On June 17, 1985, Mayor Bernie Sanders signed an LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance into law. The ordinance, which was passed by the Burlington City Council, prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
This ordinance was significant because at the time, very few municipalities in the United States had laws protecting LGBTQ individuals from discrimination. Sanders’ decision to sign the ordinance was a bold move, as it put Burlington at the forefront of LGBTQ rights and set an example for other municipalities to follow.
The ordinance’s passage was not without controversy, however. Many conservative and religious groups opposed the ordinance, and there were protests and public meetings on both sides of the issue. Sanders, however, was a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights and believed that everyone deserved to be treated fairly and without discrimination.
After the ordinance was signed into law, Sanders stated, “Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable to me and to the people of Burlington. Today, we are sending a message that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated in our city.”
This ordinance marked one of the first significant accomplishments of Sanders on LGBTQ rights and it also demonstrated his commitment to fighting for marginalized communities and promoting equality. Sanders’ leadership on this issue helped set the stage for more comprehensive LGBTQ rights laws and policies that would be passed in the coming years.
This ordinance was also a precursor to the later Vermont Act 120 which is a Vermont state law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accommodations. It was signed by Governor Howard Dean in 1992, making Vermont the first state in the United States to do so.
On June 22, 1985, Sanders wrote members of the gay community to inform them that the board had passed (the) resolution.
“It is my very strong view that a society which proclaims human freedom as its goal, as the United States does, must work unceasingly to end discrimination against all people,” he wrote. “I am happy to say that this past year, in Burlington, we have made some important progress by adopting an ordinance which prohibits discrimination in housing. This law will give legal protection not only to welfare recipients, and families with children, the elderly and the handicapped — but to the gay community as well.”
The Resolution stated:
“That the City Council of the City of Burlington expresses its strong support for the rights of lesbians and gay men generally, as well as specifically in the areas of employment, housing, child custody, and public services; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City Council encourages executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government at all levels to take action to guarantee these rights; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Burlington Board of Aldermen expresses its strong support of the constitutional rights of free assembly of all American citizens regardless of sexual orientation.