Groups rally to support state anti-discrimination bill

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HARRISBURG -- They sang "We Shall Overcome," a song made famous during the civil rights marches of the 1960s.

But this time, the several hundred demonstrators gathered in the Capitol rotunda weren't seeking equal rights for African Americans, but equal rights in jobs, housing, public accommodations and other areas for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, a group sometimes called GLBT.

"It's time to end this last vestige of discrimination in Pennsylvania," shouted Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, sponsor of House Bill 300, which would extend employment and housing rights to those four groups.

"We must show that Pennsylvania is tolerant and diverse," he said.

Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, said, "Many legislators don't think that they have any GLBT constituents, but over the next few weeks we will show them how wrong they are."

She urged members of the group to contact legislators and urge support for the bill.

People shouted, "End discrimination now." A little girl held a sign, "My 2 Mommies Deserve Equal Rights."' A man held a sign, "Would Jesus Discriminate?"

Rep. Ron Waters, D-Philadelphia, chairman of the legislative black caucus, said, "We will fight for all God's people."

The group was encouraged by the narrow approval last week of Mr. Frankel's bill, on a 12-11 vote by the House State Government Committee. However, all 12 proponents were Democrats and all 11 opponents were Republicans. Three other Democrats on the committee didn't vote.

The issue really isn't a partisan issue, but if Republicans stay opposed, the bill could have a difficult time in the Senate, which is controlled 30-20 by Republicans. Many of them come from smaller towns and rural areas where many people of conservative politics and religious backgrounds live and they tend not to be strong supporters of gay rights.

Pittsburgh Councilman Bruce Kraus was present and said he'll work to get the bill approved by the Legislature. He said Pittsburgh took similar steps to ban bias on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in the 1990s.

"It's long overdue" on a statewide basis, he said.



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