Pennsylvania Commission: Pass Bill to End LGBTQ Discrimination in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, joined by the Commissions on African American Affairs, Latino Affairs, Asian Pacific American Affairs, and Women, sent a letter to the General Assembly last week urging passage of legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in June ruled the federal Civil Rights Act provides protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.  However, currently, the PHRA does not provide those same protections under Pennsylvania law.  There also is no protection in state or federal law against such discrimination in housing or public accommodations.

While members of the LGBTQ community were pleased to see the Supreme Court rule in Bostock v. Clayton County, that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the term ‘sex’ includes sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to workplace discrimination, many Pennsylvanians are still not protected.  Title VII applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees, leaving many Pennsylvanians vulnerable to discrimination.  The Bostock ruling also does not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing and public accommodations. Amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation would provide those critical protections, which are already in place in most of our neighboring states.

“For too long LGBTQ Pennsylvanians have waited for action from the General Assembly on protections from discrimination and harassment,” said Rafael Álvarez Febo, executive director for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.  “The General Assembly’s historic inaction on these bills has placed countless Pennsylvanians at risk for unnecessary hardships and trauma.  With the increasingly divisive political climate in our nation, now more than ever we need Pennsylvanians to know that we are a commonwealth that will not stand for discrimination or bigotry.  The Pennsylvania House and Senate are in session this fall, and we’re calling on them to use this valuable time to protect their LGBTQ constituents.”

The full letter is as follows:

To the Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly:

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs is joined in unity by the Commission for Women and Governor’s Advisory Commissions on African American Affairs, Latino Affairs and Asian Pacific American Affairs, along with all LGBTQ Pennsylvanians to act on legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) to include protections for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.  Three bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to accomplish this, and all three await a vote:

HB1404 (Representative Frankel)
SB614 (Senator Farnese)
SB224 (Senator Browne)
On June 8, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the term “sex” includes Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity for federal employment discrimination cases.  The Bostock ruling has confirmed what many legal experts had already concluded; Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity should be considered protected classes under discrimination laws.  However, the Bostock case currently only impacts the application of one federal employment law and does not provide protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public spaces, and employment, as our state law already does for over a dozen protected classes.

The movements to include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) date back to 1976.  For nearly 45 years Pennsylvanians have understood that PHRA protections were needed to preserve the civil rights of all Pennsylvanians. Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not provide legal protections for LGBTQ people.  This puts our Commonwealth at a competitive disadvantage and discourages employers and employees alike from participating in the state’s economic growth.

In Governor Wolf’s 2020 budget address, he called on the General Assembly to finally amend the PHRA to right this long-standing wrong. The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, along with the Commissions for Pennsylvania Women, African American, Latino, and Asian Pacific American Affairs also agree that the time is now to amend the PHRA to ensure equal opportunity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under the law for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

Respectfully,

Rafael Álvarez Febo – Executive Director, Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs
Jalila Parker – Executive Director, Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs
Moriah Hathaway – Executive Director, Pennsylvania Commission for Women
Luz Colon – Executive Director, Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs
Stephanie Sun – Executive Director, Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs

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