All people deserve the right to be happy. All people deserve the opportunity to find happiness with others. Humans are social creatures, and we yearn to be with one another. Why should two men or two women be stopped from entering into a marriage that defines them as one? No valid reason exists. People should also not suffer the indiginities of public accommodation discrimination, bullying, conversion therapy, hate crimes, or youth homelessness. These blog posts offer the Pennsylvania Equality Project leadership team's opinions about the LGBTQ+ community and related issues.
Senators Lawrence Farnese Jr. and Anthony Williams
Act 143 of 2002 extended hate crimes protections under the ethnic intimidation clause of Title 18, Chapter 27 (Assault) to the classes of ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity. It also clarified that all groups under the act were protected from offenses committed for actual or perceived associations. However, in 2008, Act 143 of 2002 was declared unconstitutional by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on procedural grounds. See Marcavage v. Rendell, 936 A.2d 188, 191 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007), aff'd, 597 Pa. 371, 951 A.2d 345 (2008).
It has been almost a decade since that decision and these important updates to Pennsylvania’s Hate Crimes statute have yet to be reenacted. Currently, race, color, religion or national origin are protected classes under the hate crimes statute. Our legislation would reenact Act 143 of 2002 and again extend these protections to include ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity.
Hate crime laws demonstrate a society’s commitment to confront and deter criminal acts motivated by prejudice. Since Act 143 of 2002 was declared unconstitutional, too many Pennsylvanians have been the victims of hate crimes, including the two young gay men who were brutally attacked by a group of men and women in Center City Philadelphia in 2014. These men and others have not been able to seek a sentencing enhancement, despite the egregious nature of their attacks.
Please join us in reenacting Pennsylvania's hate crimes statute so we can protect all our citizens from crimes of hate and bias.
This memo was originally sent to legislators in the Pennsylvania Senate from Senators Lawrence Farnese Jr. and Anthony Williams. To date, only 9 PA Senators, all Democrats, have co-sponsored this legislation. Call on your local PA State Senator to back Senate Bill 96. You can sign our peition by clicking here.
On July 9, the Pennsylvania Equality Project hosted a first of its kind rally in Erie, PA to fight to ban conversion therapy. A total of 18 people attended the event, which was shown live on our Facebook page. By contrast, only two weeks earlier, over 750 people attended Erie's Pride Parade and Festival. While we support Pride and all the accompanying pagentry and fun, we are deeply concerned that when it comes to fighting for our rights, people seem less concerned about attending rallies, and fighting for rights.
On July 29, Pennsylvania Equality Project worked in partnership with a coalition of other organizations including SEIU, Planned Parenthood Advocates of PA, Northwest PA Pride Alliance, Erie County United, and Healthcare for All PA. That rally had 20 attendees. Despite how critical healthcare is to each of our respective organizations, only 20 people found the time or energy to attend this rally.
On August 6, Pennsylvania Equality Project, Erie Chapter, held a Meet and Greet at the Empty Keg in Edinboro. A total of 7 people attended, and of those six are relatives of mine. The intent was to plan our major fundraiser, a wine tasting in September. We discussed our work with Keystone Progress on hate crimes and conversion therapy. We discussed my upcoming meeting with French Creek Indivisible to discuss the work the Pennsylvania Equality Project does. Everyone who promised to attend had a variety of reasons as to why they could not.
When we wonder why legislation is not being passed to benefit the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania, we need look no further than ourselves. We have over 26,000 likes on Facebook, and over 24,000 actively following our work. Yet, when we publish petitions that desparately need signatures, people "like" the link to the petition, but do not follow through to sign the petition. Why should our legislators take us seriously if our own community does not?
Our petition for banning conversion therapy has over 8,000 signatures, but the legislation in the PA Senate has only 9 co-sponsors. Apparently, the General Assembly thinks that the torture and abuse of children who undergo this barbaric practice are unworthy of their support. I am calling out the State Legislature for not standing with us in solidarity to end conversion therapy.
