Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ Community Demands a State Senate Vote on Non-Discrimination Protections

Photo: Sean Kitchen Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) speaking at a Fairness Act Rally on the Pennsylvania Capitol Steps

By Sean Kitchen

June 22, 2023

It’s been seven weeks since House Democrats passed the Fairness Act, and LGBTQ+ activists and allies are tired of waiting. On Wednesday, they held a lobby day in Harrisburg demanding a vote on the non-discrimination bill.   

LGBTQ+ activists visited the Pennsylvania Capitol on Wednesday and lobbied members of the state Senate to schedule a vote for the Fairness Act, a bill that would cement non-discrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community into state law.

The day began with Taylor James, president of the TriVersity Pride Center in Pike County, leading a group of community members and activists up the capitol steps chanting “trans rights are human rights.”

The coalition pushing for the passage of the bill consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU PA), the Eastern PA Transequity Project, Pennsylvania Stands Up, the Trevor Project and others.

The Fairness Act amends the Pennsylvania Human Relations Code and will make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. This would prevent an employer firing an employee or a landlord evicting a tenant for simply being a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Nearly half of all LGBTQ+ workers have reported facing unfair treatment in the workplace, according to a 2021 study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. 

While Democrats in Pennsylvania and other states are fighting to pass protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, nearly 500 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community have been introduced in state legislatures around the country, according to the ACLU. Most of these bills are being introduced and passed in states controlled by Republicans. 

The Trevor Project released a poll earlier this year highlighting how anti-LGBTQ+ legislation harms the mental health of young people within the LGBTQ+ community. The poll found “an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ youth have been negatively impacted by recent debates and laws around anti-LGBTQ policies and that many have also experienced victimization as a result.”

It’s been seven weeks since House Democrats passed the Fairness Act, but the bill took 22 years to move through the Pennsylvania House and advance to the Senate. Gov. Josh Shapiro promised he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Advocates and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are growing worried as the bill languishes in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee Committee. The committee has only met twice since the Senate’s version of the legislation was introduced in March.

State Sens. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) and Nikil Saval (D-Philadelphia), who are the prime cosponsors of the Senate’s version of the Fairness Act, spoke in support of the bill on the Capitol steps.

Santarsiero shared a short anecdote about his son—who is part of the LGBTQ community—being asked to raise the pride flag in their Bucks County community and the importance of that symbolic gesture.

The senator went on to advocate for the passage of the Fairness Act. 

”You know what’s more powerful than a symbol, more powerful than a flag or a lapel pin? A law,” Santarsiero said. “A law that cannot be changed by some future governor who may not be supportive as our current governor is. A law that will stand the test of time and enshrine in our statutes equality for everyone.”

Following the rally, the LGBTQ+ activists and allies began lobbying different members of the Pennsylvania Senate. 

Jeannine Hiester, a parent of a transgender teenager in Chester County, was one of the allies lobbying on behalf of her son and members of the LGBTQ community. 

“I am the mother of a transgender teenager, who everyday has to beat obstacles – everyday life obstacles,” Hiester said in an interview. “This would help moving forward to cover all bases as far as equal rights and non-discrimination all across the board for him and his community.”

Hiester added that her son has been a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community, but has faced significant discrimination as a result of his outspokenness. 

“He has been dehumanized as a child by grown adults, by members of Moms for Liberty and people who are anti-LGBTQ”.

Hiester stated that this lobby day entailed more than just meeting with her State Senator, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester). Instead, Wednesday was about sending a personal message to legislators who may be opposed to the Fairness Act.

Hiester said she was there  “as a parent trying to get the message to those opposed to the bill to understand what it’s like to be the parent of someone that’s being targeted and how equal rights across the board are for everyone.”

“It’s essential to life. It’s life saving,” she added. “It’s a must.”

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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