Wolf joins Democratic legislators to push LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill

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State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta speaks to the media on the reintroduction of the Fairness Act (Photo via Malcolm Kenyatta / Twitter).

by Shaniece Holmes-Brown

Midway through Pride Month, Gov. Tom Wolf and Democratic allies in the General Assembly have announced their latest push to pass anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

The legislation, which is formally known as the Fairness Act, bans employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Democratic Reps. Brian Sims and Malcolm Kenyatta, of Philadelphia, and Jessica Benham, of Allegheny County,  all are co-sponsors of the legislation. 

Wolf, who said he would like to see Pennsylvania become the 23rd state in the nation to sign legislative protections for LGBTQ individuals into law, began pushing for legislative protections following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 Bostock v. Clayton County ruling, which made it illegal to discriminate against an individual based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

“That Supreme Court decision last June was a big step forward in non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. But the unfortunate truth is that despite some progress, the legal protections against harassment, and discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation are not comprehensive right here in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said during the press conference.

In 2016, Wolf signed two executive orders extending  non-discrimination protections to state employees, as well as employees of contractors doing business with Pennsylvania. Now, he is moving to expand these protections for the entire LGBTQ community across the state.

Sims, Kenyatta, and Benham, are the only legislators of the General Assembly who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community. 

Seeking support from Republican legislators, each expressed their disappointment about how anti-discrimination legislation such as this one has not been passed despite years of advocacy.

“Ultimately what we need from them is to take the things that they say and actualize them,” Kenyatta said. “I would argue that there is a lot of political benefit to them getting this done, as well as having the joy of doing something that is simply the right thing.”

The Fairness Act has 69 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, and is now before the House State Government Committee. The bill has been introduced for over a decade, but has never gained traction in the Republican-controlled General Assembly .

Some Republicans are getting on board, such as state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington. But that doesn’t mean the bill will be holding a vote anytime soon.

House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Jason Gottesman said in an email that the Fairness Act would go through the normal legislative process, “which starts in the beginning by getting support from the standing committee prior to being ready for a larger member discussion prior to any floor vote.”

A Senate Republican spokesperson did not reply to a request for comment.

Ciora Thomas, founder of Pittsburgh-based SisTers PGH, a Black- and Transgender-led non-profit organization that provides resources and serves Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Color,. and a member of Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, is also a supporter of the Fairness Act. 

“We are more than our wounds. We are more than the discrimination we face, and more than the law we fight for,” Thomas said. “Let’s keep pushing and make Pennsylvania a state that truly welcomes all.”

Thomas wants not only for the Fairness Act to be passed, but also for the commonwealth to ban  conversion therapy —  an attempt to change a person’s gender identity and sexual preference. She also wanted the LGBTQ panic defense, a legal strategy that blames sexual identity and gender expression for violent actions to be banned.

Shaniece Holmes-Brown is a journalist for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.