LGBT Caucus Created
For the first time in state history, members of both the State House and Senate have formed an LGBT Equality Caucus. It’s the first caucus of its kind dedicated solely to educating legislators about the lives, issues and challenges facing the Commonwealth’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Members anticipate that it will also become an important voice on equality and human rights issues within the state legislature.
Already more than 20 members of the caucus have agreed to its mission statement, which states: “The mission of the Pennsylvania LGBT Equality Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. The bipartisan LGBT Equality Caucus will be comprised of members of the General Assembly who are strongly committed to achieving the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBT people in the Commonwealth and around the nation. By serving as a resource for members of the General Assembly, their staff and the public on LGBT issues, the caucus will work toward the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence and the improved health and well-being for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity [and] expression.”
The idea for the caucus was initially suggested to members of the house and senate by the LGBT activist group Equality Pennsylvania.
“We know that a solid majority of Pennsylvanians support changing state law to promote fairness and equality in the Commonwealth,” says caucus co-chair Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny). “For example, over the past eight years, we have consistently seen around 70 percent of residents saying they support legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations. I want this caucus to help the legislature be as forward-looking on these issues as the people we represent.”
In addition to Frankel, members of the new caucus include Reps. Babette Josephs, Dan Shapiro, B. Boyle, K. Boyle, Joseph Brennan, Tony Payton, Tina Davis, Michael McGeehan, Matthew Bradford, Vanessa Brown, Tim Briggs, Ron Buxton, Mark Cohen, Pamela DeLissio, Lawrence Curry, Eugene DePasquale, M. O’Brien, Michael Gerber, James Roebuck, M. Smith, Steve Santarsiero, Michael Sturla and Sens. Daylin Leach, Jim Ferlo and Larry Farnese.
“I’ve been working to legalize marriage equality in Pennsylvania for quite some time, and I am eager to work with my colleagues in the Equality Caucus and bring those efforts to fruition,” says caucus co-chair Sen. Leach (D-Montgomery). “We need to end the unjust and hurtful discrimination under current state law that denies same-sex couples the benefits we offer married couples. I am hopeful that by standing together, united in our common cause, the members of the Equality Caucus will dissolve all of the barriers to building families that gay and lesbian couples currently face.”
Rep. Josephs (D-Phila.) also says that she’d like to see LGBT people and their families be treated equally under law in the state. “I want their families to be valued just as more traditional ones are,” she says, “that means inheritance tax will be forgiven; hospital visitation allowed, and contracts between loving partners will be honored. My ultimate goal is to make same-sex marriage as valid and respected as different-sex unions. We cannot call ourselves a civilized society if we do not do at least that.”
Two rights groups in the state are especially pleased with this step. Equality PA Executive Director Ted Martin calls it a game changer. “For far too long, the state’s LGBT community has looked at Harrisburg as the place where their rights were routinely ignored or worse, where their lives become a convenient political football batted about to score points in tight campaigns,” he explains. “Our hope is that the caucus will begin to change all that by educating members and providing a balanced point of view to those who use misinformation and sometimes hateful speech to move their own agenda. We think the caucus can help to change the tone of discussion and can give members a real view of how LGBT people live and are affected daily by discrimination in everything from employment and housing, to inheritance rights and of course, relationships.”
Andy Hoover, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, adds, “As important as it is for the LGBT community and its allies to lobby the legislature, it’s also important for the community to know that someone at the capitol has its back.”