As for hate crimes, or ethnic intimidation, the law is even murkier. We want to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected classes for ethnic intimidation. Our petition to change the law, and push the legislature to pass PA House Bill 505 and Senate Bill 96 has so far garnered 88 signatures in TWO years! We march in the streets at Pride to feel good about ourselves, but what do we accomplish? We pay $50 per plate to attend gala events and talk about the wonders of how far our community has come, but what practical, tangible benefits and legal changes have come about to support our community? So far, most of the change has taken place in the Courts, as our legislature has proven worthless when it comes to solving even the most basic problems and accepting our lives and loves as worthy of their time.
If you are offended by my comments, then ask yourself, have you attended a rally recently? Have you organized one? Have you contacted your local or state law makers to address the real needs of our community? Have you fought for the PA Fairness Act to make legal discrimination for public accommodations a thing of the past? Attending Pride is fine, but we need to make changes in Pennsylvania, and apathy of our community is killing us worse than hate.
Greetings fellow supporters of the Pennsylvania Equality Project,
By now you have seen that we are holding a rally/vigil in Erie about healthcare. You might be wondering why an LGBTQ organization is so invested in the healthcare debate, as it may not seem directly related to LGBTQ rights. However, I claim that it is entirely within our realm of concern, and it should be your great concern too for a few good reasons.
Our lives are, in fact, on the line. Many lower income LGBTQ people rely on Medicaid for their medical coverage. While the benefits provided by Medicaid may be available at the moment, nothing is preventing Congress from decreasing benefits to Medicaid patients, and nothing is stopping them from diminishing the ranks of those who receive it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 out of 7 Pennsylvanians in 2015 was on Medicaid. In March 2017, 2.9 Million Pennsylvanians were on CHIP or Medicaid. Equally staggering is that for every 100,000 Pennsylvanians, 10.7 have a positive HIV diagnoses as of 2015. This graph shows some staggering results if Pennsylvania receives a cap of the per capita or block grant spending on Medicaid:
For these reasons, the Pennsylvania Equality Project has teamed up with Keystone Progress, the Greater Erie Alliance for Equality, Northwest PA Pride Alliance, Planned Parenthood PA Advocates, and Erie County United to hold a rally across from Senator Toomey's office in Erie, PA from 2 PM on Saturday, July 29 through 2 PM on Sunday, July 30. This event is one of 163 sponsored nationwide through the OurLivesOnTheLine.org. If you can join us, please feel free to come at any time during the rally/vigil to show your support. Tomorrow morning, we will post on Facebook, a schedule of the events that will happen throughout the day. Your ongoing support is appreciated. If you live beyond Erie, check with the website to see if a location is closer to you.
We thank the Senators who stood up for health care coverage through the ACA, and we call on Senator Toomey (and Rob Portman in Ohio) to change their position about the Affordable Care Act. We ask them to improve the quality of healthcare for all, and to fight for the people, not the insurance companies.
When I was a child, I was usually one of the last, if not the last person picked for sports teams in school. I was not a fast runner, not all that athletic, and I certainly was not that coordinated. Watching me today on the dance floor is a sight to behold as I have as much rhythm now as I did when I was a child. All I wanted was to be included in activities and accepted by my peers. The need to be included in activities and in life with our peers is one of our basic human needs. Most humans require kinship with our fellow humans. We want to be picked for the team. In school, the team captains were fellow students who determined the players on each team. In the LGBTQ community, our team is divided in part for two reasons.
These two particular issues have concerned me during Pride month, which is supposed to be part joyous celebration of the victories we have achieved, and part reminder that we have so much more fight to go. Pride this year has been mired in controversy. First, here in Pennsylvania, the Pride flag has had two stripes added to it. I understand both sides of the argument for wanting to keep the stripes, and for not changing the flag. While the Pride flag is steeped in history and tradition within our community, it is not a sacrosanct image. Flags and traditions can and do change. Without going any further into the flag debate, I would caution our community that at a time when we need to be unified, we should not allow something like the Pride flag to distract our fight for equality. My personal position is that the city of Philadelphia changed the flag as a means of starting a conversation on the racial tension and division in our community. It is not the Pride flag for every other city in PA or around the world. If you don't like the flag, don't fly it. If you do, fly it with Pride. As for our page, we are not posting any more stories about the matter.
