Opinion: In defense of human rights, every day

In a changing world, people unfortunately can and do retreat into intolerance. They do so fearing the unknown, holding misgivings about change or simply due to harboring hate in their hearts.

But since 1951, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations has worked to counter those primal tendencies, helping to reduce intergroup tensions and fight discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate dealings.

Some, on occasion, have declared that the United States, officially, has overcome inequalities of history – that civil rights advocacy is more or less a relic of the past, not a feature of the future.

We respectfully disagree, and recent headlines show why.

Nationally, people are questioning approaches to and applicability of justice as officer-involved shootings have left a trail of unarmed black men dead in their wake. Locally, we’ve seen ugliness personified in a vicious attack on a gay couple. Anti-Semitism has erupted this fall, from the Northeast to Temple University’s campus. People with disabilities remain targets for harassment and violence, at times even ending in death. And on it goes.

Despite this darkness there is a light, for this commission remains a refuge, where incidents can be and are investigated, evidence-based hearings held and, when proven, fines and punishments levied. We work to establish zero tolerance for discrimination, against residents or visitors – regardless of your race, ethnicity, ability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, income, domestic violence or sexual victim status, marital or familial status.

Yes, it’s sad that in 2014 Pennsylvania still doesn’t have a comprehensive hate crimes law that also would protect LGBT people and those with physical or intellectual disabilities from discrimination.

But Philadelphia does, and it covers everyone who lives, works or visits here. Those protections are codified in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance. We enforce that, fully and daily.

Don’t be a victim. Contact us. We fight for fairness, for all.

Rue Landau is executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. phila.gov/humanrelations.

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