by Jeremy Johnson for The Derrick:
A bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has been introduced to the Pennsylvania Legislature and is currently awaiting committee review.
Based on February polling which shows strong support for a bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the state, House Bill 300 was reintroduced to the state government committee in March, and supporters of the bill hope to see it go to the General Assembly for vote soon.
The bill — proposed by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd, Allegheny County) — would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955, which currently prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, national origin, disability or handicap.
“It’s not even that the laws are outdated — it’s that there is no protection for the gay community at all,” said Pennsylvania Equality executive director Ted Martin. “In 70 percent of the state, it’s still perfectly legal to fire someone, to throw someone out of their apartment or to deny someone a hotel room because they’re gay. Most people believe that everyone deserves a fair break and this flies in the face of that, of the basic equalities that most Americans value so much.”
“It’s time for Pennsylvania to catch up to the 21 states and the District of Columbia that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Frankel said in a press release at the end of April. “We should be a leader, not a follower, on this issue.”
Polling conducted in February for Equality Pennsylvania by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows overwhelming, two-to-one support for anti-discrimination legislature in the state.
According to poll numbers, about 69 percent of Pennsylvanians are in favor of legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, with 24 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided.
It is the third such survey conducted since 2003, with the results remaining relatively the same each time, according to Equality Pennsylvania.
“Because this is the third poll showing support, we certainly hope the Legislature will pay attention to the fact that people think this is important and that this is something that should be acted upon,” Martin said. “We hope Legislature will take this up and follow what the population is telling them.”
According to a map posted on the Equality Pennsylvania website (www.equalitypa.org), support in Venango County, which is included in a 35-county section labeled “northwest and west central Pennsylvania,” is at about 64 percent in favor of the bill, with 28 percent opposed. The highest areas of support are in the northeastern part of the state and in Philadelphia, where support is nearly 75 percent in both areas.
Frankel said, aside from being a “common sense” issue and “the right thing to do,” non-discrimination is also an issue of economics.
“In addition to making state law more fair and just, this would make Pennsylvania more economically competitive,” Frankel said. “We are surrounded on three of four sides by states that ban anti-gay discrimination (Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and New York). They have a competitive advantage over Pennsylvania when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses and residents.”
Frankel said anti-gay protection can be passed at the local government level but, so far, only about 30 percent of municipalities have done so.
According to Frankel’s press secretary Ben Turner, many Pennsylvanians are not even aware that anti-discrimination laws have not been put in place.
“I don’t think people are really aware of the facts,” Turner said. “Some people aren’t even aware that it’s not illegal (to discriminate based on sexual orientation). A lot of people thought that was already the case.”
According to the Equality Pennsylvania website, non-discrimination legislation — which had a record 79 co-sponsors at the end of 2010 — made it out of committee to the House in 2009 but died before the end of the legislative session.
Martin hopes the third time is a charm.
“It’s really time for Legislature to step forward,” Martin said. “With two-to-one support throughout the state, there’s no room for legislators to say, ‘My people don’t support this.’ So I think it’s their turn to step up and do something.”