June is Pride month, a celebration of the fight for LGBTQ equality. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, most Pride events were held online, though a socially distanced event was held Friday in Lancaster city’s Art Park; in honor of Black Lives Matter, it focused on Black performances. Pride is celebrated in June to coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a series of protests in 1969 against police raids of gay establishments like the Stonewall Inn in New York City. According to the Library of Congress, “June 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. The first Pride march in New York City was held on June 28, 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.”
On June 26, 2015, members of the LGBTQ community and those who love them celebrated the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
Nearly five years later, on June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal civil rights law prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of sex extends to sexual orientation and gender identity — and so protects LGBTQ individuals.
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority.
He also noted that an employer’s right to religious liberty might supersede the ruling and likely will be a question for future cases.
Still, this was progress, and we welcome it.
Before this ruling, the prospect of marrying on Saturday and getting fired on Monday loomed over the heads of same-sex couples. That awful prospect has been mostly — if not entirely — removed.
It would help, though, if the Pennsylvania Legislature would act to create state protections for the commonwealth’s LGBTQ citizens.
Unfortunately, as Cynthia Fernandez reported for Spotlight PA earlier this month, that is unlikely to happen any time soon. (Spotlight PA is a nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with LNP Media Group and other news organizations.)
As Fernandez wrote, state Sen. Patrick Browne — the Senate Appropriations Committee chair and so “one of the most powerful Republicans in the Senate” — “has introduced the same bill over and over and over again, with the same result. The Lehigh County lawmaker is the prime sponsor of a measure that would enshrine anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people into Pennsylvania law.”
Unfortunately, his legislation continues to go nowhere, because Republican legislative leaders won’t allow it to advance.
So protections for LGBTQ citizens in Pennsylvania remain piecemeal.
As Fernandez reported, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order that “covers LGBTQ state employees and contractors, while more than 40 municipalities have passed local anti-discrimination ordinances. ... And the state Human Relations Commission, which fields and mediates discrimination complaints, has since 2018 considered ‘sex’ where it appears in state law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Lancaster city, is one of those municipalities. “More than 40 municipalities” sounds good, until you remember that Pennsylvania has more than 2,500 of them.
Additionally, as Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, told Fernandez, this month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision only applies to employees who work for companies with 15 or more workers.
It doesn’t “encompass discrimination in public accommodations — like stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, and private museums,” Fernandez wrote.
And Roper said it “will have zero effect on business owners refusing to serve people because they are transgender.”
Sen. Browne — whose tenacity in championing fairness for LGBTQ individuals we applaud — seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination because of race, religion, age, sex, national origin, or physical disability.
As Fernandez explained, that law “applies to housing, education, employment, and public accommodations, providing critical protections against practices like eviction or discriminatory banking.”
For two decades, Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel of Allegheny County has introduced legislation with the same goal as Browne’s, Fernandez wrote.
That has gone nowhere, too.
“We have never hesitated to say that discrimination, in any form, is wrong,” House Republican spokesman Mike Straub said, according to PAPost.org. “Constructing a law in conformity of the (U.S. Supreme) Court’s ruling is certainly possible but may not be necessary.”
We can confirm for him that this is necessary. As we noted, protections for LGBTQ individuals in Pennsylvania remain a patchwork — which is a nice way to describe quilts, but not civil rights protection.
Straub said Republican leaders would “take a close look at how the ruling impacts our existing state laws. However, if there are further efforts to amend the existing federal protection laws, they must recognize, as (the Supreme Court did June 15), that federal law provides for specific and certain protections for sincerely held religious beliefs.”
A note about that: Many LGBTQ individuals have sincerely held religious beliefs, too. But they need the force of law to protect them from discrimination.
If Pennsylvania lawmakers really believe discrimination is wrong, they should support legislation prohibiting it. Until they do, their words are empty.