State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Lawmakers hope tide turns for LGBT equality measures

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 13, 2013 7:58 PM
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State lawmakers supporting equal rights measures for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians say it’s a new day for their cause.

The LGBT Equality Caucus, hasn’t set its sights on legalizing gay marriage in the commonwealth, although a recent poll shows a slim majority of Pennsylvania voters support it.

The group’s top issue is making it illegal to discriminate against residents on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) is the first elected openly gay state legislator.

“We can’t be fired for being white or black or Christian or Jewish or frankly fat or thin, but I can be fired for being an openly gay man and the time has come to correct that,” he said at a Wednesday news conference.

Sims and other lawmakers said the recent increase of their caucus membership brings anti-discrimination legislation within reach.

The group was at 26 members two years ago. Now, with 58 members, it amounts to more than 20 percent of the total number of state legislators.

“I believe this is a really a monumental achievement that genuinely reflects the changing will and mood of the people of Pennsylvania when it comes to simple fairness for LGBT people,” said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), sponsor of anti-discrimination legislation that stalled last session.

The caucus has just three Republicans as members – no auspicious beginning, given the GOP-controlled House and Senate chambers. One of its GOP members is Huntingdon County Rep. Mike Fleck, who came out in an interview with his hometown newspaper late last year.

But Democrats were hopeful the two years of the current legislative session brings anti-discrimination measures, as well as proposals targeting hate crimes and bullying.

Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) said the LGBT community in her district is among the best organized groups she knows.

“What if instead of fighting for basic civil rights they work in public education or they work on government reform?” said Kim. “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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