There are currently 32 municipalities and two counties in Pennsylvania that have legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Pittsburgh and Allegheny county are the only local governments in southwestern PA to include such legislation.)
Outside of these 34 government entities, it is still legal to be fired for being gay or trans says Equality Pennsylvania deputy director Levana Layendecker. So, Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, has started a campaign to inform Pennsylvanians about the PA Fairness Act, which if passed, will update anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
“A lot of data shows that people believe that this is already a law,” says Layendecker of the PA Fairness Act. “Most people think that it is a no brainer, so they think it is already done.”
The most recent 2015 poll from the Susquehanna Research Group show that 74 percent of Pennsylvania voters support adding anti-discriminatory protections for gay and transgender people.
Videos telling personal stories of fear of discrimination have been released by Equality Pennsylvania to spread this message. Two of the videos include the stories of lesbian couples from Pittsburgh and Gibsonia.
As part of the release, local launch parties were held across the state at six different locations. In southwestern PA, parties were held at a local church and at the Persad Center in Lawrenceville.
“Our hope is that by helping to share these stories of LGBT Pennsylvanians, we will show how real lives are affected and why everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly no matter who they are and where they live,” said Persad Center director Betty Hill in a press release.
Layendecker is proud of the people in the video who were willing to share their stories. The couple from Gibsonia, Chrissie and Charlotte, has been together for 40 years, but said they lived in the closet at work for decades, fearing that they would be fired for their sexual orientation. When Chrissie’s company added non-discrimination rules based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2004, she “felt like a weight was lifted,” she said in the video.
Layendecker says it is not very common that people are willing to share their struggles so openly.“It is very difficult for people to talk about this stuff,” she says. “Many people are still afraid to talk about this."
As part of the watch parties, Layendecker said hundreds of attendees wrote letters to state legislators in support of the PA Fairness Act. The act is currently in both the house and the senate’s state government committee.