Civil-rights advocates continue to urge the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to enact guidance that would allow anti-LGBT bias complaints to be investigated as sex-discrimination complaints.
PHRC investigates sex-discrimination complaints in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, commercial property and education. The agency has 75 staffers and an annual budget of almost $10.2 million.
Statewide antibias laws specifically ban sex discrimination but because they don’t specifically ban LGBT discrimination, on occasion the PHRC has turned away LGBT complainants.
In April, the agency floated guidance that would increase the number of anti-LGBT bias complaints that could be investigated as sex- discrimination complaints.
PHRC received thousands of public comments regarding the proposed guidance, which the agency continues to review.
Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, said LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination.
“I urge PHRC to promptly enact LGBT guidance that recognizes LGBT discrimination as a form of sex discrimination, without exception,” Robinette said in an email. “PHRC should begin accepting for investigation all complaints of LGBT discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, commercial property and education. Additionally, I strongly urge PHRC to clarify that no religious exemptions will be given under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to discriminate.”
Thomas W. Ude Jr., legal and public policy director for Mazzoni Center, issued this statement:
“For the benefit of everyone, we at Mazzoni Center look forward to PHRC’s final guidance on protecting LGBTQ people against sex discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act. And we hope to see it soon. We also hope that the final guidance provides clarity that was missing in last April’s drafts. When PHRC says discrimination against LGBT people based on sex stereotypes is illegal, it should explain that this means that it is illegal to discriminate based on the stereotype that all people are or should be straight. And that it is illegal to discriminate based on the stereotype that every person’s gender identity is or should be the same as the sex or gender that was assigned to them at birth. PHRC should explain that LGBT people are not also required to provide extra evidence about whether their behavior, actions or appearance were also ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ enough to meet someone else’s approval. There are many well-reasoned decisions addressing both of those points. PHRC should not ignore them, and should issue final guidance that provides real guidance.”
PHRC spokesperson Christina Reese issued this statement:
“In late April, PHRC issued proposed guidance on handling complaints filed by LGBTQ individuals under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act. In response to the proposed guidance, PHRC received thousands of public comments. Staff were assigned to review the comments and prepare recommendations and a comment/response document for the commissioners. That process is continuing. When the comment/response document is in final form, it, as well as the final LGBTQ guidance reflecting any changes from the proposed guidance, will be made available to the public and considered by the commissioners in public session during one of the commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meetings. We will let the public know when that will take place. It will not be taking place at the [Nov. 27] public meeting.”