As we enter a new legislative term, LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians are still facing many of the same issues they have for decades. Members of our community are still the victims of large numbers of hate crimes (which a new FBI study finds were undercounted), and there are also high numbers of LGBTQ+ suicide attempts.
This is happening in an environment of Republican legislators across the country pushing legislation to legally discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, along with hateful, untrue rhetoric in the right-wing media. Last year, the Pa. House Republicans introduced a piece of legislation to prevent trans girls from competing in girls’ sports. Fortunately, Pennsylvania has a governor who has always been supportive of our state’s LGBTQ+ population. We have seen similar legislation signed into law in other states, such as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in Florida.
LGBTQ+ individuals are being used as pawns in a political game and it’s having very dangerous, and even deadly, impacts on our lives. But we are also living in a time of hope. Last year, President Biden signed a bill to protect our marriage rights, and both of us were honored to be present at the White House for the bill signing.
We are also heartened by the fact that in Harrisburg, Democrats now have a majority in the state House of Representatives for the first time in recent memory, opening the door to meaningful discussions around LGBTQ+ equality and civil rights. These ideas are not new – but for 10 years have been locked behind conservative-controlled committee doors, doomed to die without even a discussion, much less a vote.
That stonewalling ends in 2023.
As new co-chairs of the Pa. LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, the opportunities of this moment are not lost on us. And as two of the first out members of the LGBTQ+ community in this legislature, we feel firsthand the fierce urgency of now, and understand fully what is at stake.
That is why we are taking steps now to introduce our legislative agenda and build support amongst our fellow members. We are ready to fight – now – for the basic rights that have so long been denied to us and others, simply because of who we love or who we are.
As we look ahead to a new two-year legislative session, our agenda includes finally passing the Pa. Fairness Act, an effort which will be led by all the out LGBTQ+ members and our allies. We are especially grateful for groundwork laid by long-time ally Rep. Dan Frankel on that legislation as well as the Anti-Hate Crimes Package, which he will be introducing alongside Rep. Napoleon Nelson. We will also be introducing the Protection of Minors from Conversion Therapy (with Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El), Data for LGBTQ+ Lives, and Pennsylvania protections for Marriage Equality, which we, as co-chairs, will work with Reps. Danilo Burgos, La’Tasha D. Mayes, Greg Scott, and Ismail Smith-Wade-El to enshrine into our state law.
Reps. Ben Sanchez and Nancy Guenst will be introducing Reform Name Change Procedures. Sanchez will also work with Rep. Mike Schlossberg to champion Prohibition of the LGBTQ+ Panic Defense legislation. And this is just the start of the long list of legislation the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus will be introducing to proactively defend the rights of our community.
We are realists, however. We know that with the state Senate in Republican control, our chance to pass these bills into law remains slim. However, for the first time in recent memory, we will have an opportunity to move these bills out from behind closed doors and to hold votes in committee and possibly even the House chamber.
Democracy works best when ideas can be discussed and debated in the public eye. We will do everything we can to ensure LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians have a voice in the halls of Harrisburg and a seat at the table directing our commonwealth’s future.
State Rep. Jessica Benham
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta
LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus
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