Fairness Act passes Pa. House with 102-98 vote

Rep. Dan Frankel speaking on the house floor before the vote on HB300. (Screenshot via Pa. House Video)

In an historic moment, the Fairness Act, which would grant statewide anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people, passed the Pa. House of Representatives in a 102-98 vote. Two Republicans joined 100 Democrats in voting for the bill, HB300, which now heads to the State Senate. It is the first time the bill has passed either legislative chamber in 47 years.

The bill’s prime sponsors, Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), Jessica Benham, Dan Frankel and La’Tasha D. Mayes (all D-Allegheny), Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster), and Greg Scott (D-Montgomery), said in a joint statement: “Today is a historic day, as we take a critical step to make Pennsylvania fairer. The Fairness Act is as simple as it is substantive. H.B. 300 would protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians from facing discrimination and allow all individuals in the commonwealth to file complaints with the PA Human Relations Commission. Now, we call on the Senate to quickly consider and pass this legislation and send it to Governor Shapiro’s desk.”

The earliest iteration of the bill was introduced in 1976 by Rep. Norman Benson, during Gov. Milton Shapp’s administration. Since then, it has been introduced numerous times over the decades, including by Frankel, who tweeted after the bill’s passage: “Finally.”

HB300 seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to its list of protected classes. Such protections extend to housing, education, and public accommodations. 

Before the vote, Frankel stood before the chamber and asked Kenyatta four questions: whether the bill would force healthcare professionals to provide gender reassignment surgery; force men and women to use shared bathroom or locker facilities; whether the bill would impact women in sports; and whether the bill would force shelters or prisons to allow men and women to share space in the same facility. Kenyatta’s answer to all four questions was: No.

The bill, which does not confer additional protections not covered under the Human Relations Act, drew the ire of most Republicans, who brought up many familiar arguments against trans women in sports and against gender-affirming care for young people. Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton and Union), in her remarks, quoted from the Bible in suggesting that trans people do not exist and said about the bill, “It is sick and evil. You can’t change words to hide from what you are doing. You don’t get to do evil and call it good.”

Other Republicans said that the language included in HB300 would lead to potential religious discrimination, specifically citing the bill’s definition of the term “employer,” which includes “religious, fraternal, charitable and sectarian corporations and associations employing four or more persons.” However, the bill also includes language protecting the right of religious institutions “to promote the religious principles or the aims, purposes or fraternal principles for which it is established or maintained,” in their employment practices.

The bill now heads to the Republican-majority state senate, where it will likely face several revisions before being voted on. Still, the bill’s supporters celebrated its passage in the House.

“Passing the PA Fairness Act will provide long-needed protections to LGBTQ+ people that are already granted to individuals on the basis of sex, religion, or national origin,” Benham wrote on Twitter. “The bill is simple yet substantive, and I’m thrilled it passed the PA House today.”

Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said, “Today a majority of the Pennsylvania House recognized the urgent need to enact LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. Over half a million LGBTQ Pennsylvanians live without the most basic protections from discrimination explicitly under state law. We thank the legislators and community advocates who have fought hard to advance this bill for nearly 50 years. The time is now for the Senate to advance HB 300 to ensure vulnerable LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are safeguarded from the cruelty and harm of discrimination.”

Rep. Ben Waxman (D-Philadelphia), who represents Philadelphia’s gayborhood, said in a statement: “It’s still legal in PA for LGBTQ+ people to be denied housing, education, or access to public accommodations based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today, the House is extending the same protections outlined in the PA Human Relations Act to ensure no one is treated like a second-class citizen. It’s time to protect all Pennsylvanians and create a welcoming atmosphere for people from all walks of life.”

“This is a dream that is beginning to be realized for all of us who know people who have lost their jobs and homes for being who they are,” said PGN Publisher and longtime LGBTQ activist Mark Segal.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast without statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. On the local level, around 73 municipalities in the commonwealth have passed nondiscrimination ordinances, but almost 2,500 — which include 65 percent of the population — have no protections for LGBTQ people.

Newsletter Sign-up