Advocates rally for equality in Harrisburg

About 250 people gathered at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg March 17 to show their support for HB 300, legislation that would ban discrimination against LGBT individuals in Pennsylvania.

The “Rock the Dome” rally and lobbying day, sponsored by the Value All Families Coalition, drew a barrage of LGBT and ally supporters from around the state, as well as several lawmakers who are backing the bill.

HB 300, which was voted out of the House State Government Committee March 11, would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Buses carrying about 100 LGBT and ally individuals departed Philadelphia at about 9 a.m. March 17 and met the 150 people who had boarded buses from Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Harrisburg.

Jake Kaskey, policy and outreach coordinator at Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, said the participants had lunch together and then attended a training session on how to most effectively lobby for HB 300 before heading to the Rotunda for the rally.

Rally speakers included Pennsylvania Reps. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.), Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.), Ron Waters (D-191st Dist.), Tony Payton (D-179th Dist.), Peter Daley (D-49th Dist.) and Cherelle Parker (D-200th Dist.); Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.); openly gay Harrisburg City Councilman Dan Miller; the Rev. Timothy Safford, rector of Christ Church; Steve Glassman, chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; Diane Topakian, political programs coordinator of the Service Employees International Union Pennsylvania State Council; Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania; and Kaskey.

“I think the rally was very wonderful, very positive,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Jordan of the Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia. “There were a great number of representatives at the rally who were very enthused about passing the bill, so I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to do that.”

Kaskey noted that the rally helped to educate lawmakers who weren’t yet cosponsoring the bill about the necessity for such legislation.

“Our voices rang throughout the entire Capitol building,” Kaskey said. “A lot of legislators came up and asked what was happening. The power of our collective voices will be able to see this bill move farther forward than it ever has before.”

Three previous versions of the nondiscrimination bill died in committee.

Frankel introduced HB 300 on March 5 with 79 cosponsors, the highest level of legislative support a pro-LGBT bill has ever been introduced with. Although five legislators have dropped their cosponsorship, advocates are still confident the bill will successfully make it through a full House vote.

“Something that we heard from everyone who spoke at the rally was that they’re sure that the bill is going to get passed,” Jordan said. “But they all said that this isn’t a time for us to sit back and watch that happen. People need to talk to their legislators and make sure they know that this is something that we are concerned about and that we do need to get passed.”

“Rock the Dome” participants took the opportunity to do that this week and, after the rally, dispersed throughout the Capitol complex to speak with representatives and legislative staffs about HB 300.

“Everyone saw their own representatives to either thank them for being a cosponsor or to ask for their support,” Kaskey said.

Kaskey said the lobbyists tried to put the most pressure on legislators from the five-county Greater Philadelphia area, whom he said would be integral in the passage of the bill.

Kaskey said he expects the bill will come before the full House for a vote in the next few months.

To find out who your representatives are, visit www.legis.state.pa.us or call (717) 787-2372 or (800) 868-7672.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].