‘It’s about damn time’: Momentum to pass LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill is growing

By: - February 3, 2020 5:02 pm

State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington (Capital-Star photo).

Legislation protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination has met roadblocks in Pennsylvania since 1976 — the first year such a bill was introduced in the state’s General Assembly. 

After more than 50 years of false starts, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, says “it’s about damn time” for that to change.

“Leaving behind talented individuals because of [their] sexual orientation or gender identity is surely going to fail Pennsylvania,” Bartolotta said Monday, when she rallied with LGBTQ advocates and allies at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. “It’s time that we change some of those antiquated, ancient rules and thought processes and bring Pennsylvania into 2020.”

Bartolotta is part of a growing bipartisan cadre of lawmakers who support changing Pennsylvania’s human rights law to make it illegal for landlords, employers and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens.

Right now, Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast where it is legal to fire, evict or deny service to someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Jason Landau-Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said Monday.

Some municipalities have adopted local ordinances banning LGBTQ discrimination. But advocates say a patchwork of local laws is no substitute for comprehensive, state-wide protections for LGBTQ individuals. 

The fight for statewide non-discrimination laws in Pennsylvania isn’t new. In the past two decades alone, lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced dozens of bills banning LGBTQ discrimination, records from the Pennsylvania Youth Congress show. 

Those bills typically have dozens of sponsors from both political parties, but have nonetheless languished in the state Legislature. 

That’s in part because the lawmakers controlling key committees can decline to bring non-discrimination bills up for a vote, just as Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, did when he was chairman of the House State Government Committee. 

There are signs that may be changing. Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, who replaced Metcalfe last year as head of the state government committee, told the Capital-Star last year that ending lawful discrimination “[is] not an issue that’s dead on arrival” under his leadership.

Bartolotta also pledged Monday to bring the non-discrimination legislation up for a vote on the Senate Labor and Industry Committee, which she chairs. 

Across the General Assembly, Landau-Goodman says the cause has an “unprecedented” coalition of lawmakers behind it. But each day that lawmakers fail to act is another day that LGBT people can face lawful discrimination in Pennsylvania.

“The reality and fear of discrimination affects LGBT Pennsylvanians every single day,” Landau-Goodman said. “Far too many LGBT Pennsylvanians are suffering because we lack these protections.”

One of those Pennsylvanians is Michael Bugby, a 27-year old Shippensburg University student who said he was denied housing by one landlord and almost evicted by another when they learned he was married to a man.

“No one should be denied housing, or a job, or any other service just because of their sexual orientation,” Bugby said Monday. “Our lawmakers here in Pennsylvania… Need to take action to ensure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.