Equality Pennsylvania recently received its 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service, which allows the agency to do more lobbying and political advocacy work.
The organization previously operated under a 501 (c)(3) status, a designation that limits the money and time a nonprofit can devote to lobbying efforts. Equality PA will still retain the former status for its educational component, the Equality PA Educational Fund.
Equality PA executive director Ted Martin said the agency is now structured similarly to many other statewide LGBT organizations, and the new designation will go a long way to helping the agency achieve tangible results.
“This enables Equality PA to be significantly more political than ever before,” he said. “We can endorse candidates, do canvassing and now do lobbying in a much larger way. This has sharpened our mission and provides the LGBT community more ability to have their voices heard in Harrisburg.”
Equality PA was also the recipient of two recent grants that will fuel its work.
The group was the beneficiary of a $100,000 grant from the State Equality Fund, a partnership that includes the Tides Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, the Open Society Institute and an anonymous donor.
The funding will be spread equally over two years and is dedicated to Equality PA’s work on garnering the passage of municipal LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances.
Since the summer, Doylestown and Lower Merion have approved such measures, as did Hatboro, although the town’s mayor later vetoed the bill. Last week, the Haverford Township Commission approved a similar measure and, if it passes on its second reading next month, the number of municipalities in the state that offer LGBT nondiscrimination protections will stand at 19.
Martin said the increased attention to local jurisdictions grew out of a lack of state action on the issue.
“We’re now entering our 10th year in which the state has been considering a nondiscrimination bill, and that’s far too long,” Martin said. “When we’ve lobbied in Harrisburg, a lot of elected officials have said that if more local jurisdictions passed this it’d give them the impetus to really do something. So local activists have started doing this and we’ve been working with them on these efforts.”
While Equality PA is going to continue pressing for a statewide measure, Martin said his organization is looking for the most feasible outlets for progress.
“We have to be realistic and understand that the political atmosphere in Harrisburg is going to be pretty tough over the next two years, so we felt our most proactive efforts would be on the local level,” he said.
The grant will fund a “toolbox” the agency is creating that will provide resources for local activists looking to advance nondiscrimination measures, and will also enable Equality PA staffers to travel throughout the state and support such efforts.
Martin said the agency hopes to achieve at least two more local-level victories within the next year.
The effort to further local nondiscrimination ordinances could also be helped along by the Service Employees International Union, which is providing a $20,000 seed grant for the agency’s 501 (c)(4) initiative.
Martin said Equality PA plans to assist SEIU in developing a Lavender Caucus — an LGBT affinity group for members — and said he expects the labor agency to work with them to support local-level nondiscrimination efforts.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.