Don’t leave Huntingdon behind. How a lack of nondiscrimination protections hurts Pennsylvania’s economy

Anthony Bullett • Huntingdon

anthonybullettFamily has been a central part of Anthony’s life. That’s why, after spending 25 years living in Central New Jersey, Anthony Bullett returned to his hometown of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania to care for his aging Mom.

“I’ve always been blessed to have family around wherever I’ve been. But after my father died in 2000, it just became more important to me to try and spend more time with my mother. My sister lives here too, so I came back to increase my mother’s quality of life and help my sister out.”

Partly inspired by his father’s legacy, Anthony has been an outspoken activist from an early age. He got his first taste of activism in his youth, when after writing numerous letters to the editor, he successfully got the city to pave a road in Huntingdon where African American residents lived.

“It was unfair to these residents to have a road that was unpaved,” Anthony explains.

This experience was just the beginning for Anthony, who was inspired after seeing how speaking out on even a small issue like paving a road could lead to real results. These days, Anthony is an outspoken proponent for a nondiscrimination law in Pennsylvania that includes gay and transgender people, after noting how the current patchwork of nondiscrimination laws in the Commonwealth has left many Pennsylvanians sorely unprotected.

“My focus has always been on equality, when we work towards getting rid of barriers, it helps us all.”

Anthony says his views on equality have been shaped in part, by his Protestant faith.

“In essence, I have tried to form my life around three passages of the bible, the golden rule in Matthew, which is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The second is John 15:17, where Jesus said, ‘this I command you, that you love one another.’ And the is a passage from the Old Testament in 1 Samuel that says God does not see us as we see each other. God is always looking deeper. We as humans assign these labels of gay or straight, white or black, woman or man as a way of separating ourselves.”

anthony2Today in Pennsylvania, many of the state’s major cities including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Reading ensure that no one can be fired, denied housing, or refused service, just because they are gay or transgender. But that still leaves many people in the Commonwealth’s rural and suburban areas sorely unprotected.

“I look at places that have protections, I look at New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh… we do ourselves a great economic harm by not recognizing all people are harmed when we don’t protect our citizens. It’s a tax, a discrimination tax, when we keep people from being all that they can be.”

Anthony juxtaposes State College, PA, which has a nondiscrimination ordinance on the books and is where Penn State is located, to that of Huntingdon, PA, his hometown.

“I moved 20 miles from Penn State, and you can see the vibrancy of their town. While State College is not a predominantly gay town, because of the university, there’s a mixture of people. It’s a town that has really embraced their gay citizens.”

“When you come to Huntingdon County, everyone is in the closet, everyone is afraid—and the law does nothing to help that.”

Anthony cares deeply for his hometown, but he worries that towns like Huntingdon—and Pennsylvania’s economy—will lag behind until state law is modernized to protect hardworking gay and transgender people from discrimination.

In his rural community of Huntingdon, he’s seen firsthand the impact of discriminatory laws. “People are moving out and we’re losing talent. We’re not progressing as a community and our downtown is becoming a ghost town. Our properties are losing values, we’re not moving ahead, and if you look at the area between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, the rural areas, all of them are hurting because the manufacturing jobs are gone and they haven’t been able to replace that.”

While passing a statewide nondiscrimination law won’t stop all discrimination towards gay and transgender people or quell economic woes overnight, Anthony always remembers his mother’s experience of living through segregation and the civil rights movement. Over time, she said, after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1964, public acceptance of the African American community undoubtedly increased.

“Speaking as a an African American, my mother has told me from growing up in South Carolina, how after the Civil Rights Act was passed, she saw a noticeable difference in relations between black and white people. That’s the importance of living somewhere that recognizes the rights of all individuals and not just some.”

As a black gay man, Anthony understands the differences between struggles for racial equality and LGBT equality—but underscores his firm belief that all people, black, white, men, women, gay or straight, everyone benefits when we move towards equality.

“Passing a nondiscrimination law will give people more assurance that all of Pennsylvania is open for business. That if you’re qualified and you do your job well, you won’t face discrimination because of who you are. And if you do, there will be a remedy, some action that you can take. It’s a win-win for us all.”

“I support this because we need this to move forward, and we need to focus less on each other’s characteristics and more on each other’s abilities.”

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