Policymakers are finally taking the steps necessary to codify equality in several facets of everyday life, starting with the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act and Pennsylvania House Bill 300. Successful outcomes with both legislative pieces will help to outlaw discrimination against the LGBT community, particularly in the workplace, at both the local and national level.
HB 300 will serve as an amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and the use of a guide dog. Currently, it provides no legal protection on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. As a result, the LGBT community is vulnerable to legally permissible — though not morally or ethically sound — discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and education. It is being coupled with Senate Bill 300, which seeks to serve the same purpose.
In an early May press conference, HB 300’s lead sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.), said, “Being gay or transgender has nothing to do with your ability to do a good job or to be a good neighbor or tenant. This is just commonsense legislation. Many people think it’s the law already, and it should be.”
HB 300 has bipartisan support from 89 legislators in the House, while 25 Pennsylvania senators are currently backing SB 300.
One of HB 300’s other large proponents is the American Civil Liberties Union, which offers a tally on how many jurisdictions have already taken up such measures to ensure workplace equality. If HB and SB 300 are successful, Pennsylvania will join 17 other states that have already amended their civil-rights laws to include protections for both sexual orientation and gender identity, including neighbors New Jersey and Delaware. New York and Maryland are among the four states that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but are not yet inclusive of gender identity. Additionally, somehundreds of municipalities in the United States, including more than 30 in Pennsylvania, have civil-rights protections based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or both.
While HB 300 is an all-encompassing approach to LGBT equality with regard to employment, education, housing and public accommodations, ENDA is a more pinpointed act aimed primarily at equality in the workforce. ENDA proposes the prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by all businesses with more than 14 employees, excluding religious institutions and the military. This ideology will permeate all aspects of employment; employers will be strictly prohibited from considering factors such as sexual orientation or gender identity when making decisions with respect to hiring, firing, compensation or promotion.
Initially drafted in 1994, ENDA has been reintroduced in the House by State Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) with 178 cosponsors, and in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) with 53 cosponsors. ENDA has never before been introduced with such firm support within the Senate. On July 10, it passed effortlessly through a Senate committee in a 15-7 vote. The legislation received all of the Democratic committeemembers’ votes, in addition to those of three Republican members.
When endorsing ENDA June 13, President Obama also noted that in dozens of states ,“you can be fired just because of who you are or who you love. That’s wrong. We’ve got to change it.” His solution is simple: Pass ENDA. And he is eager to do so, proclaiming, “I want to sign that bill. We need to get it done now. And I think we can make that happen.”
The bottom line? In most parts of Pennsylvania today, someone can still be denied a hotel room for being LGBT. They can be fired for being LGBT. LGBT individuals are vulnerable to unequal treatment by their landlords, educators or employers. The measures being taken by legislators throughout Pennsylvania and federally, if successful, will be a massive step toward workplace and overall equality with regard to the LGBT community. We are closer than ever to equality nationwide, and the successful passage of HB and SB 300 will help make state-mandated nondiscrimination concrete. Then, ENDA will secure the concept of equality in employment at the federal level as well.
Angela D. Giampolo, principal of Giampolo Law Group, maintains offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and specializes in LGBT law, business law, real-estate law and civil rights. Her website is www.giampololaw.com and she maintains two blogs, www.phillygaylawyer.com and www.lifeinhouse.com. Send Angela your legal questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.