EDITORIAL: Pa. needs the Fairness Act

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is at right. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Gov. Tom Wolf has always advocated for LGBTQ rights, particularly in regard to the transgender community. Just ask Physician General Rachel Levine, one of the highest-ranking trans officials in the country. 

Last week, just ahead of June's Pride Month, Wolf urged the state Legislature to help protect trans people from the latest attacks by the Trump administration.

Most recently, the administration has decided it will no longer recognize gender identity as a definition of sex for nondiscrimination purposes under the Affordable Care Act.

After several lawsuits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed rolling back the protections granted to trans people by the Obama administration by saying that Congress does not understand that the word "sex" in this usage includes gender identity.

This comes after the administration barred trans people from joining the military as of April 12 and gave the 14,000 transgender people serving openly already a choice: have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria by that deadline, continue to serve under the gender assigned to them at birth or leave the service. 

And on May 22, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new policy that would let HUD-funded homeless shelters consider a person's sex or gender identification before admitting them.

“As the federal government goes backwards, it is past time for Pennsylvania to protect our LGBTQ citizens,” Wolf said in a news release. “I urge the General Assembly to advance protections for the LGBTQ community by passing comprehensive non-discrimination and expanding our hate crimes law to protect LGBTQ citizens.”

Tal Moskowitz, 8, below, a transgender child, holds a sign as his parents Faigy Gelbstein, left, and Naomi Moskowitz, upper right, of Long Island, hold separate signs during a rally in support of transgender youth at the Stonewall National Monument, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in New York. They were among demonstrators The crowd gathered Thursday night in front of the Stonewall Inn. The family were speaking out against President Donald Trump's decision to roll back a federal rule saying public schools had to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender identity. The rule had already been blocked from enforcement, but transgender advocates view the Trump administration action as a step back for transgender rights. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It's good to see Wolf stand up for trans rights. Not enough people in general do that and especially not enough people in power. 

Let's hope Wolf's call for help from the Legislature won't fall on deaf ears this time. 

The General Assembly for years has failed to pass the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which would add sexual orientation to the state's Human Relations Act.

That means that right now, in most of the state, any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person can be fired in Pennsylvania solely because of their sexual orientation, and they will have no recourse. They could lose their housing or be denied access to places with no consequences for the person or company discriminating against them.

Only people who live in areas that have extended those protections, including York City, would be able to fight discrimination.

For years, LGBTQ activists, allies and even the business community have been calling for passage of the Fairness Act. Last year, both Wolf and Scott Wagner, his Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race, spoke in favor of the act. Nearly everyone agrees that it would be good for the state and for businesses if we ensure that the LGBT community can't be marginalized.

In the House, the Fairness Act is sponsored this session by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. It was introduced May 6 as HB1404 and has 88 co-sponsors, including Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City. 

It was sent to the House State Government Committee. Since 2011, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, was head of that committee and refused to even bring the Fairness Act up for discussion. But after a committee shuffle in January, Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, is now the State Government chair.

Everett told WHYY that the bill is "one that we’ll be getting to.”

We hope that this time, there will be a change and Pennsylvania will join the 21 states, plus D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico, that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

It's past time for the Fairness Act to be passed.