The budget isn’t the only thing the legislature didn’t get done in 2015. Because of the never-ending budget impasse, almost every other issue that Pennsylvanians care about was not addressed. One of those key issues is discrimination. Most Pennsylvanians are shocked to learn that it is still legal in the commonwealth to be fired from your job, turned away from a business or denied an apartment just for being gay or transgender.
This past year’s Susquehanna Research poll shows that 74 percent of all Pennsylvania voters agree that it’s time to update our laws to be sure that all people are protected from discrimination. And Equality PA’s outreach in the community backs that up. More than 400 small business owners, 700 clergy and faith leaders and all 18 Fortune 500 companies based in Pennsylvania agree that discrimination against gay and transgender people is wrong and bad for business.
Discrimination really does affect people. According to a recent survey, 38 percent of gay or transgender employees in the United States report being harassed or discriminated against at work. There are many stories from all around Pennsylvania about how discrimination or the fear of discrimination affects people’s lives.
For example, a group of students from Temple University said, “We want to be business owners, scientists, doctors, politicians and artists living and working in Pennsylvania, the state we call home. We want to be judged on our work performance and not feel like we have to leave the state to find our place as professionals.”
A young woman from the Allentown area told us about her difficult experience: “I was a dedicated employee working 60 hours a week. I had a great rapport with the owners and managers and enjoyed going into work. Somehow, even though I did not discuss my personal life at work, the owners of the restaurant found out that I was a lesbian and from that moment on everything changed. I felt helpless knowing that me losing my job for being gay is legal in the state of Pennsylvania and I would be granted no recourse. I just want the same opportunities as everyone else when it comes to having my work judged on my performance, not my sexual orientation.”
And finally, a Pennsylvania mom who worries for her daughter: “As the mother of an openly bisexual daughter, I want her treated fairly. We need employers to select, hire, promote and even fire applicants and employees based solely on performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Pennsylvanians deserve solutions to problems like discrimination. It is my sincerest wish that in the next year of the legislative session, we will see more legislators who are responsive to the people they represent and who will move forward on key issues like discrimination. I still have hope. The legislature has another year to pass the PA Fairness Act — and they need to get this done.