Study: Pa. ranks 24th nationwide for acceptance of LGBTQ people

‘Pennsylvania’s legal landscape puts LGBTQ residents at risk of discrimination and harassment,’ the report concludes

By: - December 5, 2021 6:30 am

By Victoria Brownworth

A new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA’s Law School paints a grim picture of the way Pennsylvania treats its LGBTQ residents, concluding that the state’s “legal landscape puts LGBTQ residents at risk of discrimination and harassment. The social, economic, and health effects of stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ people negatively impact the state’s economy by tens of millions of dollars each year.”

Worse still, Pennsylvania ranks 24th in the nation for public support for LGBTQ rights and acceptance of LGBT people.

Among the many specifics the study highlights is one Philadelphia activists have been fighting to change for years: The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act does not expressly include sexual orientation or gender identity. As a direct result of this, the study asserts, “discrimination against LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania has been documented in surveys, court cases, and the media.”

Statistics outline the issues in the report: Pennsylvania is home to an estimated 416,000 LGBTQ adults and approximately 74,000 LGBTQ youth. The state offers some protections for LGBTQ people, but Pennsylvania does not have the same breadth of laws and policies enacted in other states.

Pennsylvania’s statewide nondiscrimination law does not expressly include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Pennsylvania lacks several other types of supportive laws and policies that have been enacted in other states, including an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law, LGBTQ-inclusive anti-bullying policies, and a ban on the practice of conversion therapy, which neighboring New Jersey banned with a 2013 law signed by then Gov. Chris Christie.

A key focus of the report is the relationship between the lack of legal protections and the overall perception of who LGBTQ people are. The study states unequivocally a series of highly actionable problems impacting LGBTQ people.  “The legal landscape for LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania likely contributes to an environment in which LGBTQ people continue to experience stigma and discrimination,” the report states.

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It continues, “Stigma and discrimination can take many forms, including discrimination and harassment in employment and other settings; bullying and harassment at school and family rejection of LGBTQ youth; over-representation in the criminal legal system; and violent victimization. Research has linked stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ people to negative effects on individuals, businesses, and the economy.”

Forty-six percent of LGBTQ respondents from Pennsylvania reported experiencing at least one form of harassment (verbal, physical, or sexual harassment) at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy is a public policy research institute based at the UCLA School of Law focused on sexual orientation and gender identities issues. The data and research used for the report documented the “prevalence of several forms of stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ adults and youth in the U.S. and in Pennsylvania specifically, including discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation.”

Among the key findings of the report are that in a 2021 nationwide survey of LGBTQ employees, nearly half (47%) of LGBTQ respondents from Pennsylvania reported experiencing workplace discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives, with 17% of respondents from Pennsylvania reporting employment discrimination (including being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Forty-six percent of LGBTQ respondents from Pennsylvania reported experiencing at least one form of harassment (verbal, physical, or sexual harassment) at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling decision in Bostock v. Clayton County that extended non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people nationwide did not stop such discrimination: 5% of LGBTQ employees from Pennsylvania reported that they had experienced discrimination (including being fired or not hired) within the year following the ruling.

In 2019, 10% of discrimination suits brought before the City of Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Commission were based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression — disproportionate to the reported demographic of LGBTQ people in the state.

Twenty-one percent of transgender respondents in the state reported having experienced some form of housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted from their home or denied a home or apartment because of being transgender, and 10% reported that they experienced homelessness in the past year because of being transgender.

Among respondents who visited a public accommodation where staff or employees knew or thought they were transgender, 31% experienced at least one type of mistreatment in the past year because of being (or being perceived to be) transgender.

Stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ workers can lead to economic instability, including lower wages and higher rates of poverty. Gallup polling data from 2015–2017 show that 25.9% of LGBTQ adults in Pennsylvania reported that they did not have enough money for food, compared to 13.1% of non-LGBT adults in the state.

While 26.5% of LGBTQ adults in Pennsylvania reported having a household income below $24,000, only 18.3% of non-LGBTQ adults reported such poverty. In addition, 10.5% of LGBTQ adults in Pennsylvania reported being unemployed, compared to 5.2% of non-LGBTQ adults.

Research indicates that stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBTQ adults, such as major depressive disorder, binge drinking, substance use and suicidal behavior.

LGBTQ adult respondents to the 2017 and 2018 Pennsylvania Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder by a healthcare professional than non-LGBTQ respondents (42.1% vs. 20.2%). I

In addition, LGBTQ adults in Pennsylvania were significantly more likely to report current smoking (31.7% vs. 17.5%) and binge drinking (31.0% vs. 16.6%) than non-LGBTQ adults.

Other data included bullying and harassment at school of LGB youth. State data from 2019 indicate that, when compared to heterosexual students, LGB students in Pennsylvania were almost twice as likely to report being bullied both at school (32.9% vs. 17.2%) and electronically (26.8% vs. 12.3%) in the year prior to the survey.

Pennsylvania LGB students were also more likely than heterosexual students to report being in a physical fight in the year prior to the survey (26.2% vs. 20.5%), and to report being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (10.9% vs. 6.8%).

A majority of Pennsylvania respondents reported experiences with verbal harassment at school based on their sexual orientation (71%) or gender expression (56%) in the year prior to the survey. Among LGBTQ students who were bullied or harassed at Pennsylvania schools, only 51% reported the incident to school staff. Only 22% of those who reported bullying or harassment to staff said that it resulted in effective intervention.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 77% of Pennsylvania respondents who were out or perceived as transgender at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade reported experiencing some form of mistreatment, such as being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought that they were transgender. And 12% said that the harassment they experienced was so severe that they had to leave a K-12 school.

The Williams Institute report concludes that “a more supportive legal landscape would likely reduce the economic instability and health disparities LGBTQ people face.”

Victoria A. Brownworth is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.

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