by Adrian Shanker —
If sustainability is a guideline to ensuring the preservation of our land and community for the foreseeable future, then surely sustainability must include how we as community members and leaders treat each other. This becomes an important factor in the way we define a sustainable community.
In order to attract new citizens and to keep our current residents, the Lehigh Valley community needs to ensure that all its citizens are treated equally and fairly, and that the community as a whole stands up to any form of discrimination or governmentsponsored exclusion or denial of benefits.
This can take many forms depending on the issues that are raised, but the general belief that all citizens are equal and that we all possess intrinsic value is an undeniable notion. That is why I am proud to live in a city that has an anti-discrimination ordinance that goes beyond federal law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. And why I am also proud to live in a city that defeated a grossly racist bill last year targeting immigrants to our community. And why I feel culturally rewarded when walking in Allentown to see the vibrancy of our multi-lingual, multi-cultural city.
Yet at the same time, the Lehigh Valley has many more strides to take in order to call itself a sustainable community. The city of Bethlehem does not have an anti-discrimination ordinance inclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity. The County of Lehigh (and many of its cities) does not offer domestic partner benefits for its same sex county employees, and the Lehigh Valley has not seen a significant drop in the use of racially motivated crimes or gang violence in recent years.
The value of diversity in our communities is unmeasurable. We are stonger as a community when we embrace the differences among us and work to empower those in our community who have been marginalized by governmental and societal obstruction. The Lehigh Valley is a culturally rich place due to its diversity of faiths, sexualities, races, ethnicities, and beliefs. We should honor this diversity as a community by publicly recognizing the strengths of having a culturally rich community and simultaneously working to eliminate the attempts to undermine our diversity with divisiveness, discrimination, and laws which harm members of the community.
A diverse community is a sustainable community, but we cannot call our community diverse until our laws reflect the diversity towards which we aspire.
by Adrian Shanker
Adrian is a junior at Muhlenberg College [class of 2009], where he is the President of the Gay-Straight Alliance. Adrian is also on the Board of Directors for the PA Diversity Network.
(Originally published in the Alliance’s 2008 Directory of Organizations That Promote Sustainable Communities.)