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LGBT Advocates Press to End Discrimination in the Workplace, Housing, and Public Accommodations

Philadelphia – Today, Equality Pennsylvania, alongside 30 state-wide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups from Georgia Equality to Basic Rights Oregon and beyond, launched #DiscriminationExists, a week-long education campaign to highlight the fact that despite recent victories for the freedom to marry many states still need to update their laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Follow the discussion at discriminationexists.org.

Ted Martin, Executive Director of Equality PA, explained why it is so important to educate people about nondiscrimination, “Despite recent victories around the country and here in Pennsylvania for same-sex couples who want to marry, there remains a patchwork of laws leaving many families vulnerable to one of their loved ones being fired from a job, turned away from a business, or evicted from a home just for being gay or transgender. However, most people in Pennsylvania are shocked to learn that all people are not always protected from discrimination in the commonwealth.”

A recent poll found that 9 out of 10 voters erroneously think that a federal law is already in place protecting gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination.

Many local groups and leaders joined in the week of action to help in the education effort to make sure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have clear protection from discrimination at work, in housing, and in public accommodation. The Human Rights Campaign also recently released their State Equality Index, which rated Pennsylvania as “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality,” the lowest available rating for a state in their index.

Councilman Jim Kenney, a stalwart advocate for and ally with the LGBT community, released a short statement about the progress that has been made, but noted that there is still work to do for LGBT equality:

“I am proud to have fought alongside the LGBT community for the largest expansion of LGBT rights that was allowed under Pennsylvania law.  That said, it is crucial for the people of Pennsylvania to know the recent marriage equality victory celebrated by hundreds of thousands of LGBT Pennsylvanians was just a starting point, not the finish line.

There are approximately 270,000 LGBT Pennsylvanians who are legally allowed to be fired because of a situation like their supervisor not liking that they’re a lesbian. Landlords can legally deny an apartment application because a person is transgender. A gay couple can be legally denied service at a public restaurant because they are holding hands.

While these situations might sound unlikely in 2015, just a few months ago two young men were assaulted in Center City Philadelphia for being gay. This was a brutal reminder that Pennsylvania doesn’t have LGBT hate crimes protections either and that we’ve only just begun to battle for true equality in our hearts and our laws.

We should all be proud of the current and past legislators who have introduced and reintroduced the employment, housing, and public accommodations LGBT non-discrimination act. Politically, this was not always an easy bill to introduce. These are basic protections that most Americans take for granted but we must go farther still.”

There are many groups and communities in Pennsylvania who support updating Pennsylvania’s laws to protect all people from discrimination including over 400 small businesses, 12 PA Fortune 500 companies, and over 500 faith leaders and members of clergy.

Rev. Jeffrey Jordan-Pickett, Pastor of Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church, highlighted the faith community’s support for nondiscrimination, “Today, many gay and transgender people live in fear of losing a job or being denied housing or basic public accommodations because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. This fear exists because it is legal to discriminate against them. This discrimination goes against the moral code of the vast majority of religious denominations in the State of Pennsylvania. ”

Nondiscrimination policies have broad support from the business community including three large Chambers of Commerce in Pennsylvania: Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Rich Horrow, the President for the Independence Business Alliance (IBA), talked about support among the members, “We have over 250 member businesses and are here today because we firmly believe that everyone should be protected from discrimination at work as well as in housing and places of public accommodation. It seems rudimentary that people should not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet employees in Pennsylvania remain unprotected.  The lack of protection is bad for business in the Commonwealth and can cause economic harm, leading to lower economic output for individuals and businesses.”

Christopher Wibley, an Executive Assistant for Elsevier, a large corporation based in Philadelphia added, “Elsevier has over 464 employees here in Pennsylvania. We are global leaders in the development and dissemination of scientific, technological, and medical knowledge and we can’t be that without hiring extremely talented and dedicated leaders in those fields. Our employees are the lifeblood of our business. That’s why we do everything we can to provide a welcoming and safe environment at work. Protecting people from discrimination, including people who are gay or transgender, is about treating others as we would want to be treated. “

Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director, GALAEI, talked about how many communities are affected by the lack of protections, “We have the right to get married now. So many people are shocked to learn that we are still here working for protections from discrimination. And I know that with the patchwork of protections that LGBT people have in the state now, it might be difficult to gauge your position on discrimination.  But for people like me, queer Latinos, non-discrimination legislation is the difference between living and dying; thriving not just surviving. Passing non-discrimination legislation is something most Pennsylvanians think has already happened. So let’s make sure it does.”

Sharron Cooks, Owner & CEO of Making Our Lives Easier LLC, a community based organization that provides quality resources & information through community organizing and advocacy, summed up the significance that updating the law would have,  “Passing a non-discrimination law will be the gateway to housing stability, gainful and lasting employment as well as economic equality and sustainability for people in the transgender community.”

Chantel Mattiola, a local graduate student added, “It is fundamentally unfair that my peers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender students would not necessarily be protected from discrimination if they decide to work and live in Pennsylvania after they graduate.  As the Court prepares to act on marriage equality, a majority of states, including Pennsylvania, are still falling behind on providing basic non-discrimination protections.”

Ted Martin summed up the education campaign, “Discrimination does exist in Pennsylvania, but we know that we can take steps to make sure that all people are protected so they will have the opportunity to earn a living for themselves and their families and build a better life.”

For real stories of discrimination in PA visit: CampaignforFairnessPA.org.

Additional #DiscriminationExists events this week in PA include:

Small Business Press Event in Scranton:

Tues. Jan. 27 at 1:00 PM, Scranton Hilton – Small business owners and community members will gather to rededicate their efforts to nondiscrimination this year.

Business Networking Breakfast in Harrisburg:

Wed. Jan. 28 at 8:30 AM, 39 East Wing, Capitol Building, Harrisburg – This event in Harrisburg will highlight the support of businesses large and small to update our laws in PA to stay competitive with our neighboring states when it comes to retaining and attracting the best workforce for our state.

Prayer Breakfast for Nondiscrimination in Pittsburgh:

Mon., Feb. 2 from 8:00-10:00 AM – St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1965 Ferguson Rd., Allison Park, PA – The focus of our breakfast will be on raising awareness that discrimination is still a legal reality in this state. We are imploring the faith community to have a voice on this issue, as discrimination of any kind is very much a moral and spiritual issue.

 

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ABOUT EQUALITY PENNSYLVANIA

 

With 60,000 members across the commonwealth, Equality Pennsylvania is the leading organization advancing equality and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians.

 

Follow us:

Twitter- @EqualityPA

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