Pennsylvania's lack of LGBTQ protections is shameful. Rep. Grove, it's time to act

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
The LGBT flag flies at the Capitol building in Harrisburg.

Bigots have a longstanding tradition of describing nondiscriminatory policies as special treatment for whatever group is demanding their rights.

They did it when women sought the right to vote.

They did it during the civil rights movement.

And they did it Monday night in Chambersburg when a newly elected Republican majority took the unprecedented step of rescinding the borough's protections for LGBTQ people.

"I think by creating special protections for people, we open the door for other protections for other people," said the council's vice president, Bill Everly.

We can't know what's in Mr. Everly's heart — nor what "other people" he had in mind — but his deflection of responsibility for basic human rights rings hollow in the context of history.

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Likewise, the council's arguments that LGBTQ people are already protected are demonstrably false.

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can't discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But that ruling left a lot room for bigotry in the areas of education, housing and access to public accommodation.

Communities like Chambersburg have tried to fill that vacuum with their own protections, but — as Monday night's shameful act demonstrated — those advances are vulnerable to the winds of political favor.

What this means, in practice, is that LGBTQ people are forced to live with a vicious uncertainty when dealing with landlords, health care workers, retail clerks and all the other people who hold a modicum of power over how they live their lives.

Anti-discrimination laws won't necessarily safeguard against all acts of bigotry. Too many LGBTQ people have had the thought: "Did my rental application get lost or did the real estate agent throw it out when they saw my spouse?" But these measures do create a pathway to combat them, whether in the courts or via human rights commissions.

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Perhaps more importantly, they send a clear message that we embrace fairness and that your neighbors are deserving of dignity and respect.

Right now, however, there's no predictability for LGBTQ people.

This patchwork of protection means that a lesbian couple can expect to be served at a restaurant in York City but perhaps not a few miles down the road.

"The community is not asking for special consideration, we're demanding equal treatment under the law," said Tesla Taliaferro, president of the Rainbow Rose Center. “We do not receive that — despite being fellow human beings and Americans.”

Here's one thing we can do right now: It's time for the Pennsylvania Legislature to finally rectify this.

Various proposals to extend basic protections statewide have languished there for two decades. The most recent permutation — House Bill 300, otherwise known as the Pennsylvania Fairness Act — sits in the House State Government Committee.

York County Republican state Rep. Seth Grove, who's chaired that committee since November 2020, has let it sit there without bringing it forward to a vote.

Seth Grove, R-York County, serves as chair of the State Government Committee.

For years, our representatives sat idly by, waiting for other people — the U.S. Supreme Court and various county and municipal authorities — to stand up for the innate dignity of their constituents.

Quite frankly, we've had our fill of bigotry and its second-cousin, apathy.

It's time for all of us — starting with Mr. Grove — to stand on the right side of history. Or step aside.