PA LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus holds rally for Fairness Act

HARRISBURG, April 26 – Today, the PA House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, chaired by state Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Phila., and Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, held a rally on the PA Capitol steps in Harrisburg promoting the Fairness Act (H.B. 300), anti-discrimination legislation currently moving through the state House.

House Bill 300 would prohibit discrimination in PA based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression. On Monday, the bill was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed for an eventual vote by the full House.

Today’s rally saw a huge turnout of legislators, advocates and the public.

Kenyatta and Benham were joined by the other co-prime sponsors of H.B. 300, state Reps. Dan Frankel and Latasha D. Mayes, both D-Allegheny; Ismail Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster; and Greg Scott, D-Montgomery; to speak on their bill.

“Pennsylvania is better when it’s fairer. Passing the Fairness Act is the right thing to do for our families, our commonwealth and for our economy. This legislation was first introduced 22 years ago -- leaving committee once before -- and never receiving a full vote,” Kenyatta said. “It’s time for that to change. Pennsylvanians are good and decent people. They know every single one of us should be treated with dignity and respect. We have a chance to deliver on that basic principle and we will.”

“The Fairness Act is as simple as it is substantive. It simply extends those protections that are already granted on the basis is of sex, religion, and national origin, and only in the areas of employment, housing, education, and access to public accommodations,” Benham said. “Our commonwealth is better when it is fairer, and today’s rally emphasizes that it is far past time to pass this legislation.” 

“LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians live in every district of our commonwealth, and every single member of the General Assembly should be an enthusiastic vote to protect them from discrimination,” Frankel said. “This fight has gone on for more than 20 years, and it’s long past time for Pennsylvania to join nearly two dozen other states that already welcome and protect LGBTQ+ people. I hope this is the last year we every have to introduce this bill, but we will keep fighting until we win.”

“This policy is baseline. We are talking about basic human rights for LGBTQ+ folks in Pennsylvania. It's deeply disappointing that there is even a debate over this bill,” said Mayes. “Regardless, I was proud to help report this bill out of the Judiciary Committee so it can travel to the House floor to continue the unnecessarily long path to affirm and protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians.

“I still remember in 2009 when Allegheny County had no protections for LGBTQ+ people. I, along with many others, fought to change that and we were successful in expanding civil protections,” she continued. “Our state law currently does not protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians, which is why continuing to fight just like I did in 2009 is so important to me given that only three counties --Allegheny, Erie & Philadelphia -- provide this protection. It is vital that we pass the Fairness Act into law now.”

“It is egregious that Pennsylvania, founded on the principle of tolerance, should in 2023 still allow LGBTQ+ individuals to be denied housing, education and access to public accommodations simply because of who they are or who they love,” Smith-Wade-El said. “If we want to grow as a society and as an economy, we’ve got to rid Pennsylvania of these discriminatory practices. We all deserve the freedom to love, create, work and compete as who we really are.  We will all be stronger as a society when the Fairness Act becomes a reality in Pennsylvania.”

“It’s 2023, and it’s long past time when discriminatory practices of any kind should have been outlawed in our commonwealth,” Scott said. “When the Fairness Act becomes a reality in Pennsylvania, it will help make our commonwealth a more equal and just society where all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, are free to love who they want and be who they truly are.”

In addition to the co-prime sponsors, House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Phila./Delaware, and House Majority Leader Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, also issued comments on the legislation that would deliver on a prominent issue for PA House Democrats.

“Having the courage to be yourself should be championed – not discouraged. Who you love should be celebrated – not frowned upon. Unfortunately, both can be used to discriminate against you at work or with housing,” McClinton said. “The Fairness Act will add explicit, statutory protections from discrimination, giving all Pennsylvanians the freedom to love and express themselves however they choose without fear of repercussions or backlash.”

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and no one should face discrimination for who they are and who they love,” Bradford said. “The Fairness Act will provide long overdue protections to Pennsylvanians and will ensure that an individual can’t be terminated from their job or denied housing, education or other accommodations.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued his support for the bill and said he would “proudly sign it” if it gets to his desk.

“Throughout my career, I have always fought to protect Pennsylvanians’ rights and freedoms – including co-sponsoring prior iterations of this very legislation when I was a state representative. It is long past time to pass a nondiscrimination law in our Commonwealth,” Shapiro said. 

“I’m grateful to Representative Kenyatta and his colleagues for their leadership on this issue. This bill is an important step toward building a better, stronger Commonwealth – one where all Pennsylvanians receive equal protection under the law, regardless of what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or who you pray to. I would proudly sign this bill – and I am urging leaders in the House and the Senate to get it to my desk as fast as possible. 

“This is about ensuring all Pennsylvanians are protected under the law equally and expanding real freedom in our Commonwealth. It’s time to get it done.” 

Today’s rally also heard from state Sens. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks; Nikil Saval and Sharif Street, both D-Phila.; and Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester.

The legislators were joined by non-legislative advocates for H.B. 300, including Kendall Stephens, a trans activist; Henry Sias, of the PA Commission on LGBTQ Affairs; speakers from ACLU, the Human Relations Commission and Trevor Project; and Dre Ceja, nonbinary activist and former member of the Governor’s LGBTQ Commission.

Footage from today’s rally is available here: PA Fairness Act Rally - YouTube