Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thoughts on MLK Day

Pennsylvania, like most states, includes nondiscriminatory language in its legal code. You can’t refuse to hire or rent to someone based on his or her race, disability, religion, national origin, or gender. However, unlike most of the neighboring states, Pennsylvania does not include sexual orientation in that nondiscrimination statement; as of 2009 21 states did, including NJ. In Pennsylvania it is perfectly legal to fire someone solely because he or she is gay, or to refuse to rent to them or serve them for that reason. And that has happened. In 2008 Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, a lesbian, gay, and transgender rights board handled 139 discrimination complaints (Worden, 3/15/2009)

Since the state has been remiss in doing so, a number of local governments have passed their own nondiscrimination ordinance that specifically includes sexual orientation. When complaints are made to organizations like Equality Advocates Pennsylvania or the state’s Human Relations Commission, if the questionable behavior happened in an area that does not have a local ordinance there is no legal recourse.
From an economic standpoint, there may be employers who would not want to open an office in an area that does not offer legal protection to all their employees. For instance:

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies have politics that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of their employees. (Infanti, 4/12/2009).

Even so, about half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered employees hide that fact from some or all of their co-workers (Belser 10/18/2009). They lie about their personal life or do not talk about it at work. Those casual conversations about home and family are not open to them. Living in an area where they could be denied housing solely on the basis on their orientation, if it were known, would no doubt add to their unease.

The 18 local areas with nondiscrimination ordinances in Pennsylvania are: Allegheny County, Allentown, Doylestown, Easton, Erie County, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lansdowne, Lower Merion Township, New Hope, Reading, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, State College, Swarthmore, West Chester, York (“Uniformly,” 12/29/2010). Haverford is currently considering it. In 2009 it was estimated that 80% of the state’s area was not covered by a local ordinance (Fellinger, 4/01/2009) In Hatboro the mayor vetoed an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance and the town council was not able to override the veto. The Abington Township Board of Commissioners voted down a non-discrimination ordinance last week (Arnosky, 1/14/2011)

What are the objections to such local ordinances? Some are concerned about potential cost. Lansdowne has spent $500 over a three year period (Puglionesi, 1/06/2011). Lancaster County has reported cost concerns but it is the only area to have a “work-sharing” relationship with the state (Radzievich 09/08/2010); the county’s law does not include sexual orientation, although the city’s does. Lancaster County disbanded it’s Human Relations Commission in December, 2010, citing cost concerns, but those coincided with a push to include sexual orientation in the wording (Scolford, 12/24/2010). Others have reservations based on religious beliefs. Others are simply prejudiced against the LGBT community.

Writing this on a day that celebrates the work of a man who worked for equal rights for a minority population, it seems a shame that Pennsylvania cannot offer the same legal protections to all of its citizens.


Arnosky, Mischa, “Abington says 'no' to human relations ordinance,” Abington Patch January 14, 2011 (http://abington.patch.com/articles/update-abington-says-no-to-human-relations-ordinance)

Belser, Ann, “Job security just one issue for LGBT community – workplace climate also a concern,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 18, 2009

Fellinger, Richard, “Sexual-orientation issue divides House Rep. Eugene DePasquale is a co-sponser of a controversial bill,” York Daily Record April 1, 2009

Infanti, Anthony C, “Discrimination bill affects us all,” Patriot-News April 14, 2009

Radzievich, Nicole, “Callahan proposes human rights panel,” Morning Call September 8, 2010

Scolford, Mark, “Without state law, towns tackle anti-gay bias,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 24, 2010.

“Uniformly ban discrimination,” Daily Review (Towanda) December 29, 2010

Worden, Amy, “PA bill would extend antibias law to gays,” Philadelphia Inquirer March 15, 2009

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