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Thursday, 10 October 2019 18:09

An Unlikely Advocate for LGBTQ and Other Marginalized Pennsylvanians

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Milton Jerrold Shapiro was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 25, 1912. He eventually changed his last name to Shapp to avoid receiving public prejudice for his Jewish faith. After graduating from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland in 1933, Shapp started an independent sales business for electronics. He moved his business to Philadelphia in 1936 and made his residence in Merion Square, Montgomery County. After serving in World War II, Shapp founded Jerrold Electronics Corporation.

milton jerrold shapp psa sm

Photo credit: Pennsylvania State Archives

Shapp quickly developed a reputation for not only further developing the cable television industry but also his respect for marginalized groups. His company often hired African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and other minority groups. Women even had the opportunity to hold top management positions. Shapp’s reputation aided him in his run for Pennsylvania Governor. Although he lost in 1966, Shapp’s refusal to “lock step with Democratic bosses”[1] resonated with the general public. In 1970, Shapp ran again and became the first Jewish Governor of Pennsylvania.

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Times Herald, November 4, 1970

While in office, Shapp became nationally known for getting opposing groups to work together and making improvements to public services. Some of these improvements included: elderly programs, handicap services, welfare reform, prison reforms, divorce reforms, and tax breaks for smaller businesses. Although Shapp is well known for these improvements, one of his most important contributions is often overlooked.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

In 1974, Shapp received a letter from gay activist Mark Segal. The two met in Norristown to discuss how to prevent discrimination of people identifying as LGBTQ. After the meeting, Shapp launched a task force to investigate possible solutions. Realizing the State Legislature would not pass state-wide laws preventing discrimination in local communities, Shapp decided to make changes to the State Government itself. On April 23, 1975, Shapp issued an executive order to end discrimination within the Pennsylvania State Government against people based on their “sexual preference”.[2] This was the first time any Governor in the United States made a law protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

 


[1] Burton, William. “LGBT History Month: Former PA gov was an unlikely advocate for gay rights.” Wednesday October 10, 2018. The Bay Area Reporter. https://www.ebar.com/news/history/266588

[2] “Pennsylvania Governors: Governor Milton Jerrold Shapp.” Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/governors/1951-2015/milton-shapp.html

 

 

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