If you're a resident of California, New York, Colorado, or even Guam, and are a member of the LGBT community you can rest assured that you are protected by law from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in both the public and private sectors. Those areas listed are just a few of the 23 states and territories which afford their residents such protection. (See the map above.)
“What about Pennsylvania?” you may ask. Believe it or not Pennsylvania was the first state to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in the public sector back in 1975. (This was done via executive order. In 2003 via executive order, discrimination was banned based on gender identity.) But since then those working in the private sector, which are by far the majority, have been left defenseless. And little has been done to protect transgender individuals in either sector of the economy. There are currently no explicit, comprehensive statewide non-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people in Pennsylvania.
Remember the little cartoon scroll from School House Rock! who dreamed of becoming a bill? He sang, “It’s a long, long wait while I’m sitting in committee.” Well sitting quietly in committee since April 2017 is an act now known as SB 613. It’s a piece of legislation that seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) of 1955. It’s identical to SB 974 proposed in the last session of the PA legislature and co-sponsored by Berks County’s own Senator Judy Schwank.
Here’s the language of the current PHRA:
(a) The practice or policy of discrimination against individuals or groups by reason of their race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide or support animals because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals is a matter of concern of the Commonwealth. Such discrimination foments domestic strife and unrest, threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, and undermines the foundations of a free democratic state. The denial of equal employment, housing and public accommodation opportunities because of such discrimination, and the consequent failure to utilize the productive capacities of individuals to their fullest extent, deprives large segments of the population of the Commonwealth of earnings necessary to maintain decent standards of living, necessitates their resort to public relief and intensifies group conflicts, thereby resulting in grave injury to the public health and welfare, compels many individuals to live in dwellings which are substandard, unhealthful and overcrowded, resulting in racial segregation in public schools and other community facilities, juvenile delinquency and other evils, thereby threatening the peace, health, safety and general welfare of the Commonwealth and its inhabitants.
(b) It is hereby declared to be the public policy of this Commonwealth to foster the employment of all individuals in accordance with their fullest capacities regardless of their race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide or support animals because of the blindness, deafness or physical handicap of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of support or guide animals, and to safeguard their right to obtain and hold employment without such discrimination, to assure equal opportunities to all individuals and to safeguard their rights to public accommodation and to secure housing accommodation and commercial property regardless of race, color, familial status, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, handicap or disability, use of guide or support animals because of blindness or deafness of the user or because the user is a handler or trainer of guide or support animals.
(c) This act shall be deemed an exercise of the police power of the Commonwealth for the protection of the public welfare, prosperity, health and peace of the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
SB 613 would provide a basic level of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Why should Pennsylvanians support this amendment? Number one-it’s the right thing to do! In addition, recent surveys show 70% of Pennsylvanians support bolstering protections against discrimination for the LGBT community. But beyond that there are positive economic benefits for the commonwealth. Promoting a respect for diversity can only serve to attract the best workers and give Pennsylvania an economic advantage. Language from the bill's Memorandum sums it up well:
"More than 400 companies in Pennsylvania, including some of the largest employers, have non-discrimination policies in place that include sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Additionally, all Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Commonwealth have non-discrimination policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and most have a gender identity or expression policy as well. These employers recognize that by respecting diversity, they can attract and retain the best workers and maintain a competitive advantage – a key factor in stimulating economic growth.
Pennsylvania should be seen as a place that welcomes any individual who wants to work hard, succeed, and contribute to our economy without the fear of being fired or refused services simply because of who they are. Although there has been an increase in the number of Pennsylvania municipalities that have passed non-discrimination ordinances, without a statewide law, thousands of individuals not residing in one of these thirty-eight (38) municipalities are not covered. Moreover, Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the only state in the Northeast without a law protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity."
Since the Memorandum was written, the number of municipalities has increased to 44.
Municipalities with non-discrimination ordinances
Forty-four (44) municipalities in Pennsylvania prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or both:
1. City of Philadelphia (1982 SO, 2002 GI)
2. City of Harrisburg (1983)
3. City of Pittsburgh (1997)
4. City of York (1998)
5. City of Lancaster (2002)
6. City of Allentown (2002)
7. Erie County (2002)
8. City of Erie (2002)
9. New Hope Borough (2002)
10. City of Scranton (2003)
11. Swarthmore Borough (2006)
12. City of West Chester (2006)
13. City of Easton (2006)
14. Lansdowne Borough (2006)
15. State College Borough (2007)
16. Allegheny County (2009)
17. City of Reading (2009)
18. Doylestown Borough (2010)
19. Lower Merion Township (2010)
20. Borough of Conshohocken (2011)
21. Haverford Township (2011)
22. City of Bethlehem (2011)
23. Springfield Township (2011)
24. Newtown Borough (2011)
25. Whitemarsh Township (2011)
26. Jenkintown Borough (2011)
27. Susquehanna Township (2011)
28. Cheltenham Borough (2012)
29. Abington Township (2012)
30. Upper Merion Township (2012)
31. East Norriton Township (2012)
32. City of Pittston (2013)
33. Bristol Borough (2013)
34. Downingtown (2014)
35. Ambler Borough (2016)
36. Dickson City (2016)
37. Wilkes-Barre (2016)
38. Carlisle (2016)
39. Kennett Square Borough (2017)
40. Phoenixville (2017)
41. Royersford (2017)
42. Camp Hill (2017)
43. Stroudsburg (2017)
44. Upper Dublin Township (2017)
courtesy Equality Pennsylvania
Listen to the stories of people directly affected by SB 613:
Hopefully our legislators will get SB 613 out of committee and up for a vote soon. As for me, I don't remember the Declaration of Independence saying anything about pursuing happiness only in certain zip codes. Maybe I need to binge watch some School House Rock!
posted by Amy Levengood