The Daily News
On Dec. 17 the Huntingdon Borough Council had the fortitude to pass Non-Discrimination Ordinance #2019-962. This ordinance provides civil protections to classes of people not covered under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and it establishes a local Human Relations Commission to deal with infractions. Huntingdon is the 58th municipality in the commonwealth with such an ordinance and the first rural community to pass it (and only the second municipality between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh). Passage of this ordinance occurred just over nine years since I first started advocating for it and nearly two years since Pat Hunter joined me and the formation of our group, Diversity Huntingdon – Everyone is Welcome Here!
Our work was a continuation of efforts by our elders back in the 1960s and even probably before that. I am reminded of this every time I enter the Huntingdon Presbyterian Church to play the organ and I see the portrait of the late Rev. William Payne. Rev. Payne was there at the Selma March in 1965 and returned to Huntingdon to fight discrimination here. I see the portrait of the late Rev. Dr. George Docherty and remember reading that he adopted the civil rights issue after meeting with Bayard Rustin, as well as his collaborations with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Most of all, I am indebted to my late father, David R. Bullett. Thank you to my sister, Anita Nwaobilo, for telling me of his work alongside Rev. Payne and others as part of the Huntingdon Equality League (HEL). Thank you, also, to Juniata College and Beeghly Library for the resources to learn more about the HEL from reports in The Daily News. The HEL may not have been successful in its ultimate goal of eradicating discrimination in Huntingdon, but it was very successful in forming relationships that otherwise might not have been. One such relationship for my family was with a young Juniata College alumnus, Richard Caulk, and his wife, Pauline. I had the opportunity to speak with “Uncle” Rich before he passed a few years ago about the HEL. He was a bit dubious about its accomplishments, but I know my life was made richer by the enduring relationship between our families. When I spoke with “Aunt” Pauline about the ordinance passing, she was just elated.
On to the present, and I start by thanking the four council members who voted in favor the ordinance – Nicole Houck, Sean Steeg, Robert Jackson and Johnathan Hyde. We did not achieve our goal of unanimity, but it is our expectation that the entire council will come together to implement this ordinance. I am especially thankful for all Nicole Houck did to pass the ordinance. I presented this idea to her when she participated in Leadership Huntingdon County and she requested a copy of the draft ordinance I did upon her election to council. Nicole, who connected Pat Hunter and me, worked to secure the votes. And, though he did not have a vote, we say thanks to Mayor David Wessels for studying the issue and supporting it.
I remain in awe of Pat Hunter! Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said ask a man; if you want something done ask a woman.” I spoke the words, but Pat got this all done. When we first met in January 2018 I told her that we would need people to join with us. Sure enough, she got us scores of people. She set up and ran the meetings and pushed to have the ordinance passed by the end of 2019. She was a very disciplined task master and I was thrilled to ride or die with her.
The group of people Pat assembled was just fantastic and very energetic. We had people from the teens to the 80s. These were the people who researched and drafted the ordinance. They called other municipalities for information on their ordinances. They gathered nearly 150 letters of support from throughout the community. Some were at every council meeting. I particularly want to recognize the contingent from Westminster Woods. Let me just say that this group of seniors has it going all the way on! Additionally, within Diversity Huntingdon there were a few people who became the de facto steering committee: thank you Darwin Kysor, Tammy Stuber, Lisa McDaniels, Jean Collins and Tory Smith.
We express thanks to two members of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. Joanne Carroll, executive director of Trans Advocacy Pennsylvania, traveled here as we were beginning and offered us very sage advice. She was here, too, in November and December and was in touch throughout the process. Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, was an invaluable fount of knowledge and is responsible for the great publicity throughout the commonwealth and beyond.
There was support from the Human Rights Campaign and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Pat’s son and my friend, Connor, was a constant source of inspiration, in absentia. The Stone Church of the Brethren graciously provided us with meeting space. Rev. Dr. Andrew Murray gathered signatures on a petition. The Revs. Ben and Cindy Lattimer, Donna Jarrell, Brett Hoover, Brandon Cian and the Rev. Father Gene Tucker each wrote letters of support. Thank you to Juniata College President James Troha for offering resources to assist with the implementation of the ordinance.
Our friends at the borough of State College were a tremendous resource of information. Borough manager Tom Fountaine along with staff members Tom King, LeAnn Shaw and Maureen Safko graciously agreed to a teleconference arranged by Jean Collins in December 2018. Then, this past fall, Maureen came and met with council members.
We say a tremendous thank you to Carl Summerson, hearing examiner at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, who advised us early on and provided a critique of the draft ordinance. Carl is now working on a memorandum of understanding between the borough and the PHRC. Thanks also to go Joanne Tosti-Vasey of the PHRC’s Centre County Advisory Council. She referred us to Carl. Exciting things are happening in Centre County and we look forward to possible future partnerships.
Finally, I would like to thank my mother, Elizabeth Bullett. She told me that after the 1965 Civil Rights Act passed there was a noticeable difference in race relations here in Huntingdon. African Americans held their heads higher and whites just seemed to be more respectful. It was her words that inspired me for all these years. I did not want yet another generation to have to fight against discrimination. And, I wanted those in the LGBTQ community of any age, but in particular the younger people, to walk with their heads held a bit higher, feel somewhat safer and have greater pride in their borough. I am eternally thankful that through the efforts of Diversity Huntingdon and the borough council we made this happen and can start this new decade of the 21st century free of the failed discriminatory policies of the past.
Happy New Year, indeed!
D. Anthony Bullett