However, it does not mean that conversations about race, or about the corporate usurpation of pride should stop. Quite the opposite, I encourage these matters to be debated, and to search for common ground so that we can resume our fight for equality. That leads me to my next point, which is that the community has to take back Pride. While corporate dollars can help draw in expensive entertainment, and make for flashier pride floats, money also corrupts the main purpose of Pride.
Pride is a time for the LGBTQ community to draw together. Stories like this one from U.S. News and World Report are not ones that inspire unity.
"Gay pride marches in New York City, San Francisco and in between this weekend will have plenty of participants — and also protests directed at them from other members of the LGBT community, speaking out against what they see as increasingly corporate celebrations that prioritize the experiences of gay white men and ignore issues facing black and brown LGBT people.
The protests disrupted other pride events earlier this month. In Washington, D.C., the No Justice No Pride group blocked the parade route. In Columbus, Ohio, four people were arrested after a group set out to protest violence against minority LGBT people and the recent acquittal of a police officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop.
"Nobody wants to feel dropped in a community that prides itself on diversity," said Mike Basillas, one of the organizers of the planned New York City protest action by No Justice No Pride."
Pride is about so much more than lavish parties; it is a time to draw together and include all members of our community, regardless of race, income, religion, or political viewpoints. As a tradition, Pride started as riots and a fight back against authoritarian power. As I previously stated, times and traditions can and do change. However, changing traditions does not mean, nor does it require, that we give away our celebration to those who tarnish our Commonwealth's resources. We should not be a divided community; our strength lies in our acceptance of one another's diversity!
I take some measure of comfort knowing that our team leaders across the country have taken steps to address the racial and corporate tension that has gripped some of the Pride celebrations. Again taken from the US News and World Report article:
Pride organizers around the country have taken steps to address the criticisms. In San Francisco, Sunday's pride event will be led by groups including the Bayard Rustin LGBT Club, SF Black Community Matters, African Human Rights, and Bay Area Queer People of Color. In New York City, the march organizers are putting a contingent of groups more focused on protest than celebration at the head of the event.
Tomorrow, I will be marching in the Pride Parade in Erie, and celebrating alongside many people I admire for their dedication and commitment to equal rights. They are inclusive, loving, warm, and friendly. Although Erie's celebration is in a smaller city, the atmosphere and camaraderie far outweigh the need for a zip line or flashy pride floats. Our fractured team needs to come together; we need to unify with one common understanding: "None are equal, until ALL are equal!"
In 1967, the United States was forever changed when Richard and Mildred Loving won their case before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to Wikipedia,
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), is a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored". The Supreme Court's unanimous decision determined that this prohibition was unconstitutional, overruling Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S., and is remembered annually on Loving Day, June 12. It has been the subject of several songs and three movies, including the 2016 film Loving. Beginning in 2013, it was cited as precedent in U.S. federal court decisions holding restrictions on same-sex marriage in the United States unconstitutional, including in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.
I thought about the Loving's while I attended a wedding last weekend. The lovely couple, Travis and Barbara, are also an interracial couple. While their wedding took place in Michigan, it would not have been considered valid in Virginia or a number of states, which had laws on the books to prevent people of different races from wedding one another. No protests were held at the wedding I attended. No one complained; on the contrary, everyone appeared to have a wonderful evening. Fifty years after the Loving decision was reached by the U.S. Supreme Court, no one is actively seeking to overturn that decision at the Court.
The LGBTQIA community in Pennsylvania has had marriage equality for about three years now. When Judge John H Jones ruled that laws opposing marriage equality should be tossed in the dust bin of history, my heart leapt for joy! It meant that same-sex couples could go wed without further delays. It meant stability and a large step toward equality. However, in 2014, when the law changed, thirty three other states still lacked legal recognition of marriages by and for same-sex couples. Much like the days when Richard and Mildred Loving were first married, their marriage would have been valid in some states, but not others.
