Here’s a Rundown of What PA Currently Offers Its LGBT Citizens (Answer: Not Much)
As the U.S. Supreme Court looks at both California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) this week, we here at Philadelphia Weekly would like to remind you that your new Facebook picture is nice and all, but your state is an anomaly on LGBT issues in the Northeast. In a bad way.
“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,” said Equality PA executive director Ted Martin at a press conference in late February. And he wasn’t just talking gay marriage—things like anti-discrimination, hate crimes protection and hospital visitations are not allowed throughout the state.
The good thing is that local municipalities (like Philadelphia) have been able to write their own equality laws. But if you’re an LGBT citizen looking to travel from one side of the state to the other, the picture isn’t as rosy. Here’s what your state, as a whole, has to offer its LGBT citizens:
There is no state law in place that bars discriminating against LGBT citizens throughout the commonwealth. In 1975, Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp issued executive orders banning discrimination in state employment based on sexual orientation (and it’s been renewed by every governor since) but private companies outside of a handful of municipalities (Philly, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Easton, Allentown, Harrisburg, New Hope and others) can still fire someone for being gay. Businesses can also refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation in many municipalities. There is also no law against discrimination in housing.
OK, you might say, then just stay out of the Keystone’s backwoods, right? Equality PA’s Martin responded to that pretty well at the Pennsylvania Progress Summit earlier this month: “You can work at Heinz, you can go out for lunch in Allegheny County and be protected from all these things, and you can go home in Westmoreland County and be a victim, right across the border.”
And to make matters worse, Gov. Corbett’s penchant for privatization means the above-noted anti-discrimination law in state employment is at risk for LGBT state employees in certain service sectors.
Gay marriage is not allowed in Pennsylvania. Many rights are guaranteed for gay couples in certain municipalities, like Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania does not have hate-crimes protections that include gender identity or sexual orientation. Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., do.
There’s an effort now in the Legislature to pass an anti-bullying law, called the Pennsylvania Safe Schools (PASS) Act, but it’s still legal for Pennsylvania kids to bully someone on the basis of sexual orientation. There are dozens of co-sponsors (including Republicans) and it’s been touted by openly gay Pennsylvania House members Brian Sims and Mike Fleck, a Democrat and a Republican, respectively.
“I felt like a major change following the last election cycle wasn’t that there was going to be a ground swell of LGBT Democrats—that support has always been there and has always been strong,” Sims told Philadelphia Weekly earlier this year on the issue. “But what we’re really beginning to see is the Republican Party get on this issue.”
The amended bill defines bullying in schools as “any written, verbal or physical conduct,” related to a characteristic like race, color, religion, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” among other things.
Among those working for such a bill (and others): Pennsylvania’s LGBT Caucus in the Legislature, which currently has 58 members—including three Republicans, which as a whole has doubled in membership from last session, when it began.
Adoption is allowed by a single person in the state—and, in 2002, second-parent same-sex adoption became legal.
For some context, it helps to understand that gay marriage or civil unions are legal in Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Delaware and Connecticut.
We are literally the only state in the Northeast where it’s not allowed. All those states also allow hospital visits, adoption, freedom from employment discrimination and—save Delaware—freedom from discrimination at schools and housing.
“I get calls from headhunters regularly who have gay clients and they want to know what it’s like to move to Pennsylvania, and sometimes I have to be very specific because some places are better than others,” Martin noted at the summit. “But unfortunately, more often than not, I’ve had to turn people away. I can’t guarantee their safety. So why would I recommend someone come here as opposed to a state that borders us, that, quite frankly, respects their relationship?”
All that said, our laws do not correspond with the will of the people in the state where the country wrote its own liberties. Recent polling shows that a huge majority supports LGBT rights. That includes 69 percent who do not believe someone should be fired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. And 72 percent who believe LGBT people should not be refused service at hotels and other businesses.
And no matter what happens this week, the commonwealth will continue to doggy-paddle through America’s backwater.
Note: This post has been updated.
Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso