In an interview with the Inquirer this week, Gov. Tom Corbett said he is coming out in support of HB 300 — which would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations — after learning the federal government did not offer such protections.
PGN publisher Mark Segal said the governor committed to supporting HB 300 in an October meeting with him, Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin, his chief of staff, openly gay transition-team co-chair Tom Paese, Human Rights Campaign board member Chris Labonte and Betty Hill, the executive director of Pittsburgh’s Persad Center.
Segal said the conversation has been taking place among Corbett’s administration for three years.
“We have really looked at every way about this and the governor had promised in that meeting that we would get it done,” Segal said. “So I told the governor, ‘We’ll do it within your comfort zone and when you’re ready.’”
Corbett’s director of communications, Lynn Lawson, told PGN Wednesday that there were a number of factors that led Corbett to this week’s announcement.
“There was some extremely good and helpful input and concerns that members of the community shared with the governor,” she said. “He has always had a very strong background in support of antidiscrimination laws and policies and it had been his undestanding that this was covered by federal law, and he recently learned that was not the case.”
Martin told PGN Wednesday that he believes Corbett took a common-sense approach to the issue.
“The governor has been having conversations about this and, like a lot of elected officials, evolved. When you look at the facts, he has to weigh what’s good for economic development and issues like that, and he came to the conclusion that this is,” Martin said. “We’re in an environment where LGBT issues are being discussed and what I hoped would happen happened; people seized the opportunity to talk about how we treat LGBT people in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania is one of 29 states lacking an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.
Legislation to rectify that has been stalled for years but was reintroduced last spring with a record number of cosponsors and joint bipartisan prime sponsors.
Antigay Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chair of the State House Government Committee, to which HB 300 was assigned, in the summer pledged to block the legislation from a hearing. Corbett told the Inquirer he didn’t know how to circumvent Metcalfe.
When asked what the governor would do to advocate for the bill, Lawson noted that “his support publicly is out there and I think, from that point on, the legislative process will move forward. We really have to see what comes out of chairmanships and committees and steps along the way.”
“Hopefully this will bring more cosponsors, more Republican cosponsors,” Martin added. “There needs to be serious conversation about what happens now in the legislature. I think a lot of Republicans — Sen. Toomey, now the governor, the record number of cosponsors on the bill — are looking at this and saying this is an issue of fairness. That’s how we need to look at it.”
While he announced his support for LGBT nondiscrimination, the governor also reaffirmed that his opposition to same-sex marriage hadn’t changed.
Corbett drew harsh criticism from LGBTs and allies this fall after comparing same-sex marriage to incest.
Segal said the governor expressed regret about that comment during their meeting.
“He was like a hurt puppy dog about it. He knew he made a horrible mistake,” Segal said. “He was extremely apologetic and said it came out ridiculously wrong.”
While Corbett’s marriage position was again raised this week, Martin noted that victories should be welcomed where they are won.
“We can disagree but do things in a way that’s thoughtful. He’s there on nondiscrimination,” Martin said. “If we can work to pass HB and SB 300, that would extend protections to thousands who are currently not protected in Pennsylvania. We can disagree on different things but this is an opportunity for common ground, which is often lacking in politics.”
The governor has backed the construction of the LGBT-friendly John C. Anderson Apartments and renewed a nondiscrimination order for state employees upon taking office that was inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“He has been doing things quietly,” Segal said. “Credit should be given where credit is due.”