Lawmakers, leaders from the faith and business communities, LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, and allies spoke Feb. 3 at a press conference at the state Capitol to call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections in Pennsylvania and across the country. The event was hosted by Pennsylvania Youth Congress to formally launch its campaign, Pennsylvania Values.
As the legislature begins its work for 2020, Republican State Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) pledged support for SB 224, legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
Additionally, as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on three LGBTQ discrimination cases - and could issue a ruling this year that could potentially strip away federal employment protections for LGBTQ Americans - speakers also explained why statewide and federal legislation is urgently needed to ensure LGBTQ Americans are able to live and work without fear of discrimination or harassment, and that they’re formally protected by state and federal law.
“As Chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, I take very seriously the need to have the best workforce possible to grow our economy and create opportunities. Every person should have unfettered access to opportunities. Leaving qualified individuals on the sidelines because of their identity fails Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Bartolotta. “I look forward to getting this legislation through the Senate, to the House and on to the [governor's] desk. It’s about time.”
“We are 20 years into the 21st century. We cannot continue to allow our fellow Pennsylvanians to be treated like second-class citizens for their gender identity or their sexual orientation. This bill needs to pass now,” said Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-178).
Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill presents state lawmakers with the opportunity to ensure all LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are guaranteed protection, no matter their ZIP code. Critically, this legislation would protect LGBTQ people across the state, regardless of the outcome of the three cases of anti-LGBTQ employment discriminationcurrently under consideration at the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress, in turn, has the opportunity to solidify LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the federal level by passing the Equality Act, which would enshrine LGBTQ nondiscrimination as a value held and respected equally across the country.
“The reality and fear of discrimination affects LGBT Pennsylvanians every single day. Passing this bill is the right thing to do for our state, and ultimately our country. We have the power today in Pennsylvania to fix this and save lives,” said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of Pennsylvania Youth Congress.
“As [my son] grows in his career, I want him to have the same opportunities as everyone else. I want him to be able to find a job he loves, work hard, and provide for his family. I want him to be able to find housing and get medical attention without concern that he may be denied because he is a transgender individual,” said Melissa DeStefano, resident of Montgomery County and mother of a transgender son.
As the coordinated effort backing LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation in the General Assembly, Pennsylvania Valueshas secured unprecedented support. Speakers shared the fact that there is overwhelming support for this legislation from major state businesses such as Alcoa, Hershey and Giant Eagle, more than 30 regional chambers of commerce, over three dozen colleges and universities, including the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and the University of Pennsylvania), numerous faith leaders, and leading statewide civic organizations(including the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the NAACP of Pennsylvania and the Anti-Defamation League.
“Legislators, today I am here asking for your support as a Pennsylvanian, an LGBTQ individual, and as someone representing part of the business community in Northeastern Pennsylvania on SB 224. We have to be an area that shows we are welcoming to all Pennsylvanians, future and current, to live, work and play,” said Ben Eaton of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.
“I love my home state. But I’m certain that I’d love it even more if protection against discrimination was guaranteed for the more than 400,000 members of the LGBTQ community living in Pennsylvania, myself included. I wait, eagerly and hopefully, for the day that this is the case,” said Maggie Nealon, president ofSt. Joseph's University's LGBT student organization.
“Discrimination based on my sexual orientation almost left me without a place to live. This situation should not have legally been allowed to happen,” said Michael Bugbee, a student at Shippensburg University. “Our lawmakers here in Pennsylvania and the Justices on the Supreme Court need to take action to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone again.”
“As an Afro-Latina of the trans experience, I have experienced rampant discrimination,” said Mahogany Rios, Pennsylvania Youth Congress Ambassador from Pittsburgh. “Many of us suffer from extreme poverty, racism and transphobia within our communities. Statewide LGBT nondiscrimination protections will not only dramatically improve the lives of countless young transgender people of color like me in Pennsylvania, but will save our lives.”
At the press conference, Methodist Bishop Jeremiah Parkshared a letter in support of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections signed by all the Methodist Bishops of Pennsylvania. Additional letters signed by all the Episcopal Bishops and Lutheran Bishops of Pennsylvania were presented in support of the legislation: “We call upon our lawmakers to recognize the unjust suffering experienced by our LGBTQIA+ citizens when they are marginalized and dehumanized, and ask them to act to protect them from harm by passing this bill. It is long overdue and greatly needed at this time, which is filled with polarization and violence.”
As reported previously by The Central Voice, earlier this year members of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus stood together to introduce the bipartisan PA Fairness Act, which would update the state's non-discrimination law to explicitly include protections for LGBTQ people from discrimination at work, in housing and in public places. Passage of protections in Pennsylvania is a critical step to ensure LGBTQ people are treated fairly in employment, housing, and public spaces.
House Bill 1404 by Rep. Dan Frankel and Senate Bill 614 by Sen. Farnese are now in the legislative game. With similar language, they provide basic civil rights for LGBT individuals.
That’s if they pass.
Pennsylvania has had similar legislation introduced in 2011, 2013, 2016, and 2018. And that’s where all activity stopped.
The companion bills introduced on May 6 would update Pennsylvania’s current nondiscrimination law – originally written in 1955 – to ensure that all residents, regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, disability -- and now sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – can participate in and contribute to the state’s economy.
It is currently legal in Pennsylvania to fire someone and deny them housing or business services solely based of the person being gay or transgender. And that’s even though a recent survey of state residents shows that 73% incorrectly believe discrimination against gay and transgender people in the workplace and in housing and business services is already illegal.
Rep. Frankel finds the current situation – 58 of 2,682 municipalities in the state have protections, the remaining 2,630 do not - “incredulous, what a patchwork of protections within our state.”