As Pride Month begins and members of the LGBTQ community dedicate the month of June as a time for celebration and reflection, City & State PA is shining a spotlight on issues affecting members of the LGBTQ community across Pennsylvania.
For years, LGBTQ advocates and allies have been fighting for enhanced protections in state law in order to prevent discrimination and improve quality of life. Below, City & State PA looks at some of the major legislative changes being sought by members of the LGBTQ community and where they currently stand in the legislative process.
1. The Pennsylvania Fairness Act
For years, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers have been advocating for the proposed “Pennsylvania Fairness Act,” a proposal that would codify protections for LGBTQ individuals in the state’s Human Relations Act. The legislation would prohibit members of the LGBTQ community from being denied employment, housing and other accommodations based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The legislation has been sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, including Sen. Pat Browne and Reps. Dan Frankel, Malcolm Kenyatta, Brian Sims and Jessica Benham. The bill currently has yet to be introduced in the House and a companion Senate bill, SB 313, is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate Labor and Industry Committee.
2. Prohibiting discrimination in the Pennsylvania Constitution
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently amended the state constitution to prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity, but the constitutional change did not establish protections for members of the LGBTQ community. Kenyatta and Sims, who are both gay, are spearheading an effort to build upon the most recent constitutional amendment and prohibit the denial or abridgment of rights based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The proposal would also bar discrimination based on color, familial status, religious creed and national origin, among other changes. The legislation has yet to be introduced.
3. Banning conversion therapy for minors
Also on the agenda for LGBTQ advocates is legislation to ban conversion therapy for minors. The legislation – sponsored by Sims and Benham – would specifically prevent mental health professionals from seeking to change a minor’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The bill, HB 729, is sponsored by Sims and Benham and is currently awaiting a vote in the House Health Committee.
4. Expanding hate crime laws to include offenses made toward LGBTQ people
Another goal of LGBTQ advocates is to expand the state’s hate crime laws to encompass offenses made toward LGBTQ individuals, as well as crimes related to a person’s ancestry or mental or physical disability. Frankel, along with Sens. Tim Kearney, Anthony H. Williams and Lindsey Williams, are sponsoring legislation in their respective chambers. Frankel’s bill would also increase penalties for those who commit hate crimes, increasing the fines for damages. The Senate legislation, SB 63, currently awaits a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, while the House package has yet to be introduced this session.
5. Collecting data on LGBTQ individuals
Kenyatta and Benham argue that to properly address issues faced by LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, the state needs to collect more information on the experiences of its LGBTQ citizens. To do so, the lawmakers are proposing legislation that would require all state forms which ask for demographic information to include an optional question that allows respondents to indicate if they are LGBTQ. The bill’s two sponsors say it would help the state develop a more complete picture of its LGBTQ community, and in turn, allow lawmakers to craft more inclusive initiatives. The legislation, House Bill 1384, awaits a vote in the House State Government Committee.