Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to hold community forum about discrimination

The Pennsylvania state flag
The Pennsylvania state flag. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

“It’s really important to us to listen to the community and hear their concerns,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), who noted that countless experiences of discrimination go unacknowledged and unchecked across the commonwealth when people lack spaces to talk about these issues or don’t know how to report them.

The Civil Rights Division of PHRC will be leading a community forum on June 27 at William Way LGBT Community Center entitled “LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Violence, Let’s Talk About It.” During the event, PHRC will inform attendees about current nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people and broader populations, explain how to report experiences of discrimination if they feel their rights have been violated, answer related questions and listen to those who want to share about what it’s like to an LGBTQ+ person in Pennsylvania.

“It’s also an opportunity for us as a governmental agency to learn about the wonderful advocacy work that’s taking place within the LGBTQ+ community,” Lassiter said, underlining that people working within individual communities are already doing what they can to prevent or address anti-discrimination.

PHRC — which has three regional offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh — offers trainings and workshops to workplaces and other organizations whose leaders want to learn about the challenges marginalized people experience and better support those communities.

“This is an opportunity to show how government and community can work with one another,” Lassiter added. “It’s a unified front.”

This is the first forum hosted by the commission’s emerging civil rights division, which started taking shape after its first hire, Joshua Nix — the outreach coordinator for the division, in February.

“What has been wonderful about this job is that for the first time, I am able to fully show up as myself, and it is appreciated and treasured when I do that here,” said Nix, who is queer and gender queer.

Nix, who said the division will host similar forums in the future with the LGBTQ+ community as well as other marginalized populations, wanted to get started with this specific event because of the recent suspicious death of David “Dae” Manley (whose drag name was Daelicious O’hare Mizani).

“I knew we as a community needed to be able to talk about the discrimination that we’re facing,” said Nix, who works in the Philadelphia regional office and said the tragedy helped them realize how urgently the agency needed to engage the local queer community.

Nix, who uses they, he and she pronouns, said the commission wants the community to know that there are people who care about their struggles and are doing whatever they can to help.

Nix said that support is available to help LGBTQ+ people who struggle to find adequate housing or employment due to discrimination. This includes protections and assistance for trans people — which Nix said many people don’t realize.

Updates were made to the state’s definition of “sex” in antidiscrimination regulations in 2023, which now include protecting people based on sex assigned at birth, gender identity or expression, affectional or sexual orientation, and differences in sex development. This makes anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination illegal in employment, housing, commercial property, education and public accommodations.

Nix described experiences in public accommodation as people’s interactions with service providers and businesses. When assessing whether or not negative experiences are experiences of discrimination, they said people should think about whether or not they have been refused service or treated differently than other customers.

Those who want to file a complaint or report incidents of bias can visit PHRC’s website, call the agency’s hotline, or visit one of the regional offices.

At the upcoming forum, PHRC representatives will also be available to begin processing formal complaints. Getting out into the community could remove an emotional or logistical barrier for those who otherwise might not pursue the formal process without in-person support. Those gathered can choose to tell their stories to representatives if they want and receive help filling out the paperwork associated with the process. Reports are always anonymous.

“Our goal is really just to be there and listen to the stories,” Nix said. “We want to really hear what’s happening.”

“LGBTQ+ Discrimination and Violence, Let’s Talk About It” will take place 6-8 p.m. on June 27 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.

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