By Sue Kerr
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
It was a riotous time in 2018 for LGBTQ folx in Western Pennsylvania. What lies ahead for us in 2019? I think there are three key areas to consider.
We are not likely to see an inclusive statewide bill pass this year because of the ongoing reign of terror that is expected to continue under the Republican majority. But now that state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) has relinquished his stranglehold on the House Government Relations Committee, there’s at least a chance that hearings can be scheduled, testimony can be taken and a committee vote can be held. Sadly, Metcalfe has moved to the committee that will impact our environmental legislation, so that’s far from a good tradeoff.
Even within that momentum, I predict more municipalities will pass ordinances on the local level. This creates grassroots awareness of the issue and sends a clear message from municipal governments about their seriousness about the importance of respect and inclusion. As of October, 53 of the 2,562 municipalities in Pennsylvania have passed inclusive protections, covering about 33% of the Commonwealth’s population.
Western PA currently has six local ordinances from the City of Pittsburgh, Erie County, Allegheny County, Mt. Lebanon Borough, and Ross Township. Efforts are underway but at an impasse in Johnstown and the city of Butler. All it takes is one resident talking with one elected official to get the ball rolling in any municipality.
I’d like to see these efforts start in areas like Altoona, which is the largest city in Pennsylvania without these protections. I’d also like to see it in important commerce regions like Cranberry Township, Greensburg, and Washington.
Imagine if a community like Nanty Glo in Cambria County saw the economic potential to welcome LGBTQ folx by passing this ordinance and tap into the hundreds of LGBTQ people who want to rent, find jobs, start businesses in the Johnstown Altoona corridor? Safe affordable housing and employment brings new tax revenue. A monthly drag brunch and a drag bingo raises much needed funds for local charities, funds raised by people who buy food, stay overnight in B&Bs, and visit the sites. Its not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.
Those who live in Allegheny County can help generate the necessary momentum by working on these ordinances in your community. So far, we’re three down, 127 municipalities to go. Who’s next?
School Inclusion Policies
More and more public school districts are clarifying district policies around gender, Title IX, and gender identity, creating clear guidelines on the importance of allowing students to use facilities, including bathrooms, that are consistent with their gender and gender identity.
Pennsylvania is at the forefront of this progress thanks in part to court rulings upholding the trans-inclusive policies of the Boyerstown School District. Anti-trans activists are trying to get the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn the Third Circuit Court ruling. We don’t yet know if the Court will even hear the challenge.
In 2018, Lakeview School District in Mercer County released updated policies. West Middlesex School District, also in Mercer County, announced plans to consider the matter in early 2019. Pittsburgh Public Schools addressed these policy changes a few years ago. More school districts will follow suit with youth leading the way.
I anticipate new school districts responding to the momentum out of Mercer County. It would be fantastic to see this energy in the Shenango Valley also lead to local non-discrimination ordinances.
Bans on Conversion Therapy
Seven Pennsylvania municipalities have banned conversion or ‘reparative’ therapy for minors under the age of 18. Some municipalities, like Harrisburg, have passed resolutions condemning the practice while they work toward an outright ban. Conversion therapy is the harmful attempt to force someone to change their sexual orientation to heterosexuality. This intervention is widely regarded by the mental health community, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, as ineffective and possibly harmful to children. Pittsburgh has a ban in place.
A big concern is that this treatment is more often found in rural communities without any protections or resources for LGBTQ people. And adults can consent while parents can seek religious based counseling that is not governed by these bans.
Restricting the practice is a tool, but there is a need to continue educating people about the simple truth that no one can be converted, cured, or healed from their sexual orientation or gender identity and put a stop to these harmful practices for youth and adults in professional mental care as well as faith-based treatments.
In general, what’s important to remember is that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has never successfully created, established or preserved a statewide right for the LGBTQ community. Marriage equality and second parent adoption rights came from court rulings, not Pennsylvania law. We’ve seen some changes including the appointment of openly LGBTQ persons to important roles like Dr. Rachel Levine as the first trans woman to serve as Secretary of Health. Governor Wolf has established a statewide commission of LGBTQ individuals.
Western PA has done our part with the election of John Fetterman to the office of Lieutenant Governor. We’ve sent allies like Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato, and Lindsey Williams to the General Assembly.
But Pennsylvania remains far behind the curve in terms of equal treatment, safe schools, affordable housing, environmental issues, healthcare, policing, and more when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
While we celebrate the statewide accomplishments in all forms, we must continue to do the work that has tangible results – on the local level. If you live in a small town or a larger suburb, you have the power to bring these protections to your community. Western Pennsylvania is running far behind the rest of the Commonwealth. Working on a local level with your chapter of PFLAG or GSA or a statewide group like the Pennsylvania Youth Congress is one way to find support.
It just starts with one person.