By Matt Carey
NORRISTOWN, PA Montgomery County commissioners offered condolences on Thursday to families of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims, and they outlined potential steps the county could take to help prevent similar tragedies.
Commissioners Josh Shapiro and Valerie Arkoosh, the two Democratic members of the three-member board, pushed strengthening anti-discrimination measures protecting the LGBT community, as well as minimizing gun violence, at the county, state and national levels.
In honor of the 49 people killed Sunday in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, the commissioners led a moment of reflection designed to be viewed by employees throughout Montgomery County via a live stream from the board meeting in Norristown.
"There are actions we can take that will make us safer and will make us a more tolerant society," Shapiro said. "To be candid, there's not one action we could have taken that maybe would have stopped this deranged lunatic in Orlando, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."
Pennsylvania's anti-discrimination laws do not include protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. That means many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents can still be denied housing, services or employment. While there have been bipartisan efforts to change those laws, they have not gained traction in the Legislature.
"Although we have marriage equality as the law of the land, we still, particularly in states like Pennsylvania, have a situation where a person can be married on Saturday and fired from their job on Monday for having gone through that marriage ceremony," Arkoosh said. "We still have a lot of work to do."
"When you allow policies like that to fester, it also allows for hatred to be bred, and it allows for intolerance to continue in a community," Shapiro said.
Commissioner Joe Gale, the lone Republican on the board, encouraged people to speak up and contact police if they see something that makes them uncomfortable.
"Terrorism is here. It's a reality," Gale said. "We have to put political correctness aside and report (suspicious instances) to authorities when necessary."
Shapiro discussed various measures that have been taken at the county level through the Public Safety Department to prevent mass casualty events, including a panic button system at county schools that immediately alerts dispatchers of an emergency. Additionally, awareness sessions have been held at schools and other county buildings.
"These are things that we work on routinely throughout the year, primarily focused on schools, colleges, other academic institutions," Shapiro said. "But it's not just reserved to that; it can be available to other facilities in the area.
"I'd be lying if I said that we have the magic answer to prevent something like this, but we try and drill and make sure that our institutions are as safe as possible," he added.