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EDITORIAL: If you truly want to help, pass the Fairness Act
This time, there is something real that politicians could do in reaction to the latest mass shooting.
There's a bill before the Pennsylvania Legislature, the Fairness Act, that would add sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the state's nondiscrimination law.
In most of Pennsylvania, employers, landlords and businesses can refuse to serve, house, hire or continue to employ an LGBT person. And in 2016, that's just wrong.
There are 34 municipalities around the state, including York City, where sexual orientation has been added to the nondiscrimination ordinance, as well as 21 other states that have added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination laws. And guess what — the sky hasn't fallen. There have been no lightning bolts striking down members of city councils, no unexplained fires at apartments.
People have just been free to live their lives without the fear that they will lose their jobs or homes when someone sees them holding hands with a person of the same gender.
The bill won't change the fact that one hate-filled gunman took 49 lives early Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It would have made no difference to Omar Mateen when he took over the gathering spot with an AR-15 assault rifle and a 9 mm handgun and many, many rounds of ammunition.
But with tears, prayers and condolences going out for the LGBT community, it's a small step that the Legislature should be up to taking.
There are many calls out for gun regulations, for reinstating the federal ban on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines that expired in 1994. The same calls went out after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, at an office holiday party in San Bernadino, California ... The list seems endless.
But let's be frank: Politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association. If any suggestions are made that might be twisted into taking away freedoms embedded in the Second Amendment, lawmakers will fall over themselves trying to distance themselves.
So let's try for lower-hanging fruit with the Fairness Act.
State Reps. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, and Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, last week filed a discharge petition to move the Fairness Act out of the House State Government Committee, where it has languished since September, and send it to the House for a vote.
"Poll after poll over the years has shown consistent support of 70 percent or more in Pennsylvania for this commonsense, nondiscrimination legislation. Most Pennsylvanians don’t want their gay or transgender family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors to get fired or denied a home, a hotel room or a restaurant table just because of who they are. They know that's wrong," Frankel said in a news release on Tuesday.
Nearly 400 small businesses in Pennsylvania have signed a letter supporting the Fairness Act, and all 18 Fortune 500 companies based in the state include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, according to Pennsylvania Competes.
The bill would change the lives of a group that is more likely than any other in the country to face discrimination and hate crimes. According to a Southern Poverty Law Center study in 2011, the 2.1 percent of the population that is LGBT is victimized in 17.4 percent of reported hate crimes, making them 41.5 times more likely to be a victim than a straight white person and 2.6 times more likely than a straight black person.
As survivors of the latest hate crime against the LGBT community begin to speak about the carnage and funerals begin for the 49 victims, Pennsylvania lawmakers have a chance to make a statement that people should be treated as people, no more, no less, no matter who they love.
It's an important step for a community that has seen more than its share of pain this week.