Huge Majority of Pennsylvanians Support LGBT Rights—So, Now What?
If you hang out with the right crowd, open LGBT discrimination outside of anonymous Internet threads and chatrooms isn’t part of your consciousness. But if you hang in Harrisburg, you’re all too aware that discrimination isn’t just a thing: It’s built into the stubborn laws of the state. Because Pennsylvania state law neglects a multitude of issues on behalf of LGBT individuals, we’re now the least-progressive northeastern state on that front. There’s no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation; the LGBT community is not covered in hate crimes legislation; there is no state law recognizing gay marriage or partnerships, and the list goes on.
But that’s not because of the people of the state. According to a new poll conducted by the Pittsburgh-based firm CivicScience on behalf of Equality Pennsylvania, 62 percent of commonwealth citizens agree LGBT people are entitled to the same civil rights protections as other minority groups. Sixty-nine percent believe LGBT people should not be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 72 percent believe LGBT people should not be refused service at hotels and other businesses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yeah, as it happens, that’s still allowed.
The Capitol’s LGBT caucus recently held a press conference to tout that poll and speak of the work they plan on doing in the current Legislative session. The LGBT caucus has doubled since last year—it’s currently at 58 members—and enjoys a bipartisanship (Republican Reps. Mike Fleck (Huntingdon), Tom Murt (Montgomery) and Chris Ross (Chester) joined this year) that would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago.
“Any member of the General Assembly who is reluctant to vote in support of LGBT civil rights should look at the more than doubling in size of the LGBT Equality Caucus from last session, coupled with our overwhelmingly positive poll numbers, for reassurance that their colleagues are there, and the public is with them,” said Equality PA executive director Ted Martin at the presser. “Pennsylvania is the worst state in the northeast when it comes to how we treat our LGBT citizens, and now is clearly the time to trade in that sad title.”
Among those present were co-chairs Sens. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), both of whom celebrated the growth of their caucus, though noted growth isn’t worth a damn if you can’t get bills passed. They touted a gay marriage bill that’s been introduced by Leach, an anti-discrimination bill introduced by Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia) and Frankel’s new version of House Bill 300, which will provide civil rights protections to members of the LGBT community. Bipartisan anti-bullying legislation has also been pushed by the state House, and is championed by local freshman Rep. Brian Sims, the first open LGBT individual to ever be elected to Pennsylvania’s Legislature.
“While many Pennsylvanians are still evolving on LGBT civil rights, a strong majority agree that LGBT people like me should not lose our jobs or be denied a table at a restaurant or a room in a hotel based simply on who we are,” said Sims at the press conference. (He also quoted former NFL coach Vince Lombardi.)
Before concluding, Sims also noted that the bipartisanship of the LGBT caucus in Pennsylvania makes it unique—and it also means that no single party has a monopoly on LGBT issues. As has been well-publicized, state Rep. Fleck came out this winter before joining the LGBT caucus.
Oddly enough, though, it may still be tough to get LGBT-centric legislation through the House and Senate—and God only knows what the governor will make of it. While the LGBT caucus proudly notes their anti-discrimination legislation being pushed forward, antithesis bills are making the rounds, too. No single party has a monopoly on anti-discrimination issues, but one sort of has it on the pro-discrimination side.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry), for instance, has introduced, and will continue to introduce, bills in the legislature that would, in his words, “protect marriage” between a man and a woman—even if it’s hard to imagine, in a post-2004 America, any state going out of its way to ban the inevitable.
“Natural law dictates that the foundational building block of society is the joining together of a man and a woman, which is practiced in marriage,” Metcalfe writes on his website. “If this basic truth is undermined, it will have grave consequences for our families, our children, our society, our state and our nation. Government of the people and by the people has an obligation to recognize and conform to natural law for the people.”
As it happens, Sims sits on the state government committee with Metcalfe. At Sims’ swearing-in ceremony in Philadelphia City Hall, it was joked that there was a reason for that: He was likely the only person in Harrisburg who’d be able to get Metcalfe to drop the bill.