Expanding the PA Human Relations Act

May 14, 2008

A lawsuit filed by the Greek Island of Lesbos wants to restrict the use of the word Lesbian. The island claims that Lesbians are the citizens of Lesbos and has no connection to the sexual orientation of a person. One plaintiff in the lawsuit claims that use of the word lesbian by the gay community is an insult to the identity of the inhabitants of Lesbos. While Andrea Gilbert, spokesperson for Athens Pride 2008 and a member of OLKE, told, "The claim is based in serious prejudice and hatred."

This is just one example of controversy surrounding issues of sexual orientation. On a local level, a recent poll in the Central Penn Business Journal revisited the House Bill 1400 and asked readers: Should Pennsylvania pass House Bill 1400, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity? Without providing the number of replies to the poll, the Journal reported that the reader response was 70% in favor and 30% opposed to passing the Bill. The reasoning and written feedback by readers in support of their position was widely varied.

House Bill 1400 proposes to expand the protections already offered under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits certain practices of discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability and use of a support animal. House Bill 1400 proposes to include sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to the existing list.

This Bill defines "sexual orientation" as actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. "Gender identity or expression" is defined as actual or perceived identity, appearance, behavior, expression or physical characteristics whether or not associated with an individual’s assigned sex at birth.

The Bill was co-sponsored by a record 70 members of the House, and in April 2007, the Senate sponsored a similar bill (SB761) with 22 co-sponsors. The Senate Bill remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House Bill also counts among its sponsors Steve Glassman, Chair of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

Thirteen Pennsylvania municipalities have already enacted laws pointed at protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. House Bill 1400 was introduced on June 13, 2007, the matter was referred to the Committee on State Government on June 18, 2007, and the Bill continues to produce revolving rumblings from diametrically opposed factions.

Related Links on House Bill 1400:

Equality Advocates of Pennsylvania

Michael Mahler’s Blog

American Family Association of Pennsylvania