Chambersburg Borough Council meeting heats up with a discussion of LGBTQ rights

CHAMBERSBURG – A group of concerned citizens spoke at the Chambersburg Borough Council meeting Monday night, 12 April 2021, about adding an ordinance to protect sexual orientation and gender identity rights in the borough.

Allen Coffman, Council member for the First Ward, attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the council meeting on First News.

Barkdoll said, “My guess is they would seek language that would prohibit the borough as a government entity from discriminating on the basis of LGBTQ+ identity. That would be in the form of hiring, firing, rewarding contracts, etc.”

It’s curious to ask for something like this because federal law already has protections for this in place and would certainly supersede anything on the local level.

Barkdoll pointed out, “I’m not aware of any allegations that say the borough has engaged in this sort of practice. I think it would largely be a symbolic gesture. I don’t think it would have any teeth.”

Jansen said, “They’re trying to go town by town and get this ordinance so they can go to the state and say all the towns support this, we need to have this. It’s an activism type of thing and they’ve been doing it around the state for a while now. For years, actually. They’re softening it up by saying, let’s just have an exploratory committee to talk about this.”

One citizen, Dr. Rachel Day, who owns OneSkin Dermatology and has been in the borough since 2019, spoke at the meeting and directed her comments at Allen Coffman about email correspondence the two had had.

Jansen and Ryan attended the meeting as well.

“(Dr. Day) said that Allen threatened her,” Jansen noted.

“I can assure you the email correspondence that I sent back to Dr. Day, had absolutely no threat in it whatsoever,” Coffman said. “Over the past two weeks there’s been numerous letters sent in support of this non-discrimination policy that they’ve been seeking. Everybody on council go the same emails. I looked at all of them. I didn’t respond to all of them because if they weren’t directed at me, I didn’t respond. In some cases, I didn’t respond to some of those, but this particular one hit me odd because it was a business of somebody that’s here in the First Ward.

Coffman continued, “I looked at this thing very late one night. I penned an email response to Dr. Day which I thought explained a little bit about the situation of Chambersburg, but for some reason the words in that come out and call me a bigot, literally. So I don’t know where they’re coming from. I do know that some of the major players of this force here in Chambersburg were not in attendance last night. They were in the background as they usually are. Anyway I send this thing back and next thing I know it ends up on social media. Those folks that know me know that I don’t dabble in social media. I don’t mess around with it. You don’t win anything on social media. I don’t participate and I’m not going to participate. But she decided to make this an issue on social media with some of the comments that I made. I never sent the email back to her with any expectation that it would end up on social media. It was from me to her. And to me, she has broken that trust that I had that she would actually want to have a real conversation about this thing. And she decided to take it public. So okay. I guess that makes both of these public information now. I think if people sit down with an open mind and read both of them, there’s not a word in mine that makes it a bigoted kind of thing. Somebody even said I told her to go back to where she came from. I never said that at all in this email that we’re talking about. Absolutely not.”

Jansen added, “You told me what you said in the email and I can tell you why she reacted the way she did. Because she’s obviously, from the words she chose – it’s easy for someone who’s looked at it as much as I have to say – she’s immersed in Critical Race Theory. And when you are immersed in critical theory or social justice ideology, you are hypersensitive to everybody. She said it herself, even silence. You are hypersensitive to silence. You are hypersensitive to any word that anybody uses. What you told her in that letter was I’ve lived here all my life, I know that what you’re describing does not exist. People are not trying to hurt people or they’re not as prejudiced as you make out. Somehow that gets twisted you’re a nativist. They will twist everything and make it into a hateful proposition and that’s what she did.”

Coffman would like to see both emails be included in the minutes of the council meeting from last night and may try to get them included when the minutes are approved.

“Her email was missing, so was mine,” Coffman said. “She decided to pick and choose what she wanted to use. I found out last night, she is a constituent of mine. Obviously she will probably not be voting for me in the primary. To me, if we’re going to be fair about this, let’s lay all the cards on the table. Let’s lay the evidence on the table and let’s let people make their own decision when they read it.”

“They don’t really want dialogue,” Jansen said. “They want an exclusive platform to only present their point of view. For one thing, notice how this wasn’t put into the agenda. They had this very well-planned. They had the letters they were writing, they showed up en masse last night to make comments, but they didn’t ask for that to be put on the agenda. Why? Because that way the community didn’t know it was going to happen and so you have nobody to come and maybe give a counterpoint of view or support you in your point of view.

She continued, “The other thing that bothered me is she said that you threatened her. You did not threaten her. But I found it ironic that she turned around, looked at that borough council and said ‘if you sit there silent then you are just as bad as he is, you approve hatred or racism.’ I’m sorry, that was a threat in and of itself. For someone that wants to throw around the word threat to people, she certainly made a – I would call it a threat. Because what she’s doing is she’s threatening the reputations of all of those other councilmembers by saying in front of this audience, ‘if you don’t say something then you are also some kind of a racist.’ That is a threat to people’s reputations. And she should be very careful about using that word when she’s so quick to turn around and make intimidating comments herself.”

Coffman said, “A lot of people around here have known me for a long time and I’ve been called a lot of things. But you know what? I’ve never been called a bigot. I find it quite interesting that those that know me or have even been around me would even think that that would be one of the words that they would use to describe me. Never would I have guessed that one. Absolutely never.”

