Amid the announcement that there is unprecedented support for LGBT nondiscrimination in the state, lawmakers also kicked off the new session of the LGBT Equality Caucus, which has now more than doubled in size.
In a press conference Wednesday morning in Harrisburg, caucus co-chair Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) joined with other legislators such as co-chair Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.), out Rep. Brian Sims and Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin to announce the caucus had grown from 26 members at its inception in late 2011 to the current 58 — and that it now has Republican members.
“It is quite a remarkable evolution of the legislature, of this caucus and the issues that we are promoting, which are for equality for LGBT people in our state,” Frankel said of the caucus’ growth. “It is something that has long been due.”
The new Republican members include out Rep. Mike Fleck, as well as Reps. Thomas Murt and Chris Ross.
Frankel, who has spearheaded the nondiscrimination bill in past sessions, said the caucus has worked hard to gain new membership and that the bipartisan support from lawmakers across the state reflects that legislators and constituents are ready for Pennsylvania to move forward with LGBT equality.
“It is an embarrassment quite frankly when we are completely surrounded by states who have equal rights for everyone in their community, including the LGBT community,” he said.
Leach, who has introduced marriage-equality bills in the past, noted that while numerous municipalities have passed nondiscrimination ordinances, Pennsylvania needs a statewide measure.
“Discrimination is legal in Pennsylvania. It is not only immoral but unsustainable,” he said.
Martin added that the time for LGBT equality could not come soon enough.
“I am often called upon to speak about the state of LGBT Pennsylvania. As a representative from the state, I am often forced to painfully explain Pennsylvania’s bleak record on LGBT civil rights,” he said.
Sims, however, predicted Pennsylvania could see the passage of hate-crimes and nondiscrimination legislation in the next 18 months.
Sixteen states and Washington, D.C. have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws that
Sims said were the result of “proactive actions to protect LGBTs. It is time that we do the same.”
Sims thanked the new Republican members for their support of the caucus, calling them “genuine leaders” of the party.
The caucus growth comes as Equality Pennsylvania unveiled the promising results of a recent poll, commissioned by CivicScience, on Pennsylvanians’ view on LGBT rights.
The poll surveyed about 1,000 Pennsylvanians on three questions about civil-rights protections and discrimination.
Findings included 48 percent of respondents strongly agreed that LGBT individuals should be entitled to the same civil rights and protections as other minorities, with another 14 percent who somewhat agreed with that sentiment.
When asked whether LGBT people should be protected against being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, 55 percent of Pennsylvanians strongly agreed and 14 percent somewhat agreed.
About 63 percent of Pennsylvanians also strongly disagreed that hotels and other businesses should be able to refuse service based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and 9 percent also somewhat disagreed.
Martin said the poll speaks volumes about the readiness of Pennsylvanians for LGBT-rights protections.
“Pennsylvania will be one of the only states in the country where you can still be fired for your sexual orientation and gender identity. It is time to change that,” he said. “This poll says the public is way ahead of the legislature. The public in this poll and other polls shows support, and so this says that the public is perfectly fine with these issues.”
Martin said the poll would hopefully also show legislators that they can vote for LGBT-inclusiveness without negative repercussions.
“Their colleagues are with them and their citizens are with them,” Martin said.