LIVING YOUR TRUTH: ‘Day of Action’ takes Pennsylvania one step closer to legal equality
There’s this saying: “Don’t ask God to move mountains if you aren’t willing to pick up a shovel.” It’s a powerful statement that reminds us that we need to be prepared to work for things that we want. Much like moving a mountain, when it comes to changing laws, getting ordinances passed, and fighting for civil rights, these tasks are not quick, easy things to do. They take years, and they require extremely hard work getting people’s attention and swaying public opinion. They require many, many people to pick up shovels and dig in. Well, I believe that saying was taken to task in the State Capitol this Wednesday, thanks to Equality Pennsylvania‘s “Day of Action.”
More than 200 people representing the LGBT community of Pennsylvania flooded the rotunda of the Capitol Building, and they may just as well have been holding shovels as they made their voices heard. Those folks – many of them very good friends of mine – dug in and moved a mountain, one shovelful at a time. It was truly a historic day for the Keystone State, and I could not have been more proud of my siblings in the community. Although I could not be there in person, I was very much there in spirit!
The aim of Wednesday’s gathering was to force bills that would ensure equal rights for LGBT Pennsylvanians to be voted on – bills that have lingered, stagnated, or died in committee for more than a decade. As I wrote a few weeks ago, among these bills is the Pennsylvania Fairness Act that would grant protections for LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. These bills have sat in committee, unheard, because of folks like Republican Representative Daryl Metcalfe and Senator Mike Folmer, who have been given the duty to decide whether or not to bring them out of committee to be voted on. Of course, neither will bring them to the floor, either due to religious beliefs or the belief that these bills lack a “necessary urgency” that would require hearing them in a timely manner. It’s quite a sad state of affairs.
Since that time, Democratic Representative Dan Frankel moved to discharge the PA Fairness Act (HB 1510), which would move it out of Metcalfe’s control and force a vote. We’re still waiting to see what the outcome of this move will be, but it has sparked an incredible uproar of activity among the LGBT community, who made their way to Harrisburg on Wednesday hoping to speak with representatives and plead their cases for the passage of these bills. As a result, several bills were finally moved out of committee to be heard by the Pennsylvania Senate. At long last, we have movement on major protections for LGBTs! But wait… let’s not celebrate just yet.
Senators Scott Wagner and Pat Browne are the two men responsible for moving nondiscrimination legislation forward. Thanks to them, and the prompting of hundreds of LGBT Pennsylvanians in the State Capitol, Senate Bill 1307 will move to the Senate floor for a vote. In addition, Browne also introduced Senate Bill 1316, which updates the Human Relations Act to protect LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodation. That bill now awaits action in the Senate State Government Committee. So while we do have movement and a chance to make a historical push towards equality, we still have some way to go.
The concern here is that while LGBT individuals may soon be protected when it comes to housing and employment, the section about public accommodations has yet to be heard, lingering in committee. It seems that while the Pennsylvania Fairness Act is a comprehensive bill that covers all three areas, the only bills that are going to be voted on will decide whether or not there will be protections in housing and employment.
What this means is that, should these bills pass in the Senate, discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation will no longer be legal when it comes to your job, when looking for a house, or being evicted from your apartment simply for being gay or trans. However, homosexual and transgender people will still be at risk of being denied services. For example, forcing a gay couple out of a restaurant for being gay, refusing to cater a same-sex wedding, being thrown out of a store for using the bathroom that aligns with your gender identity… these scenarios would still be legal, and will continue to be legal until public accommodations or the PA Fairness Act get passed. This essentially still has the ability to make our lives truly miserable.
The hope here is that these bills pass quickly and that comprehensive protections are in place for the entire state, not just select towns and cities. But we still have a long way to go, and there are still exclusions in place. At the very least, it’s good to know that a bill being considered that would have protected “religious freedom,” thereby making it legal to discriminate based on religious belief, was almost immediately shot down. That’s something to be very proud of. It shows that we have a legislature that is trying very hard to keep toxic laws out while bringing inclusive, equal rights to all Pennsylvanians.
In the meantime, get out those shovels and get ready to start digging – we still have a few mountains left to move!