Jansen added, “She also used the interesting, ‘there’s a pattern of behavior here.’ They love to use that kind of terminology because it sounds somehow authoritative or analytic. No one’s ever accused you of being a bigot. There’s no pattern of behavior.”

The letter of censure sent to Pat Toomey’s office by the Franklin County Republican Committee also came up.

“This thing isn’t all about race,” Coffman said. “It’s about politics and it’s very, very deep.”

Jansen said, “It’s about power. The only reason people focus on race like this is because it’s connected to power.”

Ryan pointed out, “Don’t forget about the money. This is money and power and being used.”

Jansen said, “I got up there and I spoke and I said I agree dialogue is great and I think that’s going to change hearts and minds more than anything. Of course we care if someone is being bullied. I asked for documented evidence. Not because I didn’t believe things people were saying, although most of it seemed to be they wouldn’t hold hands walking down the street as a same sex couple because they felt that people would treat them badly, well nobody’s breaking a law there. You’re putting things on people. Where’s the documented evidence that people are not getting services or they are being bullied to the point of being hurt because that’s where you really break a law is when you deny people their rights. We don’t have evidence of that. You can’t convince a community to pass a law if you don’t have evidence that we need it.”

“You’re exactly right,” Coffman said. “It was very short on evidence, substance of what has really happened. All those things that they talk about, they’d have an attorney, they’d be lawyered up and it would be in court. If you don’t have evidence, it doesn’t exist in a court of law.”

Jansen added, “I offered to be on this committee. I said if you’re going to do a committee, I agree with dialogue, I’d like to be on it. I gave my credentials, I have a medical background, clinical research. I’ve really followed this, I’ve helped legislators look at these things and then somebody stood up and said you can’t have someone like that on the committee and only people in LGBTQ community can be on it. Well then you don’t want a dialogue do you?”

Additionally, should laws and ordinances involve a person’s feelings?

Jansen pointed out, “We heard a lot of people talking about feeling unsafe. We’re crossing into dangerous territory when you’re going to say somebody is breaking a law based on the way somebody else is made to feel under any circumstances. If you hurt somebody, if you attack them physically, if you keep them from being able to walk down the sidewalk, or you keep them from being able to go into a store, those are real things that should be addressed, but they’re talking about feelings.”

Barkdoll agreed, “That is a very slippery slope. I think all of us agree there should be in a general sense equality and people should be hired based on their merits…but when they get into this thing about well we want an ordinance to be extended to protect us if we feel like something has happened, that is a very dangerous legal standard and it gets into dangerous policy territory for a borough government. I think it’s fine if the borough wants to have this debate and this discussion but they need to be really cautious if they’re going to adopt some kind of an ordinance that has that language in about taking action or legal issues related to someone’s feelings. That is very tricky territory.”

Borough council is a part time, paid a couple of grand a year, position and there will be no referendum on this – in other words, it won’t come up on a ballot for all the citizens of Chambersburg to vote on.

Ryan said, “If borough council decides or they’re squeezed into this kind of a decision because of a packed house full of folks with feelings, that is awfully dangerous because it won’t be brought to the people of Chambersburg.”

Barkdoll added, “You can bet that the group that’s advocating for this, they already have in their pocket the model ordinance. Don’t be fooled that the commission will form the policy. They’ve already got what the policy is. The national group, the statewide groups, they have model language and that’s what they would use and that would emerge from this committee and that’s what they would put before council so the language is probably already written. They know what they want.”

This may ultimately come back to the borough solicitor to see if this is something borough council even wants to engage in.

Barkdoll said, “You could see an argument we’re going to pass this because it’s just symbolic, it’s not really something that can be enforced or you could see the argument like we’re discussing we don’t want to go down this road, it creates a dangerous precedent. It’s too difficult to implement and enforce and I think those are the two debating factions you’re going to see when it does get to a vote if it gets there.”

Jansen noted, “We now know there are places around the world where people have been put in jail for misgendering someone. You’re using the wrong pronoun. Now we’re talking about freedom of speech, freedom of thought, belief in what science would say somebody is genetically versus what they think they are. This is fraught with so many problems.”

Barkdoll said, “If I were on that council or if I were on the committee, I think a question that I would like to know is can you cite some examples where you believe this sort of discrimination has occurred in the borough? My guess is they won’t be able to cite any and that doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to pursue this and say we still want to have this in place regardless. I don’t hear that there’s allegations being made that the borough government is engaging in this conduct. It’s more of a policy they want to implement to say even though you’re not engaging in it, we want to make sure you never engage in it. When you’re forming new laws, forming ordinances, I’m not sure that’s a great basis to get something done.”

Ryan said, “To last night’s borough council meeting, I felt very enlightened on a number of different things and hearing the stories. I want to thank the people that got up on microphone. It made an impact on me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there were some very thoughtful people that made some very compelling discussions about it and having the dialogue was what Jansen had also championed there. Let’s have the conversation. But if this ordinance is already out there where is this already? What counties is it in? What boroughs is it in? Let’s see it. And here’s what could be coming to Chambersburg and let’s make sure we give it to all the council members now so they get a really good idea. Here’s what could be coming to Chambersburg and why it matters.”

Shippensburg and Carlisle already have it, so those towns would be good places to start.

Barkdoll added, “I’ll bet if you pulled those from these other municipalities, all of them are going to be virtually identical. So it would not be difficult to get your hands on one of those now. These are the ordinances that have been adopted. We don’t even need to hear what the committee recommends. We know what it’s going to be.”