PA Lawmakers To Try Again For Anti-Discrimination Protection For LGBT People

Aug 31, 2015

The PA Fairness Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's anti-discrimination law.
Credit Ginny/Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying, once again, to change the state’s anti-discrimination law.

A pair of bills have been introduced that would update the Human Relations Act, making it illegal for someone to be fired from a job, turned away from a business and evicted from or denied housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act currently provides those protections for people on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, among others,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), “but we believe that it is a glaring omission to not include people from the LGBT community.”

Especially, said Frankel, now that same-sex couples can legally marry in the U.S.

“You can get married on the weekend then post a photograph of your same-sex wedding online and have somebody who is your employer take a look at it, disapprove of it and fire you Monday morning when you come to work,” said Frankel.

Similar bills have been introduced and rejected in Harrisburg over the last 10 years, but Frankel said that with bipartisan support, he hopes they can move forward this year. He added that what is needed is the buy-in of Republican leadership in both chambers.

“There’s no ability without the majority leader in the Senate or the majority leader in the House scheduling these pieces of legislation for a vote,” Frankel said. “They have to go through committee first, and that’s another obstacle.”

Daryl Metcalfe chairs the State Government committee, which has traditionally been assigned the bill. Metcalfe is a vocal opponent of extending the anti-discrimination law to include LGBT protections. But Frankel said lawmakers are trying to find ways to bring the laws to the floor without going through Metcalfe’s committee.

The bills do include a religious exemption, which would apply to religious positions. For example, Frankel said a religious school can fire or chose not to hire an LGBT individual to teach religious classes but, “you can’t do that for somebody who’s hired to teach a secular course or somebody who is hired to be a janitor or secretary in the school.”

In addition to bipartisan support, Frankel said the bills have the support of the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Chambers of Commerce and other business organizations and added the Pennsylvania Chamber is taking a look at supporting it.

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity, and an additional four have laws that cover only sexual orientation. Lawmakers at the federal level have introduced the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.