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PA Fairness Act would provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing and public accommodations. Photo: Malcolm Kenyatta Twitter
PA Fairness Act would provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing and public accommodations. Photo: Malcolm Kenyatta Twitter

Governor Wolf joins call to pass PA Fairness Act, expanding protections for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians

The bill, with four prime sponsors and 65 co-sponsors has been referred to the House State Government Committee.

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Every June, the nation celebrates Pride month — 30 days commemorating the history, contributions and diversity of the LGBTQ community. While many states are passing anti-trans bills, Pennsylvania is making an effort to provide this community with the rights they deserve.

On Tuesday, June 15, PA Gov. Tom Wolf called on lawmakers to pass the Fairness Act, legislation that would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression or identity.

Wolf said that as a native of Pennsylvania, he is embarrassed his beloved state still stands out among neighboring states by failing to provide “basic civil rights protections.”

Wolf continued, stating that as public servants, he and his colleagues have an obligation to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community are protected, noting legislation is overdue.

“It is past time for our commonwealth to stop ignoring this infringement on the rights of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians and pass the Fairness Act,” Wolf said.

There are a few nondiscrimination protections that exist at municipal, state and federal levels, but there are no comprehensive protections that cover more structural issues concerning employment, housing and public accommodations.

In April 2016, Wolf signed two executive orders that expanded protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender expression or identity for state employers, and for the first time, contractors doing business with the Commonwealth. 

The Supreme Court also made an impact in this realm, when it issued a landmark decision in Bostock v Clayton. The Court ruled an employer cannot discriminate against an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The monumental win provided some protections for LGBTQ people in the workforce, but it did not prevent a Pennsylvania resident from being denied housing, education or access to public accommodations based on their identity.  

The Fairness Act would remedy this issue by offering an extensive solution to the issue of uncertain and incomplete protections by providing them for employment, housing and public accommodations. 

Wolf explained that the legal protections currently in place against harassment and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation are not comprehensive.

“A patchwork system protects some peoples’ rights in some municipalities, while discrimination based on gender identity or expression and sexual orientation remains legal in far too many places across our commonwealth. This is unacceptable, and it must change,” he said. 

The PA Fairness Act is sponsored by Reps. Dan Frankel, Jessica Benham, Malcolm Kenyatta and Brian Sims. 

Frankel, who is the founder and current co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, said passing this bill is the right thing to do.

“I’ve been fighting for civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ people for more than two decades, and all we need to get it across the finish line is for GOP leaders to schedule the votes,” he said. 

If passed, the Keystone State would become the 23rd state in the nation that protects its LGBTQ+ residents.

Kenyatta echoed similar sentiments to Gov. Wolf, in saying that the lack of comprehensive protections is overdue, and shameful. 

“It is an absolute embarrassment that in 2021 in this commonwealth that gender identity and sexual orientation are weaponized to deny residents economic autonomy and a decent quality of life,” he said.  

Kenyatta stated that by passing the legislation, the civil rights rendered in last year’s Supreme Court ruling will finally provide and solidify the “dignity and humanity that LGBTQ+ people are owed across this commonwealth.”

Rep. Benham, one of the few LGBTQ legislators, said that the issue is personal for her, and is hopeful that her fellow community members will finally receive the protections and affirmations they have “fought so long for.” 

“The introduction of this act is the first step in what I am hopeful will be a swift legislative process to assure equal rights under the PA Constitution,” said Benham. 

The PA Fairness Act has four prime sponsors and 65 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. It’s already been referred to the House State Government Committee, where it awaits further action.

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