Kennett Square poised to adopt sweeping new anti-discrimination law

LaToya Myers
LaToya Myers

KENNETT SQUARE >> An ordinance that would provide broader protection than the 1964 Civil Rights Acts, including safeguarding those in the LGBT community, appears to be on the fast track for adoption.

“I am in full support of this ordinance,” said Councilwoman LaToya Myers. “This is something that is way past due. Being someone who has been discriminated against, it’s not easy to get up and say that maybe it’s just me, until you know it’s not you. We need to have an avenue for everyone to express themselves in a free way.”

Mayra Zavala, a graduate of Kennett High School and a recent graduate of Penn State University, told council that discrimination still looms large in Kennett Square, a community of more than 6,000, more than half of whom are Latino.

She said when she posted on Facebook a solidarity march attended by 400 people that took place just after President Donald Trump’s election, there were disparaging comments.

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“Those messages had hateful speech, referring to people as wetbacks,” she said. “It was an embarrassment to our community. I think we need this ordinance. You have an amazing opportunity to be an example to neighboring towns.”

The ordinance would be similar to ones adopted by West Chester and Downingtown. In fact, 18 municipalities in the region have a similar anti-discrimination ordinance. It would impact people who feel they are discriminated against, or retaliated against, in obtaining housing, employment, or issues dealing with public accommodations.

“The 1964 Civil Rights Act does not cover everybody,” said Councilman Wayne Braffman. “We need to protect the LGBT community. There is no protection for them at all. And 1964 was a long time ago. America has changed.”

Myers, a black woman, said even public officials are not immune from discrimination. She said in the past four events she has been to, she has not been acknowledged, but her fellow council members who attended were.

“I’m sitting here, and I don’t’ see anyone like me,” she told council. “For me, that’s a real issue, and it’s an institutional issue we need to address.”

Myers said it wasn’t that long ago that there was a neighborhood in Kennett Square that put up yellow ribbons to discourage Latino citizens from purchasing houses in that area.

“That is not the Kennett Square I believe in,” she said.

If the ordinance is adopted, the borough would need to establish a Human Relations Commission. This panel would moderate complaints and attempt mediation. If unsuccessful, the complainant would have recourse at the Court of Common Pleas.

“This ordinance would provide additional layers of protection,” said Councilman Ethan Cramer, adding that sex orientation, gender identification or expression is not included under current law.

Councilman Geoff Bosley, who chairs the finance committee, insisted the Human Relations Commission be all voluntary. “It should be budget-neutral,” he said.

“I see this as a service we can offer our residents,” Braffman said. “If you have a right, but it is extremely hard to exercise it, you really have no right at all.”

Some councilors said it would save borough residents time and money by not having to travel to Harrisburg to get a resolution.

Luis Tovar, commissioner of the Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, said a anti-discrimination law is Kennett is long overdue.

“We are talking about human rights,” he said. “Why should we treat someone who is not like us, differently? Our community is begging for this. The time has come.”

Under the proposed ordinance, residents who feel they are discriminated against have 300 days to file a complaint.

John Thomas, a former councilor, said the ordinance is not needed.

“I don’t think we need targeted ordinances,” he said. “We have too many laws now, and we should just enforce the laws we have.”

About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.