The State Equality Fund, of which the Gill Foundation is a part, this fall handed down a $500,000 grant — split among Equality Pennsylvania, National Center for Transgender Equality and Keystone Progress — for the launch of an education campaign the trio is spearheading to support the passage of House and Senate Bills 300. Local LGBT activist and philanthropist Mel Heifetz also issued his own challenge grant for the campaign, which Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin said is “significant” and will be used to encourage community members to step up and match his donation.
Pennsylvania is one of more than two-dozen states that lacks a nondiscrimination law inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.
HB and SB 300 have more than 100 bipartisan cosponsors, and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett earlier this month came out in support of the bill.
The new campaign — in which community organizers will generate support across Pennsylvania for the effort — is expected to launch in January, but planning has been underway for some time.
Martin said the organization has worked closely with the Equality Federation and met with LGBT advocates throughout Pennsylvania — in Philadelphia, Allentown, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh — including NCTE and Keystone Progress to discuss efforts to pass HB 300.
Each of the three participating organizations will hire a community organizer — one of whom will focus on the transgender community and one on the rural community — and Equality Pennsylvania will also enlist its staff for assistance.
Heifetz said he has been a supporter of Equality Pennsylvania for years and was asked by the Gill Foundation to participate in the campaign.
“Equality Pennsylvania is the leader in what has been going on in the last two-three years in regards to recognition in Pennsylvania,” Heifetz said. “They have offices and contacts in every single county and have really become a statewide organization responsible for getting everyone and even the governor’s office to recognize LGBT issues. They are in the trenches making sure that the state goes from being bright red to a light blue for all LGBT citizens.”
Martin said the final planning meeting took place in October, where the grants were awarded.
Equality Pennsylvania is also a participant in Why Marriage Matters PA, a new campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is leading a lawsuit looking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Martin said nondiscrimination and marriage equality are issues that go hand in hand.
“I think both issues are complementary to each other. Nondiscrimination is the foundation to a lot,” he said. “If you can be married in your state but still be fired for putting a wedding photo on desks, it makes marriage a much less glorious win.”
Martin said Gov. Corbett’s recent backing for the nondiscrimination bill makes the launch of the campaign even more timely.
“The work we did to bring the governor and the legislature forward, that is all important,” he said. “We need a campaign now to bring a larger community together to bring pressure on the people in the legislature to keep them moving forward.”