Gay Equality gaining legislative support, public approval

Liberal Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) is a forceful supporter of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) Pennsylvanians.

With great disdain he announced at a press conference, “Discrimination is legal in Pennsylvania. You can be fired for being gay. You can be evicted from your home or apartment for being gay.”

It's no surprise that Leach is a ringleader of the Legislature's Equality Caucus. What is perhaps surprising is how fast that caucus's ranks are swelling. There were 26 members at the close of last session. There are 58 now, just a few months later.

Montgomery County freshman Mark Painter is one of them. 

“I have been a Sunday school teacher, my wife is a United Methodist pastor, I believe very firmly that discrimination is not a Christian value. Bullying is not a Christian value. Hatred is not a Christian value.”

A new poll, released at a Capitol press conference Wednesday, shows a majority of Pennsylvanians agree.

69 percent say an employer shouldn't be able to fire you for being gay.

62 percent support equal rights for LGBT citizens.

Ted Martin of Equality PA says the birthplace of liberty is way behind other states on the issue of LGBT equality and civil rights.

“This spring, West Virginia will pass a non-discrimination law making Pennsylvania the only state in the northeast where it is still legal to fire a gay person.”

Representative Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) says such discrimination is bad economic policy.

“Every Fortune 500 company that operates in Pennsylvania has an LGBT inclusive, non-discrimination policy. It is good business to respect Pennsylvanians.”

Sims is the first openly gay legislator to win an election in Pennsylvania.

He says press conferences and polls are nice, but he wants real laws banning discrimination, bullying or hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

“I'm the only gay legislator on the stage who's gonna quote a football coach,” Sims said with a wry smile. “Vince Lombardi said, 'Potential is interesting but performance is everything.' I hope that's what you're gonna see out of this caucus.”

But even Lombardi would struggle to push legislation across the goal line in Republican-dominated Pennsylvania. Of the 58 in the Equality Caucus, only three are Republican.

Leach says far more Republicans support the cause than are willing to admit, and he's not above shaming them.

“It's time for some of our colleagues to come out of the closet and say, 'Yes, I support equality, I support anti-discrimination laws.'”

Harrisburg Senator Rob Teplitz and Representative Patty Kim are both in the Equality Caucus. Kim said the LGBT members in her community are active and talented.

“What if instead of fighting for basic civil rights they work on public education? Or they work on government reform? Why don't we do that, but no, they have to fight for some basic rights. And it's so wrong.”

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