History is made this week

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta speaking on the house floor before the vote on HB300. (Screenshot via PA Cable Network video.)

History is in the making. First, as I write this Tuesday morning, I’m assured that the Fairness Act will pass out of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This will be the first time since it was first introduced in the 1970’s under Governor Milton Shapp that it’s passed one house of the General Assembly. Not only does it pass, it does so in lightning speed, in the first 100 days of Governor Josh Shapiro’s term. That should not be underestimated. 

Shapiro, along with House Speaker Joanna McClinton, our out state reps and ally reps, and other supporters in government, worked diligently to accomplish this. They did what has been missing all these years. They listened to objections, including from some of our own supporters in the Democratic party. They listened and, in a calm debate, not in public, reached consensus. It took leadership and a commitment from a Governor who had this legislation as one of his top priorities. So today, we make history.

While I sit at home and watch the vote on PA Cable Network, I’m sure I’ll have tears. I’ll be thinking of all those calls over the years, of those who lost jobs and their housing since there was no law in place to protect them, and of one other piece I rarely mention: youth who feel they have no worth as they are coming out. This law will make them feel included and wanted in a state that tells them they are protected. Just the fact that it has finally passed the State House is a huge step.

The road ahead for the Fairness Act is difficult and not ensured. It now heads to the State Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. We are hopeful with their new leadership and with the hope of both houses attempting to work together with respect, that this time will be different from others. This time, the legislation will get the respect it deserves. That respect means passing it out of committee for a full Senate floor vote. That only happens if the same process that happened on the House floor is followed: a willingness to discuss the issues respectfully. No one needs to have a megaphone or a press conference from either side of the debate. 

A perfect bill is a bill that both parties settle on or compromise. Everyone celebrated when President Biden signed the legislation that codified marriage equality, and that legislation was a process of compromise. So too will this legislation be, if it makes its way to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

The people who steered the Fairness Act through the House of Representatives are not the same as those who will work the process in the Senate. Each house of the General Assembly works at its own process and speed. It also has different points of influence. It’s an entirely different dynamic and has moveable parts. 

At the top of that list are the Senate leaders. They are all Republicans. Unlike the Democrats who control the House, they have a different process and views. They also have different interest groups influencing them. In the end, it will once again come down to reaching consensus, but this time it won’t be among Democrats alone, it will be among the Republican Leadership and the Governor. We know that the Governor has this legislation as a high priority, but he can only negotiate if he has willing partners in the Senate Leadership. What can we in the LGBT community do is allow the Governor and his team to try and reach that compromise and hope that the Republicans respect the need for our community to feel protected and accepted as full citizens of our beloved state.

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