Workzone: Pennsylvania lacks laws guarding sexual orientation
October 14, 2012 8:00 AM
By Ann Belser Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 70 percent of Pennsylvania, gay employees who celebrated National Coming Out Day on Thursday would have no recourse if their bosses fired them Friday.
That's because a law to prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender expression has not been passed during any of the 10 years it has been sitting in the state legislature.
And so, even though almost 70 percent of the voters in the state are in favor of adding sexual orientation and gender expression to civil rights protections, the legislature has never brought the matter to a vote.
"We have here in Pennsylvania a legal environment that essentially allows employers, landlords, educators and people who provide public accommodations to discriminate" against the lesbian gay, bisexual and transgendered community, state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said.
"It is the last vestige of legal discrimination in this country," he said.
Civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees vary town by town in Pennsylvania, so if someone works in Pittsburgh but rents a home in Cranberry, he can be out at work without fear of discrimination, but can be thrown out of their apartment if his landlord decides not to rent to gay people.
Just three counties -- Allegheny, Erie and Philadelphia -- and 25 municipalities have legislation that prevents employers, landlords and anyone who provides public accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants, from discriminating against people based in their sexual orientation or how they express their gender identity, such as if they are transgendered.
Mr. Frankel's bill, which he has introduced every year for a decade now, would add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the civil rights law that already offers protection on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education, and the use of a guide dog.
Ted Martin, the executive director of Equality PA -- an advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community -- said Pennsylvania stands out among states in the region for not having civil rights legislation to protect the community he represents. New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland have sexual orientation written into their civil rights laws. Pennsylvania has ordinances at the municipal level in places such as Harrisburg, which has had that protection since 1983, and Pittsburgh, which adopted the legislation in 1997.
"Pennsylvania is very far behind on this issue," Mr. Martin said. "All of these states around us have these protections, and Pennsylvania stands out like a sore thumb."
He said he has been called by executive recruiters who ask about legal protections for their gay clients in Pennsylvania and he has to be honest and say there are none. Some talent has not come to the state because of the lack of civil rights protections.
As for religious organizations, he said churches and church organizations are exempted from the legislation in every municipality in which it has been adopted "so they can continue to discriminate."
So while the urban residents of Pennsylvania are pretty much covered by the law, if straight people in the hinterlands are working for gay employers, they might want to hide their marriages because heterosexuals aren't protected either.