By John Kopp, Delaware County Daily Times
MEDIA — A small assortment of community leaders called Tuesday for the passage of legislation barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and accommodations.
Standing outside the Delaware County Courthouse, the group urged the General Assembly to pass House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 300 — companion bills that would ensure homosexual, bisexual and transgender individuals are protected by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
“Discrimination against any group of people is classless and has no place in our state,” Upper Darby Councilwoman Sekela Coles said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer to urge our state Legislature to support HB 300 and SB 300.”
The legislation has bipartisan support, including the backing of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Twenty-five state senators and 96 state representatives have co-sponsored the legislation, including each Democrat representing Delaware County. State Rep. Tom Killion, R-168, of Middletown, is the only Delco Republican who co-sponsored the legislation.
The rally was hosted by Equality Pennsylvania, an organization advocating on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Speakers included Coles, Upper Darby Councilwoman Barbarann Keffer, the Rev. James McIntire, pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Havertown, and Dawn Munro, a board member for the Philadelphia chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Levana Layendecker, communications director for Equality Pennsylvania, said the group is optimistic that the legislation can be passed by the conclusion of the year. The bills have sat in the House and Senate state government committees since being referred there last August.
“Right now, the biggest hurdle is just inertia,” Layendecker said. “It’s hard to get things done in Harrisburg. That’s part of the reason that we’re touring around the state — to demonstrate that there’s support in all of these towns and cities.”
There are 34 municipalities across Pennsylvania that have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, including Haverford, Lansdowne and Swarthmore. Various corporations, small businesses and universities also have adopted anti-discrimination codes of conduct.
“The reason for this is that they see it as widening the pool of really talented individuals that they can reach out to,” said Munro, who identifies as transgender. “Why go out and work for a school in the Midwest someplace where you have to be living in the closet when you can come and do the same thing at Penn and be who you like?”
The legislation also has its opponents, including the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which seeks to strengthen families by restoring traditional values. President Michael Geer said the legislation would “severely” restrict people’s freedom by forcing associations that run counter to an individual’s beliefs.
“I don’t think that a caterer who supports gun control should be forced to cater a gun rally,” Geer said, using an anology. “Historically, there has been freedom of association in this country.”
Geer added that the owner of a gay bar should be free to favor hiring homosexual employees, if he so chooses, but that this legislation would prevent that.
“There are reasonable guidelines for employment practices and public accommodation,” Geer said. “HB 300 would take it way too far, forcing people to violate their conscience and restrict their freedom.”
The American Family Association of Pennsylvania also opposes the legislation, arguing sexual identities are changeable characteristics that do not warrant special protection.
“The other side is asking the state to pass a law to give special protection ... simply because of the sexual activity in which they engage,” President Diane Gramley said.
The American Family Association aims to make a difference by “standing up for traditional Judeo-Christian values,” according to its website.
More than 300 faith leaders from 20 denominations in Pennsylvania have signed statements saying they believe it is immoral to discriminate on the basis of sexual and gender identity. They include McIntire, who said Jesus commanded his followers to love one another.
“Discrimination is not justice,” McIntire said. “Discrimination is not loving kindness. Discrimination is not loving one another.”
Pennsylvania became the 19th state to legalize same-sex marriage in May when a federal district court judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Corbett, who is facing Democrat Tom Wolf for re-election, did not appeal the decision.