For years in the Pittsburgh-area, only municipalities within Allegheny County, and the county itself, offered nondiscrimination to LGBTQ individuals.
On Jan. 12, that changed, as Monessen became the first municipality in Westmoreland County, and the first non-Allegheny County municipality in the Pittsburgh region to pass a law creating a Human Relations Commission to provide nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ individuals.
According to Monessen Mayor Matt Shorraw, the ordinance was passed unanimously, and he is proud the small city on the Monongahela River is a trailblazer for rural Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Mon Valley.
Tonight, I’m signing into law #Monessen’s most sweeping anti-discrimination ordinance, since 1968 with a unanimous City Council decision! We join with over 60 other municipalities across the Commonwealth in adopting this new Human Relations Ordinance!— Matt Shorraw (@MattShorraw) January 13, 2021
“I'm just so incredibly excited to get this landmark piece of legislation adopted in Monessen, with a unanimous vote,” said Shorraw in a statement. “We are the first municipality in the Mon Valley and the first in Westmoreland County. Monessen is a diverse city, and we need to ensure that we update our laws to protect everyone.”
Providing nondiscrimination protections in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania has not been easy. The issue became part of the mayor’s race in the city of Butler in 2017, only to have the Republican win the race, and the effort to add nondiscrimination protections there ended. Washington, Pa. has also been pushing to create a Human Relations Commission, but has not done so yet.
Shorraw encouraged the state legislature to pass statewide protections. Those efforts have been blocked by Republicans, who control both the state House and state Senate. A majority of Pennsylvanians support providing nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
Even so, Shorraw is hopeful that rural municipalities that have shied away from the issue of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections will follow Monessen’s lead. He says it wasn’t that long ago that Monessen was afraid to create protections.
“In the past, Monessen has shied away from talking about racial issues, disability issues, LGBTQ issues, and other discriminatory practices,” said Shorraw, “but that has been changing over the past year, thanks to local activists and open dialogue amongst residents.”
Momentum has been building throughout Pennsylvania for municipalities to create LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, even if not in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania. Sharpsburg and Crafton boroughs recently passed protections, as well as several others throughout the commonwealth since the fall of 2020. There are now at least 66 different municipalities that offer protections, with Monessen’s inclusion.
Monessen, home to about 7,200 residents, is currently seeking applicants to serve on its new Human Relations Commission. According to Shorraw, there are five vacant seats, and at least two members don’t have to be Monessen residents.