It's time to pass the Pennsylvania Fairness Act

York Dispatch editorial board

It's time for Pennsylvania to stand up for its LGBTQ citizens, not against them.

With red states across the country taking action almost daily to take away medical care from transgender youth, demonize drag shows and stop discussions of sexuality in classrooms — even college classrooms in Florida — the Pennsylvania Legislature needs to take the Pennsylvania Fairness Act seriously this time.

The Fairness Act, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in housing, public accommodations and employment, has been introduced in each legislative session for 22 years, according to state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, who is the prime sponsor for House Bill 300.

"Pennsylvanians are good and decent people. They know every single one of us should be treated with dignity and respect. We have a chance to deliver on that basic principle and we will," Kenyatta said at a rally Wednesday in support of the bill.

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The bill passed the House Judicial Committee on Wednesday and could come for a vote before the full House soon. It has almost 90 co-sponsors, including Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, and Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, who has sponsored versions of the bill many times in the past two decades.

The Fairness Act would expressly give the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania the same rights to live where they want, be served in restaurants of their choosing and continue their employment without the fear that their lives could be turned around based on the discrimination of others.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta as he runs for U.S. Senate in the May 17 Democratic primary addresses supporters at the El Ranchero Mexican Restaurant in Kennett Square in Philadelphia on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. (Steven M. Falk/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

Pennsylvania is currently one of seven states where existing prohibitions on discrimination based on sex are interpreted as including sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project, but in the past year we've seen the need to codify in law any and all rights we now consider settled because the current Supreme Court cannot be trusted to follow case law.

While 23 states have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, many others are actively working toward enshrining discrimination against LGBTQ youth and adults as laws by criminalizing gender-affirming medical care, restricting use of public bathrooms, relegating drag performances to adult-only sites and telling teachers they're not allowed to discuss sexuality in any form.

The state Capitol building in Harrisburg.
(Photo: Tom Gralish / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Pennsylvania is better than that.

The Pennsylvania Fairness Act has had bipartisan support in the state for decades, but it has never been brought before the state House before thanks to Republicans — most recently Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township — who didn't see fit to move it through the State Government Committee.

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Now that the Dems are in charge of the House — even with a razor-thin margin — there is hope that the bill will get to a vote and pass. It will then need to go through the Senate, where we hope reason and the backing of businesses and polls showing nearly 80% of Americans favor these nondiscrimination laws will hasten the bill's passage.

Gov. Josh Shapiro on Wednesday urged the Legislature to move the bill along to his desk, where he is eager to sign it into law.

"This bill is an important step toward building a better, stronger Commonwealth — one where all Pennsylvanians receive equal protection under the law, regardless of what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or who you pray to," Shapiro said in a statement on Wednesday.

It's time for Pennsylvania to let the world know this commonwealth will stand up for the rights of all of its citizens, including the LGBTQ community.