One of Pittsburgh’s representatives in the Pennsylvania house will again introduce a bill that would extend the state’s discrimination protections to LGBTQ people.
But unless Rep. Dan Frankel and other legislators can convince Speaker Mike Turzai to refer the bill to a committee that will put it up for a vote, it’s likely to suffer the same fate.
“Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act currently prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations based on an individual’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, education status, handicap, or disability,” Frankel wrote in a co-sponsorship memo. His legislation, nicknamed the Fairness Act, would amend the act to add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list.
Both Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have ordinances on the books that prohibit discrimination against a person based on gender identity and sexual orientation. But as Frankel pointed out, only 37 municipalities in Pennsylvania provide these kind of protections.
Frankel introduced the bill during the 2015-16 session with more than 80 co-sponsors from both parties. (A companion bill in the Senate had more than 20.) But the legislation died in the State Government committee, which he said is “chaired by one of the most ardent opponents of LGBT rights in the state.”
Frankel is referring to Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County, who called the bill “very dangerous” last year as it allows trans people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Metcalfe’s record on LGBTQ rights includes the 2011 introduction of an amendment to Pennsylvania’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. In 2013, he stopped Rep. Brian Sims, who is openly gay, from speaking about same-sex marriage in the statehouse, telling KDKA:
His talking about that on the House floor would have been an open rebellion against Almighty God and God’s word, against God’s law. And as a Christian, if I would have sat there and been silent, it would have violated my conscience because of my beliefs as a Christian.
Metcalfe also invited “Duck Dynasty” cast member Phil Robertson to speak at Pennsylvania Second Amendment Action Day, noting Robertson’s “biblically based opposition to the homosexual agenda” in a press release.
Frankel said he “will ask and lobby the speaker to consider referring [the bill] to a committee that will have a fair hearing.” He said supporters of the bill should likewise communicate their position “in a personal way to the speaker,” so at a bare minimum, the bill can get a committee vote.
That’s the only way to hold members of the House accountable, Frankel said — “to get votes on the bill.”
“Ultimately I’m optimistic in the longterm that we’re going to get it done,” he said of the Fairness Act. “This year will prove to be a challenge.”
Getting the Fairness Act into a different committee is just one item on a long list of issues Pennsylvania Democrats are facing with a Republican-controlled executive branch, Congress and state legislature.
On the federal level, there’s the looming repeal of the Affordable Care Act, block granting of Medicaid and defunding of Planned Parenthood. In Pennsylvania, there’s a growing budget deficit (that would be made worse by an ACA repeal, according to an analysis), a challenge to sanctuary cities and a possible 20-week abortion ban that criminalizes the dilation and evacuation procedure.
Frankel said some constituents approached him with their concerns, and they planned to discuss them at a house party. Instead, so many people signed up that they moved the event to a Shadyside church. About 100 people showed up, Frankel said.
“They need to be active,” he said of his constituents. “They need to do advocacy in a way that’s more in your face than the typical thing” like a “canned email,” and to “tell elected officials they will be held accountable if these things come to pass.”
Pennsylvania is also less than two years away from an election that will see state and congressional representatives and senators, including Bob Casey, vying to keep their seats. Gov. Tom Wolf will also be up for reelection.
“It’s important to support people who are supportive of our values and our issues,” Frankel said.