A bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly last month seeking to extend equal protection rights with regard to housing and employment to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered citizens of the commonwealth.Allegheny County Representative Dan Frankel, a Democrat, was the primary sponsor of House Bill 300, submitted March 5 of this year with a record number 79 cosponsors for LGBT legislation. The bill would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955 to include freedom from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation for LGBT individuals. As it is currently written, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act cites discrimination based “upon race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, disability, and nation of origin, and education” by employers and public agencies as unlawful. The submitted amendments to the Act would include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the language of the law.
In the text of the bill, the term “employer” is defined as “the Commonwealth or any political subdivision or board, department, commission or school district thereof and any person employing four or more persons within the Commonwealth.”
The exceptions to the rule are organizations that are religious in nature, fraternal, and charitable or sectarian corporations or associations unless those corporations are supported in any way by government funding.
The House State Government Committee approved the bill on March 11 through a narrow margin as the votes were cast along party lines with Democrats taking the 12-11 majority in favor of the bill. The bill was then recommended to the Appropriations Committee later that day. All Republican members who voted opposed the new bill.
State Government Committee Chairwoman Babette Joseph, a Democrat from the 182nd district in Philadelphia, is optimistic about the future of the bill but remains aware of the opposition the bill faces.
“The Democrats were kept in line [on the committee vote], but unfortunately, we didn’t get any Republicans,” Ms. Josephs said. “I think we understand about Republicans trying to be obstructionists.”
Since the bill was introduced, religious groups such as the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Family Institute of Pennsylvania have begun voicing their opposition to HB 300 and as a result several cosponsors from both parties have removed their names. Republican Reps. Thomas Murt (152nd Dist.), Susan Helm (104th Dist.) and Bernie O’Neill (29th Dist.), as well as Democratic Reps. John Galloway (140th Dist.), Harry Readshaw (36th Dist.), Daniel Deasy (27th Dist.), Camille Bud George (74th Dist.) and John Hornaman (3rd Dist.) have all removed their names from the bill, a few of whom cited the need for further clarification of some of the text of the bill in order to arrive at a more informed decision.
As an openly gay member of our state government, Stephen Glassman, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, has a personal stake in the issue.
“In spite of the fact that I have the privilege of leading a state agency that is responsible for eradicating discrimination in Pennsylvania,” he said, “I myself am not protected by the very laws that I am mandated to enforce.”
West Chester is one of 13 municipalities in Pennsylvania that have passed ordinances banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered residents. The other municipalities are Allentown, Easton, Erie County, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lansdowne, New Hope, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Swarthmore, and York. Roughly 80 percent of the Commonwealth is without gender identity or sexual orientation protection laws.
Twenty states in the union, including New York, New Jersey and Maryland, have protection laws
It is unclear as of yet when voting on House Bill 300 will resume.
D.J. Baker is a West Chester University student. He can be reached at DB699965@wcupa.edu.