The Williams Institute has just published a new study, “The Impact of Stigma and Discrimination Against LGBT People in Pennsylvania” and the details are grim. The 63 page report states that “Pennsylvania’s legal landscape puts LGBT residents at risk of discrimination and harassment. The social, economic, and health effects of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people negatively impact the state’s economy by tens of millions of dollars each year.”
Worse still, Pennsylvania ranks 24th in the nation for public support for LGBT rights and acceptance of LGBT people.
Among the many specifics the study highlights is one Philadelphia activists have been fighting to change for years: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not expressly include sexual orientation or gender identity. As a direct result of this, the study asserts, “discrimination against LGBT people in Pennsylvania has been documented in surveys, court cases, and the media.”
Statistics outline the issues in the report: Pennsylvania is home to an estimated 416,000 LGBT adults and approximately 74,000 LGBT youth. The state offers some protections for LGBT people, but Pennsylvania does not have the same breadth of laws and policies enacted in other states.
Pennsylvania’s statewide nondiscrimination law does not expressly include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Pennsylvania lacks several other types of supportive laws and policies that have been enacted in other states, including an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies, and a ban on the practice of conversion therapy, which neighboring New Jersey banned with a 2013 law signed by then Gov. Chris Christie.
A key focus of the report is the relationship between the lack of legal protections and the overall perception of who LGBT people are. The study states unequivocally a series of highly actionable problems impacting LGBT people. “The legal landscape for LGBT people in Pennsylvania likely contributes to an environment in which LGBT people continue to experience stigma and discrimination,” the report states.
It continues, “Stigma and discrimination can take many forms, including discrimination and harassment in employment and other settings; bullying and harassment at school and family rejection of LGBT youth; over-representation in the criminal legal system; and violent victimization. Research has linked stigma and discrimination against LGBT people to negative effects on individuals, businesses, and the economy.”
The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy is a public policy research institute based at the UCLA School of Law focused on sexual orientation and gender identities issues. The data and research used for the report documented the “prevalence of several forms of stigma and discrimination against LGBT adults and youth in the U.S. and in Pennsylvania specifically, including discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation.”
Among the key findings of the report are that in a 2021 nationwide survey of LGBT employees, nearly half (47%) of LGBT respondents from Pennsylvania reported experiencing workplace discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives, with 17% of respondents from Pennsylvania reporting employment discrimination (including being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-six percent of LGBT respondents from Pennsylvania reported experiencing at least one form of harassment (verbal, physical, or sexual harassment) at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County that extended non-discrimination protections to LGBT people nationwide did not stop such discrimination: 5% of LGBT employees from Pennsylvania reported that they had experienced discrimination (including being fired or not hired) within the year following the ruling.
In 2019, 10% of discrimination suits brought before the City of Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Commission were based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression — disproportionate to the reported demographic of LGBT people in the state.
Twenty-one percent of transgender respondents in the state reported having experienced some form of housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted from their home or denied a home or apartment because of being transgender, and 10% reported that they experienced homelessness in the past year because of being transgender.
Among respondents who visited a public accommodation where staff or employees knew or thought they were transgender, 31% experienced at least one type of mistreatment in the past year because of being (or being perceived to be) transgender.
Stigma and discrimination against LGBT workers can lead to economic instability, including lower wages and higher rates of poverty. Gallup polling data from 2015–2017 show that 25.9% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported that they did not have enough money for food, compared to 13.1% of non-LGBT adults in the state.
While 26.5% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported having a household income below $24,000, only 18.3% of non-LGBT adults reported such poverty. In addition, 10.5% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported being unemployed, compared to 5.2% of non-LGBT adults.
Research indicates that stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBT adults, such as major depressive disorder, binge drinking, substance use and suicidality.
LGBT adult respondents to the 2017 and 2018 Pennsylvania Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder by a healthcare professional than non-LGBT respondents (42.1% vs. 20.2%). In addition, LGBT adults in Pennsylvania were significantly more likely to report current smoking (31.7% vs. 17.5%) and binge drinking (31.0% vs. 16.6%) than non-LGBT adults.
Other data included bullying and harassment at school of LGB youth. State data from 2019 indicate that, when compared to heterosexual students, LGB students in Pennsylvania were almost twice as likely to report being bullied both at school (32.9% vs. 17.2%) and electronically (26.8% vs. 12.3%) in the year prior to the survey.
Pennsylvania LGB students were also more likely than heterosexual students to report being in a physical fight in the year prior to the survey (26.2% vs. 20.5%), and to report being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (10.9% vs. 6.8%).
A majority of Pennsylvania respondents reported experiences with verbal harassment at school based on their sexual orientation (71%) or gender expression (56%) in the year prior to the survey. Among LGBTQ students who were bullied or harassed at Pennsylvania schools, only 51% reported the incident to school staff. Only 22% of those who reported bullying or harassment to staff said that it resulted in effective intervention.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 77% of Pennsylvania respondents who were out or perceived as transgender at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade reported experiencing some form of mistreatment, such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought that they were transgender. And 12% said that the harassment they experienced was so severe that they had to leave a K-12 school.
The Williams Institute report concludes that “a more supportive legal landscape would likely reduce the economic instability and health disparities LGBT people face.”View the full Williams Institute report here.