In a historic bipartisan vote, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the Fairness Act, which aims to grant statewide anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ individuals. The bill, HB300, passed with a 102-98 vote and received support from both Democrats and two Republican lawmakers. This marks the first time the bill has passed either legislative chamber in its 47-year history.
A Long-Awaited Victory for LGBTQ+ Rights in Pennsylvania
The Fairness Act seeks to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in its list of protected classes. The proposed protections extend to housing, education, and public accommodations. The bill’s prime sponsors include Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), Jessica Benham, Dan Frankel, La’Tasha D. Mayes (all D-Allegheny), Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster), and Greg Scott (D-Montgomery).
In a joint statement, the sponsors said: “Today is a historic day, as we take a critical step to make Pennsylvania fairer. The Fairness Act is as simple as it is substantive. H.B. 300 would protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians from facing discrimination and allow all individuals in the commonwealth to file complaints with the PA Human Relations Commission.”
The bill now heads to the Republican-majority state senate, where it will likely face several revisions before being voted on.
Addressing Misconceptions and Opposition
Despite its historic passage, the Fairness Act faced opposition from several Republican lawmakers who raised concerns about potential religious discrimination and the impact on women in sports. However, the bill’s sponsors have clarified that it does not grant additional protections not already covered under the Human Relations Act and includes language to protect the rights of religious institutions.
Furthermore, Rep. Kenyatta responded to concerns about the bill’s impact on healthcare professionals, bathroom or locker facilities, and shelters or prisons by stating that the bill would not force any of these changes.
Celebrating Progress and Urging Further Action
Following the House passage of the Fairness Act, its supporters celebrated the milestone while urging the state senate to continue advancing the bill. Rep. Jessica Benham wrote on Twitter: “Passing the PA Fairness Act will provide long-needed protections to LGBTQ+ people that are already granted to individuals on the basis of sex, religion, or national origin.”
Preston Heldibridle, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, added: “Over half a million LGBTQ Pennsylvanians live without the most basic protections from discrimination explicitly under state law. We thank the legislators and community advocates who have fought hard to advance this bill for nearly 50 years. The time is now for the Senate to advance HB 300 to ensure vulnerable LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are safeguarded from the cruelty and harm of discrimination.”
If the Fairness Act becomes law, Pennsylvania will join 24 other states in extending discrimination protection to LGBTQ+ individuals, demonstrating significant progress in the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights and equality.