Equality Caucus welcomes Pa. accepting LGBT discrimination complaints

Pa. Human Relations Commission interprets existing law on sex discrimination to protect LGBT people, following some courts' and agencies' lead

HARRISBURG, Aug. 16 – Members of the legislature's LGBT Equality Caucus today welcomed a state agency's decision to interpret existing law on sex discrimination to protect LGBT people from discrimination, as several courts and agencies have already done. Members of the caucus provided public comment last year in support of the change.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which enforces state non-discrimination law, has updated how it interprets the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. That law bans discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on several categories, including sex. The commission also made a similar update to how it interprets the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, co-chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus, said, "While I still believe we need the bipartisan Pennsylvania Fairness Act passed and signed into law to avoid any ambiguity, I fully support interpreting existing laws to include anti-LGBT discrimination. As Equality PA noted in its public comment, a federal appeals court stated, 'Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant -- woman or man -- dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex ... It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the 'sex' from 'sexual orientation.'"

The bipartisan Fairness Act (H.B. 1410/S.B. 613) would explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in the types of discrimination the Human Relations Act already explicitly bans statewide in employment, housing and public accommodations such as access to restaurants or hotel rooms. Frankel also reintroduced it under a different bill number (H.B. 2341) to seek a new committee referral due to continued obstruction by House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler. However, Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has not referred the new bill to a committee yet.

State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Phila., the first out LGBT member of the legislature, said, "Now is the time for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to act. While members of the LGBT Equality Caucus are continuing to press for action in the legislature on the Fairness Act, these proposals from the state Human Relations Commission will provide a much-needed measure of legal protection statewide. Pennsylvania polls have already shown consistent support of 70 percent or more for the past eight years for these types of protections for LGBT residents and visitors. Governor Tom Wolf has pledged his full support to this needed legislation. There should be no further delay in voting the Pennsylvania Fairness Act into law.”