Another push by Pa. lawmaker to protect gays, lesbians, and transgender citizens

Posted: September 20, 2011

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act has long banned discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of gender, race, religion, and disability.

Not covered, however, is sexual orientation or gender identity.

State Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) has waged a nearly decade-long fight to change that through legislation that would add gay, lesbian, and transgendered Pennsylvanians to the protected categories.

Speaking at a House Democratic Policy hearing Monday, Frankel noted that 21 states, including New Jersey and Delaware, along with dozens of municipalities and the 27 Fortune 500 companies located in Pennsylvania, have such policies in place.

Frankel said his bill was not "radical legislation" but would only expand protections now offered to other groups covered under the act.

The fact that scattered municipalities, including Philadelphia and Frankel's district of Pittsburgh, have implemented a variety of nondiscrimination ordinances has resulted in a lack of across-the-state consistency.

"You are protected in Allegheny County, but if you cross the border to Butler County, you can be fired because you are gay," said Frankel. "It's time to embrace equality for all citizens."

Despite 64 legislative cosponsors and polls suggesting the majority of the public supports his proposal, Frankel's bill will likely not even get a hearing in the GOP-controlled House.

His bill passed out of the State Government Committee last session, but failed to get a full House vote even when Democrats controlled the chamber.

Obstacles loom larger this session, given the fact that the Republican chairman of the committee that would consider the bill is opposed to it.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), the chairman of the State Government Committee, said there were "laws on the books" to protect individuals against discrimination and charged Frankel with attempting to advance a far-left agenda.

"Trying to add additional behaviors to the act would be endless," he said. "Rep. Frankel's obsession with putting sexual behavior into law is offensive to people."

Jeffrey Harbison, the Democratic president of the Springfield Township, Montgomery County, Board of Commissioners, testified Monday that there should be a statewide policy covering gays, lesbians, and transgendered residents.

Harbison's board last week became the latest to pass a nondiscrimination policy, over the objections of the three GOP commissioners, who were concerned, he said, not about the substance of the policy but about local government overreaching.

"A lot of people were shocked Pennsylvania didn't already provide Pennsylvania residents with protection," said Harbison.

Frankel said he would press on. "It's essential to keep this out front," he said. "People, especially young people, need to know we're out there fighting for them."


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

 

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