OP-ED: No matter how Supreme Court rules, Pa. must act on LGBTQ rights

Lori Riddle
East Manchester Township

Ten years ago, I repeatedly heard from LGBTQ students at the high school where I teach that they needed support. So after a student requested a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) club, I was proud to sponsor its formation. What began with just a few people has grown into a strong group with more than 60 members.

I’ve watched over the years how supporting and empowering students has changed their lives. It’s amazing to see them come out of their shells when they have a safe and welcoming environment to talk to others and share their experiences and struggles.

After I began the club, my daughter came out. The mission then became even more personal, and I have continued to advocate for her and my students and take on issues like harassment and discrimination.

As students leave high school and head out into the world, I worry that they may no longer be protected. I want to assure my students that they can work hard, make a living and support themselves without fear of humiliation, harassment or discrimination. But currently, I can’t guarantee that.

Thousands participate in the LBGTQ Pride march Sunday in New York.

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On Oct. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court heard three cases that will determine if federal law will continue to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. This is critical because Pennsylvania’s state laws don’t explicitly provide these nondiscrimination protections. Neither do 29 other states across the country. 

The lack of protections at the statewide and federal level leaves LGBTQ people like my daughter and my students vulnerable to discrimination.

LGBTQ people need legal rights. I’ve watched friends get married to their same-sex partners and then worry about getting fired, or losing their housing. For the most part, my school is lucky to have people dedicated to creating safe spaces and being supportive. But that doesn’t always extend into other areas of life, and my students are very aware of that.

It’s so important that the U.S. Supreme Court affirms protections for LGBTQ people. And it’s critical that regardless of how the court rules, lawmakers here in Pennsylvania take steps to pass policies that send a clear message that no one should be treated differently because of who they are or who they love. It shouldn’t depend on whether people are lucky enough to live in the right place.

Dignity and respect should never depend on who you are, who you love, or what zip code you call home.

I’ve watched my students attend GSA leadership summits, where they hear from inspiring speakers and attend advocacy workshops where they learn how to fight for their rights. It’s so fulfilling to see them find the support they need. But they also need it when they leave school. 

I’ve done all I can to show my students that that they are accepted and protected. Now it’s time for the Supreme Court to show them as well.