You may have noticed the rainbow-colored banners adorning the street lamps in downtown State College this month. If you ever wondered how they came to be there, wonder no more!
As part of the CBICC’s ongoing ABC Essentials free monthly program that explores the world of municipal authorities, boards, and commissions (ABCs), two employees from the Borough of State College recently spoke at the April session about some of the Borough’s efforts to be more inclusive of the entire community.
“At the Borough, we’ll do everything we can to be open and welcoming,” explained Kevin Kassab, Community Engagement Manager.
“The way it works is the [group] comes up with an idea, presents it, and then staff will implement the [final, approved version of the] idea,” Kassab recounted to the group of ABC Essentials’ attendees.
This is how the rainbow banner idea was initiated; then, the final pieces were put into place. The funding came from an outside donor – not tax-payer money. And because of the diverse voices on the LGBTQ Advisory Committee – including Penn State campus liaisons – the timing was also adjusted to coincide with Penn State’s April Pride Month through the June National Pride Month.
For the 2018 Pride Month, a few of the crosswalks were painted with rainbow colors. Other actions have been less visible, such as gender neutral bathrooms in employee areas of the Borough’s building. Through it all, Kassab has served in an official capacity as both a liaison to the committee and the community – fielding calls, questions, ideas, and more.
“It’s a retention type of thing,” Kassab said about the high MEI score. “And people wanting to move here, to raise their kids here – in a welcoming environment.”
The first action of the LGBTQ Advisory Committee was with kids in mind – banning conversion therapy for minors.
“Dan Murphy is an openly gay member of council and noted that we needed to take a stance with this ban – that these practices aren’t acceptable,” remembered Douglas Shontz, Communications Specialist.
This action made attendee Peter Kemp wonder, “How do you write an ordinance and who is responsible for writing it?”
Kassab explained to the group that after the LGBTQ Advisory Committee identified the goal of banning conversion therapy for minors, it then fell to the Borough staff to do the research. So, they examined how other communities had banned the practice, made some tweaks, and presented the draft ordinance to Council for debate, vote, and ultimately approval.
Another attendee, Evelyn Wald of the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice, wondered if any members of the clergy were part of the LGBTQ Advisory Committee. Kassab relayed that while there were no designated members, anyone is welcome to attend the public meetings and that they would be a great addition.
“The typical four year term didn’t fit our student residents,” explained Shontz. “In our drive to lower the barriers for entry, the LGBTQ Advisory Committee members now have two year terms.”
With all of the inclusionary talk, Peter Kemp was intrigued by what other groups had been added to the fold.
Kassab noted that last year’s “Your Are Welcome” street lamp banners featured international students. He also emphasized the efforts of the MLK Plaza Committee, which helped design the plaza, advise on historical aspects, organize momentous tributes, and are actively continuing to program the space.
This month is also the Borough’s annual ABC Appreciation Dinner.
“If you offer your time and volunteer, we really appreciated it,” Shontz said. “This dinner is our chance to say ‘thank you.’”
Please join us for the next monthly installment of ABC Essentials. Louwana Oliva of CATA will be leading the discussion on May 1st entitled “All Aboard!” as we explore the world of transportation in Centre County. The fun begins with refreshments and networking at 5:15 pm at the CBICC office. While the event is complimentary, please RSVP here.
Special thanks to Maher Duessel for sponsoring the ABC Essentials program series.