It was a 2010 announcement about a Civil War cemetery that galvanized 58-year-old Anthony Bullett to act.
Bullett had moved back to his hometown of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania — population: 7,000 — when he was in his 40s to take care of his mother.
At a ceremony to rededicate the graves of Black Civil War soldiers, “the then-mayor made a comment that she was proud that the cemetery wasn’t segregated,” Bullett said.
“Whatever equality she may think that there was in death, there wasn’t that equality in life,” he said. “But more importantly … LGBT people [don’t have equality] and we now have a chance that we can make that right.”
Nine years later, Huntingdon, which sits along the Juniata River between Altoona and Harrisburg, joined the 57 other Pennsylvania municipalities that have passed ordinances barring discrimination against LGBTQ people in matters such housing, employment or public accomodation. It’s a first for a rural community in the state.
“[It] feels really surreal, but I am hoping that more rural townships will follow suit,” said Borough Council President Nicole Houck.
Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said getting such a law passed in rural Huntingdon marks an important shift.
“It shows there’s support not just in cities and suburbs, but throughout the entire commonwealth,” he said.
The move drew praise from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on social media.
Love this. 🖤❤️🧡💛💚💙💜— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) December 19, 2019
There are more local ordinances aimed to protect the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania than in any other state. The first was passed in Philadelphia in 1982. Harrisburg followed in 1983 and Pittsburgh in 1990. As the LGBTQ and marriage equality movements advanced, more suburban boroughs and college towns began adopting their own laws.
The local push is partially a response to lack of action in the state capitol, where bills to pass a statewide anti-discrimination law have stalled. The narrow margin in Huntingdon, where the ordinance passed 4-3, shows that support for formalizing LGBTQ rights is mixed.
Huntingdon borough council member David Quarry said his son is gay, but he voted against the ordinance because he sees it as a slippery slope.
“If another outfit like … a group of skinheads or somebody like that wants in and will say, ‘We want to be recognized,’ we’ll have a hard time saying we won’t recognize them because we’d be discriminating,” he said. Quarry added that he wished there had been more debate over the ordinance before its passage.
For Anthony Bullett, the ordinance’s passage is a symbolic victory, which he hopes will help dispel rural stereotypes and encourage young people to stay in Huntingdon.
“We really want to grow, and we want to have a place where everybody feels welcome,” he said.