Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pennsylvania Hate Group Prevents Progress

As if the economic downturn of the past few years has not been challenging enough, Pennsylvania must now overcome being seen as a conservative, intolerant backwater unwelcoming of diversity, and unable to retain or attract talented residents, as much of the rest of the country forges ahead on issues of equality, dignity and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – (see New York for the most recent example).

This debacle is the result of a vicious, and public, anti-gay campaign being waged by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Family Association, an extremist organization recently added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's designated “hate group” watch list.

While the Venango County-based organization has long spewed demonizing homophobic and transphobic propaganda, it has ratcheted up its attacks in recent months as several municipalities across the state have organized to do locally what the legislature has failed to accomplish for state residents: add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as protected groups in non-discrimination laws.

In the crosshairs of the American Family Association of PA's campaign-of-hate is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the agency charged with eliminating discrimination against the state's most vulnerable populations.

Until just a few weeks ago, the commission was headed by Stephen Glassman, a champion of civil rights for all Pennsylvanians who had been providing expert analysis and support to these important and successful municipal efforts to prevent discrimination.

While Glassman decided to step down from his role as commission chairman when the state's new conservative Republican governor, Tom Corbett, took office early this year, the American Family Association of PA intensified its attacks against the agency, perhaps with the aim of intimidating any and all state or elected officials who do not adhere to its archaic and exclusionary doctrine of religion-based bigotry and discrimination.

If Pennsylvania is to remain a keystone of the American ideals of liberty and justice for all, it is going to have to find ways to rise above the ugliness of the hate groups that continue to call it home.

You can help by letting Governor Corbett, and all of your elected representatives, know that you support full equality for all people in Pennsylvania, including the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

And, you can support the important civil rights work of groups like the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Equality Pennsylvania, Equality Partners of Western Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, and Keystone Progress, among others.

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