State legislators and members of the LGBTQ community and its allies held a news conference in Harrisburg this week to announce the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation, and to implore citizens and fellow legislators to support it.
House Bill 1404 and Senate Bill 614 would provide protection at work, in housing and in business services for LGBTQ people by adding sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the state’s nondiscrimination law, which was originally written in 1955. The law still only covers race, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin and disability.
Without this legislation commonly known as the Fairness Act, Pennsylvania — the only state in the Northeastern USA without a law protecting the LGBTQ community — will continue to have a patchwork of legal protections rather than a uniform antidiscrimination law. More than 50 municipalities, including Philadelphia, have enacted LGBTQ ordinances on their own.
State Reps. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.), Malcolm Kenyatta (D-181st Dist.) and Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) were joined by State Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st Dist.) at the Capitol Media Center where they spoke passionately about the bills.
“It’s time we take action to ensure equal protections across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Frankel, who introduced H.B. 1404 and opened the news conference. “This issue is not or should not be partisan.”
For 20 years and 11 sessions, Frankel said, he’s been an advocate for civil-rights’ protections.
He also spoke directly about Kenyatta and Sims: “When you come into a chamber and sit next to someone who is a member of the LGBT community, it’s a lot harder to say to them, ‘I’m prepared to discriminate against you and others like you.’”
Farnese, who sponsored the companion bill in the State Senate, followed Frankel at the event by emphasizing his frustration with how many times anti-discrimination legislation had been presented without being passed.
“I pulled out my remarks from April 2011, June 2013, 2016, 2018, and here again today,” Farnese said. “How can it be 2019 and legalized discrimination is still allowed to exist in Pennsylvania?
“It’s an embarrassment that we’re here today, and we’re going to move forward and get these bills passed. It’s hard to talk about this, because every time I do a press conference on this, I really hope it is the last time.”
Sims gave an impassioned speech relaying that he has had to stand in front of his colleagues and talk about his love life and his relationships “in a way most other legislators don’t have to.” Because Pennsylvania does not already have this legislation in place, Sims said, “I’m angry to be here. I’m furious. I’m ashamed that we’re here.”
He added that while he believes his colleagues support equality, “I don’t care what you say you support unless you put your feet to the ground.”
Sims spoke to the systemic and physical violence LGBTQIA-plus Pennsylvanian’s face — from loss of insurance to loss of job.
“There’s nothing progressive about passing equality in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We’re playing catch-up.”
Kenyatta said he believes Pennsylvania “is better than this.”
“Hell yes, this is personal to me —,” he said, “as a black man, as a gay man, but more importantly as a Pennsylvanian. This is not what our state oughtta be.
“There should be no exceptions. No exceptions! When I hear ‘why hadn’t this passed?’, there is no good answer.”
He concluded, “This should get a vote and Pennsylvania should wipe this stain from history.”