This weekend, the anti-LGBTQIA rally held in Washington DC to protest marriage equality drew roughly 50 people. Instead of drawing large crowds, very few people attended, because most understand the futility of attending rallies for issues which have been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Fifty years later, the rights of loving couples (no pun intended) are upheld and recognized by the laws in all 50 states.
With all that we have to celebrate, from marriage equality to legal same-sex adoptions in all 50 states, to Oregon now adding a non-binary gender option on their drivers licenses and ID cards, the LGBTQIA community has many reasons to come together in unity and be ecstatic over the progress we have made. Thus, it hurts very much that we are still struggling over issues such as the flag in Philadelphia. I have listened to the points made by both sides of the argument and have concluded that the brown and black stripes added to the flag have opened a conversation about queer people of color that is long overdue. No flag committee exists to dictate what the "correct" Pride flag should look like. The original flag had two stripes which no longer appear (indigo and pink) on most modern Pride flags.
Instead of getting mired in arguments within our community, all of us must work more diligently to resolve tension within the community wherever it may lie. We must accept one another for each other's differences. Our flag is a representation of who we are as a community. Dismissing the concerns of people of color is an action that none of us should allow. Folks, ending racial tensions and unrest is an important problem that stunts our community. We have other serious issues such as LGBTQIA youth homelessness, bullying, conversion therapy, and assisting our LGBTQIA elderly population. Fifty years after Loving v. Virginia, and we still have a long way to go.
P.S. It feels great writing again. Expect more blog posts every Sunday and Wednesday as we move forward.
Greetings fellow supporters of the Pennsylvania Equality Project,
Throughout this past year, Pennsylvania Equality Project has recommended that our supporters vote for pro-LGBTQ candidates and causes. No matter where you live in Pennsylvania, we suggested that certain candidates support our concerns, and their opponents may or may not be as supportive of the LGBTQ community. For example, we have seen how frequently Representative Daryl Metcalfe has lambasted LGBT causes in the State General Assembly, and how he has chastised openly gay Representative Brian Sims. His opponent in the 2016 election, Christian Rieger was ardently in favor of LGBT equality, and would have made an excellent choice to represent the people of his district. Likewise, we encouraged voters to explore the candidates, attend forums, and vote for people who represent us. At no point, however, did we explicitly endorse any candidates for public office.
Pennsylvania Equality Project is actively seeking 501c3 status, and as such, cannot make political endorsements. The suggestions we presented came from numerous sources, including candidate press releases, Equality PA, and other media outlets. At no time has ME4PA (our predecessor) nor Pennsylvania Equality Project told our supporters for whom they should vote, in keeping with our efforts to become 501c3 certified. Thus, I am dismayed by the actions of a local candidate in the race for Erie City Council.
Until December 15, 2013, Mr. Jason Brendel worked for Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania as a local leader in Erie, PA. However, recent tweets of his suggest that our organization endorses or supports his campaign. We wished him the very best in his efforts beyond our organization, but in no way then or now endorse him as a candidate for office. To be clear, we cannot and will not endorse political candidates. We encourage our supporters to seek out people whom they believe will best represent them and their needs. We also encourage our supporters to seek the greater needs of the LGBTQ community at large.
As 2017 brings new local elections, get involved. Run for office. Vote in the local elections. Sign our petitions. Be an active participant in the political process. Just remember that we only offer our ideas. We do not endorse candidates.
With 2016 coming to an end, it is time for my predictions for the new year. I am not very optimistic about the chances of much civil rights legislation advancing in Pennsylvania or in Washington. In some ways, I think we will lose many of the rights we have gained, or at least had taken for granted. Thus, my vision for 2017 is:
1. Donald Trump will be sworn into office with minimal fanfare. Kanye West will feel snubbed since he was not chosen to host for the evening, and he will launch his presidential candidacy within minutes of the inauguration. Scott Baio will serve as master of ceremonies for a former-star studded evening that will include Ted Nugent and Kid Rock. Meanwhile, on ABC, an evening with Madonna, Beyonce, Elton John, and every other celebrity who turned down a bid to perform at the inauguration will host a benefit concert for HIV-AIDS awareness.
