State Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — A new campaign to call for civil rights protections for those in the LGBT community launched last week as lawmakers pledged to renew the effort to pass legislation to offer the same protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity offered to those in other minority groups.

The issue is particularly important now because the U.S. Supreme Court is soon expected to hand down decisions on cases focused on whether federal law offers protection from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide advocacy group focused on LGBT issues.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast that does not provide state-level protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, he said.

“You can get married on Sunday and fired on Monday,” Goodman said.

More than 50 local communities have passed anti-discrimination ordinances, but without statewide protection, the threat of discrimination varies based on ZIP code, Goodman said.

Among neighboring states, only Ohio and West Virginia don’t have state-level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Family Equality, a New York-based advocacy group.

Senate Bill 224 would provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The legislation was introduced a year ago and has not moved out of the Labor and Industry Committee. The chairwoman of that committee, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Republican from Washington County, said she supports the legislation and will work to get the legislation passed.

Goodman said Pennsylvania’s poor record on protecting the rights of the LGBT community is motivating people to leave the state.

Bartolotta said it’s been a problem that Pennsylvania adopts or refuses to change policies that discourage people from coming to the state or staying here.

“Every person should have unfettered access to opportunities. Leaving qualified individuals on the sidelines because of their identity fails Pennsylvania,” Bartolotta said. “It’s time we changed some of these antiquated regulations and laws. It’s about damned time.”

State Rep. Wendy Thomas, a Republican from Bucks County, said she thinks most people don’t realize Pennsylvania doesn’t already offense these protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The state has offered protection against sexual discrimination for state employees since the 1970s, she said.

“We were leading the way,” she said. “Now, we’re lagging behind.”

Advocates announced the launch of a PA Values campaign, involving faith and business groups, working to promote legislation to protect the rights of the LGBT community.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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