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Taking a Stand

An aerial view of the John Dickinson Campus

Photo by Kimberly Drexler ’15

Dickinsonians gearing up to advocate for LGBTQ rights in Carlisle

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Dickinson has played a central role in the Carlisle community, and vice versa, ever since Benjamin Rush founded his liberal-arts college at the heart of this Revolutionary-era town. So whether they call Carlisle home for four years or longer, students, faculty and staff are very much part of two symbiotic spaces—the expanses of lawn and limestone that mark the campus, and the town of which it is part.

That relationship will come into play on Oct. 26 during a public discussion of a local ordinance to protect the Carlisle LGBTQ community from discrimination based on sexual orientation or sexual expression. The Wednesday-evening Employee Relations and Citizen Participation meeting (6 p.m., Carlisle Borough Hall, 53 W. South St.) provides a chance for all local residents to show support for, or argue against, the nondiscrimination ordinance before it comes up for council vote in early December. All are welcome to take the floor.

The ordinance was proposed on June 15 in light of the fact that there is no statewide legislation in place to protect LGBTQ Pennsylvanians from employment, health care or housing discrimination.

In an open letter posted by Student Senate on Oct. 18, interim President Neil Weissman wrote of the importance of celebrating and protecting diversity in the local community and pledged Dickinson’s strong support of the nondiscrimination ordinance, as it aligns with the college’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion on and off campus. That institutional support “sends a strong and clear message that the community will not stand for intolerance in any of its myriad forms,” he wrote. “It formally demonstrates that Carlisle is the welcoming and inclusive community we all know and expect it to be.”

Not all local residents agree, notes Ashley Perzyna, assistant chief of staff, who attended a spirited public forum around the issue last July. “Because there are people in the local community on both sides of the issue, there’s a very real possibility that the ordinance will not pass,” she said. “So we encourage members of the Dickinson community to add their voices to the discussion, either by coming to the Oct. 26 forum or by writing to local public officials.”

Jackie Joyce ’19, who has a front-row seat to the unfolding issue as student representative on the Borough Council, plans to do just that. She invites fellow students to do the same.

“This ordinance would improve the quality of life for many members of the Dickinson community and beyond, since Dickinson serves as part of the borough,” Joyce said, “and it would be advantageous for Dickinson community members to contribute to the conversation and to have a hand in making impactful change.”

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Published October 24, 2016