2. The concert will lead the Nielsen ratings over the television series premiere of The Apprentice Cabinet.
3. Senator Ted Cruz will push for his First Amendment Defense Act. Both the House and the Senate will hold hearings on the bill, and despite dramatic back and forth between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the bill will clear final hurdles in the Senate, and arrive at President Trump's desk. He will sign it, and immediately, businesses will put out signs saying "No Gays Allowed." You can take steps to prevent its passage by signing our petition.
4. A new strand of HIV called HIV-2 will become an even deadlier threat. As a result of intense lobbying by Vice President Mike Pence, money that would have been allocated to deal with such a threat will be used instead for other projects, such as electroshocking gay youth.
5. Betsy Devos, the new Secretary of Education, will promote a plan to Congress that will virtually remove all federal funding for education, unless states are willing to institute plans to direct block grant funding to religious-based schools. States will be forced to develop voucher programs, and public schools will continue to suffer from lack of funding. Anti-bullying efforts will be left to private organizations.
6. Non-profit entities such as GLSEN will not be allowed to offer their brochures or programs in schools, because the new voucher program will include a clause that denies LGBTQ groups access to K-12 campuses.
7. In terms of the blood ban against gay men, the FDA will reinstitute more stringent guidelines that will deny gay men to donate blood, even to themselves. As a result, blood banks will notice a 20% decrease in the number of donors they have had from previous years.
8. A record number of people will turn out when PEP marches on the capital in Harrisburg this June to demand passage of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act. Despite our best efforts, legislators will adjourn the session without progress on it, nor the PA 2017-2018 budget. Schools across the Commonwealth will suffer as a result.
9. Erie County will be the first in Pennsylvania to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors. Philadelphia's and Pittsburgh's citywide bans will serve as the basis for the legislation. The Human Rights Commission for Erie County will offer any other counties that inquire, any additional information about why this ban is necessary.
10. Attendance at Pride events across Pennsylvania will be at an all-time high as a record number of straight allies discover all the fun they have been missing. While glitter stockpiles will dwindle, supplies will be replenished in time for Labor Day.
That's it, folks. Some of these predictions are meant to be silly or absurd. Some are meant to be serious wake up calls for times to come. The threat against LGBTQ youth is worse than ever. Meanwhile, we have to fight to protect some semblance of the Affordable Care Act. Abolishing it entirely, which is something Donald Trump has pledged to do, should not happen unless Congress first has in place, a plan that will provide even better coverage for the millions of Americans who otherwise would be left to die for lack of health insurance. With that most unpleasant thought in mind, I wish you all the very best and brightest for the new year, 2017! #LongLiveEquality
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Equality Project, I am proud to launch our newest petition. I wish I did not have to do this, but some in Congress such as Senator Ted Cruz really want to pass this bill, which is completely unnecessary. We are asking our supporters to prevent the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) from being passed by Congress. According to the legislation as it was introduced in the US Congress, the new law says that the United States, "shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."
Why is this important?
If passed, this bill would open the door for continued discrimination of the LGBTQ community in direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, and would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution by allowing one type of religious group to discriminate against another, and inevitably allow open discrimination.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that FADA was "unnecessary and could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians." It has also been criticized by Ian S. Thompson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union, who claimed that it would, if passed, "open the door to unprecedented taxpayer-funded discrimination against LGBT people." In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Equality Project condemns the bill for allowing LGBTQ citizens to be treated as second class solely because of who they are, and whom they love.
Legal discrimination already exists in Pennsylvania, and 30 other states. It is legal for LGBTQ people to be married one day, and fired the next solely because they come out to their boss. It allows for LGBTQ people to be denied basic services, based solely on sexual and/or gender identity. Pennsylvanians already know the harsh realities caused by not having the Pennsylvania Fairness Act in place. We are calling on Congress not to make matters worse by passing the FADA.