Yorkers rally in Harrisburg for LGBT rights

Greg Gross

When gay rights activist Carla Christopher married a woman a few years back, she was surprised her grandpa, who's firmly grounded in the Presbyterian faith, attended the wedding.

Christopher, a York City resident, thought her grandpa would be out of his comfort zone at a gay wedding. But there was food, and he had a table to play cards at the reception.

Christopher recalled her grandpa told her: "What does who you're marrying over there have to do with my comfort zone over here?"

A group of LGBT activists held a vocal rally in the state Capitol’s east wing rotunda on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass a pair of anti-discrimination bills that would protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

"Yes, we are queer, but we are Pennsylvanians first," Christopher said. "We're not asking for special treatment. ... We are asking for the right to have and raise families."

The bills: Two bills, Senate Bill 1307 and House Bill 1510,  would prohibit discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. They have been dubbed the Pennsylvania Fairness Act.

The House version has been stuck in the State Government Committee since September, and lawmakers approved a discharge resolution earlier this month in an attempt to bring it to a vote. No vote has been taken.

The Senate bill was voted out of the Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, last week. It's now in the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Wagner, a conservative Republican, became an unlikely ally of the bill and voted in favor.

He was scheduled to speak at the rally but ran late Tuesday and had to go straight to the Senate caucus, according to Jason High, Wagner's chief of staff.

Tara Stark,  a 21-year-old transgender woman living in York City, called the bills common sense.

"It's not a partisan issue. It's a human rights and human dignity issue," she said.

Motivation: Despite the setback in the House, the activists said they remain steadfast in getting the bills to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk.

"Keep fighting the good fight. We will get there," Rep. Leslie Acosta, D-Philadelphia, told the crowd of a few dozen people.

To help spur efforts, Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, announced at the rally the formation of the Pennsylvania LGBTQ Leadership Council, which will work to support education and advocacy efforts in state government.

At age 75, Joanne Carroll, a transgender woman who lived most of her life as a man and served in the U.S. military in Vietnam, has seen progress made on the civil rights fronts over the decades.

But she made it clear the fight is not over until the LGBT community is afforded equal rights.

"If you think we're going away, you're sadly mistaken," said Carroll, president of TransCentral Pa. "We're not going away until we have full equality in this commonwealth."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.