The year is 2013, and in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania we have an uncommon situation. A citizen can be fired or refused housing or a public accommodation such as a library based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. In Pennsylvania, we are protected against discrimination based on age, gender, race, cultural background and religious affiliation – but are not protected if lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
I find that many of my constituents are not aware that you can be legally discriminated against in Pennsylvania for those reasons only. We need to fix this and fix it now. Pennsylvania is the only remaining state in the Northeast that permits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Interestingly, I have found confusion among my colleagues in the Pennsylvania House that this proposed legislation is about marriage equality or civil unions. The proposed legislation is not about either of those things.
House Bill 300 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 300, are antidiscrimination bills to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the categories that are protected in the state. I believe that we all know folks – friends, neighbors, colleagues, sons, daughters – who would be protected by this legislation. I have four adult cousins, all successful in their respective careers, who would benefit by this protection, and it is terrible to think that they could be fired or denied housing simply based on their sexual orientation.
The Pennsylvania Non-discrimination Act, to be introduced as H.B. 300 and S.B. 300 has a total of 115 sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including myself. These bills would protect all gay and transgender Pennsylvanians from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations such as hotels, libraries and hospitals.
Without such a statewide act, advocates are left to lobby each of Pennsylvania’s 2,562 municipalities to create laws locally protecting gay and transgender Pennsylvanians from being denied housing and local services due to discrimination.
We can and must do a much more efficient job of it at the state level.
Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly embrace the fact that no one should be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey done in March showed that 72 percent of Pennsylvanians — including 67 percent of Republicans, 73 percent of Democrats, and 85 percent of Independents — support protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination.
The challenges ahead include having the legislation assigned to a House committee that will commit to calling the legislation for a vote and then have that same legislation, if successfully voted out of committee, scheduled for a vote by the full House.
You can help by contacting your state legislators and asking them to support H.B. and S.B. 300, if they haven’t already. You can also contact the governor’s office to ask that he publically support this Non-discrimination Act. We are off to a good start, but make no mistake – we are a long way from the finish!
Democratic State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio represents Montgomery/Philadelphia