taunted with epithets. Just last November, two of them wore blackfaces.
A lesbian who worked as a nurse in Bethlehem found that a special set of rules existed for her. She learned that she could be fired, and would be without recourse because Bethlehem has no law to protect her right to be different. She no longer works in Bethlehem. A Lehigh student added that, though she loves the Christmas City, she could never remain in a City that refuses to protect our diversity.
In addition those who came to tell their story, the aristocracy of the gay and lesbian community was on hand. Liz Bradbury, Executive Director of the Pa. Diversity Network, told Council that it's completely legal to fire someone in Bethlehem for being pregnant. Equality Pa. Executive Director Ted Martin noted that a recent poll shows that 69% of Pennsylvanians support anti-discrimination legislation.
"It's embarrassing," claimed J. Willie Reynolds, after listening to the public. "This is a no-brainer," remarked Dave DiGiacinto.
Mayor John Callahan brought a special guest to Council, Pa. Human Relations Commission Chairman Steve Glassman. Arriving a little late, Callahan explained that he and Glassman were working on some changes to the ordinance, designed to make it stronger. But Bethlehem resident Tim Chadwick questioned Callahan's sincerity. Chadwick reminded Callahan that in 2002, Callahan was much less enthusiastic about anti-discrimination legislation. "I don't want to anger that old lady up on the Main Street extension," is what Chadwick claims Callahan said then.
Although the legislation itself may be a "no-brainer" to most Council members, DiGiacinto had several amendments, from how members are appointed to a possible sunset provision in three years. Glassman had several suggestions as well, designed to bring the proposed Ordinance closer to state law. After some debate, Mowrer's Committee moved to advance the legislation to the full Council, where the sausage-making will continue.
Council President Bob Donchez stated that a full Council will consider the legislation at their May 18 meeting, with a final vote slated for June. If passed, Bethlehem will be the 21st municipality in Pennsylvania to pass a non-discrimination law at the local level.
If passed, this legislation will make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, education, or public accommodation in the City of Bethlehem based on a series of protected classes.
But will it stop? That was the concern raised by Bethlehem resident Mary Pongracz. "Discrimination has no address," she reminded everyone. "If you look for discrimination, you will find it."