The Rev. Christopher Hart, of Grace United Church of Christ, stood in front of Lancaster County Courthouse on Thursday to describe the tribulations of a woman he knows — a diligent worker who has received favorable performance reviews. The woman is a valued church member as well as a newly adoptive mother, he said.
And a lesbian.
Hart explained that, after the woman decided to share her sexual orientation, she felt as though her job was suddenly in jeopardy. She was being pushed out based on whom she loved, and, according to Pennsylvania state law, there was nothing that she, or the church, could do about it.
"Really, what can we do?" Hart said. "Our ability is limited."
That's why Hart decided to join local social and political leaders and small business officials to fight for equal rights for the LGBT community in an effort spearheaded by Equality Pennsylvania.
Thursday's gathering kicked off a six-week press tour aimed at raising support for legislation that would, among other things, protect the LGBT community in the workplace.
Equality Pennsylvania describes itself on its website as "the commonwealth’s leading organization advancing equality and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Pennsylvanians."
Hart was accompanied by state Rep. Mike Sturla, chairman of the Democratic House policy committee; Alexis Lake, owner of Alexis Lake Therapy; Brandon Hufnagel, general manager of The Belvedere Inn; Levana Layendecker, communications director for Equality Pennsylvania; and other members of the group.
Although it now recognizes same-sex marriages, Pennsylvania is not home to legislation that restricts discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community members.
The purpose of the Equality Pennsylvania tour, Layendecker said, is to change that.
She said the hope is that the Legislature in Harrisburg will act by implementing Senate Bill 300 and House Bill 300, which would update the Human Relations Act to include LGBT members and provide freedom from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation.
As of now, the pursuit has the support of more than 350 faith leaders, 300 small business owners, three major chambers of commerce and multiple Fortune 500 companies.
In the Senate, Layendecker said, 25 senators currently cosponsor the bills; in the House, 96 representatives are cosponsors.
Sturla added that Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. Pat Toomey also are in favor of the bills.
"The commonwealth should be seen as a place that welcomes any individual who wants to work hard, succeed and grow our economy," Sturla said, "without the fear of being fired or refused services simply because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression."
To try to get the bills passed, Layendecker said the group will be traveling to five more destinations on the tour, including Springfield, State College and Punxsutawney.
Lake estimated that about 60 percent of her clients at Lake Therapy in Lititz belong to the LGBT community. She said having protections in place would provide peace of mind for those worried about discrimination.
"This is an issue I hear about on an almost daily basis from people who want to speak their truth but are afraid of what can happen to them," she said.
Lake said that without laws prohibiting this type of discrimination, many members of the LGBT community are given no recourse to challenge unfair treatment.
"There are very real repercussions that come along with being part of a minority group, and that's why this law is so important," she said. "In a perfect world, there would be no need for this law, but people are still treated differently for their differences."
Lake isn't alone in her opinion. According to the national advocacy group Small Business Majority, about six in 10 small business owners in Pennsylvania believe non-discrimination policies boost bottom lines by attracting the best and brightest employees. And two-thirds believe there should be laws that prohibit employment discrimination against LGBT people.
Staff Writer Karen Shuey contributed to this report.