Loopholes exposed in Pennsylvania civil rights legislature


You’ve been searching the newspapers and employment websites for a job, desperately and without much luck. Finally, the proverbial clouds part during this abnormally warm winter, and news for an opening at the mom and pop store down the street shows up on your social networking feed. You submit an application and get a call back.This is your chance! The day of, you pull on your fancy pants and check your face in the car mirror. Everything is in place. You enter the store, nervous but prepared. Before you get more than a few steps in, the manager stops you.

He no longer needs you to interview. In fact, he doesn’t even want your patronage at his store. You leave confused. Was someone else hired? What was wrong with you?

You shake it off and decide to take a night out. It’s not unusual to be rejected by an employer. You hit up a local bar, order a drink, and take a seat. Suddenly, some guy is behind you and he takes your overpriced drink, tossing it to the floor. He pulls you from the stool and starts yelling in your face, something about the way you look.

The bartender is nowhere to be seen. The shouting man’s buddies laugh as he shoves you out the door. “You’re not welcome here!”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. You know if you defend yourself, the drunks are likely to throw down. Besides, there’s three of them, and only one of you. Forget it. Your mother said those kinds of people were white trash anyway.

You return to your two-bedroom apartment where your “roommate” kisses you hello behind closed doors. You have to say “roommate” because the landlady is one of them. If she knew you were dating, if she knew you crossed the lines, you’d get a lot worse than the whispers in the common laundry room. You’d probably lose your apartment.

While it doesn’t happen frequently, there are places in Western Pa. that still have the ability to ban certain people from entering stores, working without discrimination and even drinking out of the same water fountains as everyone else.

These second class citizens are called names, spit at and physically and sexually assaulted on the street and in the workplace. And in this economy, they can be dealt (what I see as) the worst blow to their job: termination.

I’m not lying. This discrimination still happens in America. Law does not protect every person’s civil rights. Just because you are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), you are a second-class citizen in some areas of Pennsylvania.

Make no mistake: this is not solely about gay marriage. This is about our self-evident truths, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Equality PA is a grassroots, human rights organization that works to get these civil rights bills passed. Founded in 1996, it is “the only organization in the Commonwealth advocating in Harrisburg and across the state, exclusively for the rights of LGBT Pennsylvanians.”

Much of the information I have presented can be found on their website along with ways to report abuse and look for legal help. Equality PA’s ultimate anti-discrimination goal is to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which provides legal protection against discrimination on everything but sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

More than 20 states have already amended their laws to protect LGBT rights. Why not Pa.? Already, 25 municipalities and many major businesses, including all the Fortune 500s headquartered in Pa. have added equal protection policies.

Still, “based upon 2008 US Census Data, 73 percent of Pennsylvanians are not covered by a non-discrimination ordinance.”

If you want to help the movement, visit equalitypa.org for more information, to donate, volunteer or apply for an internship. If you like their page on Facebook, the organization will keep you updated on bills that you can vote on, legislators to write to and progress on the equality front.

As always,
Peace, Love
& All That Jazz