PA House Dems Advance Bill Protecting LGBTQ Pennsylvanians From Discrimination

State Reps. Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny) and Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) during a hearing regarding the Fairness Act (H.B. 300) at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, April 24, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen).

By Sean Kitchen

April 25, 2023

The Fairness Act, which Democrats have been trying to advance for more than two decades, cleared a major hurdle Monday. A vote before the full House is expected Wednesday.

Memember of the LGBTQ community and advocates filled a hearing room at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg with applause Monday after Democrats passed the Fairness Act out of the House Judiciary Committee. The anti-discrimination bill states that employers cannot discriminate against an individual because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Fairness Act (H.B. 300), which Democrats have been trying to advance for more than two decades, is expected to go before the full House for a vote on Wednesday.

Members of the LGBTQ community once had protections from descrimination under a 2002 amendment to the Ethnic Intimidation Act, until that amendment was reversed in 2008, according to Philadelphia Magazine. Since then, the Fairness Act and other anti-LGBTQ discrimination bills have stalled repeatedly amid opposition from House Republicans.  

A previous high-water mark for the Fairness Act occurred in 2013 when close to 100 House members signed onto the bill as co-sponsor, but the bill never made it out of the State Government Committee due to Republican opposition.  

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), who is a primary sponsor of the Fairness Act, was present for the committee vote, joining Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) and Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny), both members of the LGBTQ community. 

“I won’t breathe easy until we see this bill cross the finish line because we have been this close before,” Frankel said in a statement after the hearing. “But any member who dares oppose it should think hard about how that will be received by their constituents, their neighbors and likely members of their own families.”  

The hearing was tense at times when House Republicans used the vote as an opportunity to spread falsehoods about trans healthcare and issues affecting women’s shelters. Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) asked repeatedtly if religious hospitals would be forced to perform hysterectomies on trans individuals seeking surgery.  Rep. David Rowe (R-Snyder) talked about the unintended consequences of allowing trans women in women’s shelters in Canada.  Both Schemel and Rowe used their questions to misgender trans members by referring to them as “biological male” or “biological female.”            

Rep. La’Tasha Mayes (D-Allegheny), a lesbian, and co-prime sponsor of the bill, pushed back against those attacks against the LGBTQ community from her Republican colleagues.

“My colleagues talked about their concerns for women and survivors of sexual and domestic violence,” she said. “That is noble, but what’s not noble is to conflate that with a law that protects civil rights of LGBTQ+ folks in this commonwealth.”

Minority Chair Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) said the bill’s elongated journey through the house was an indication that  the legislation isn’t ready for prime-time. Kenyatta dismissed Kauffman’s remarks with a pointed analogy about the bill’s lengthy journey in the state legislature.

“To say that this bill is not ready for prime-time, I would remind the chairman, that if this bill was an average Pennsylvanian, it would drink by now because we’ve been waiting over 22 years to get this bill passed.”  

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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