LGBT anti-discrimination bill blocked in Pa. House committee

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- An effort is underway to force a bill which would protect Pennsylvania's LGBT community from discrimination into a different House committee.

House Bill 1510, dubbed the Pennsylvania Fairness Act by its prime sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of groups protected from discrimination under the Pa. Human Relations Act. Currently, it is illegal to discriminate using someone's race, religion, or sex when it comes to housing, employment, or public accommodations.

However, the bill has sat untouched in the House State Government Committee since early September. If the committee's chairman has any say in the matter, it won't be moving any time soon.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe refuses to move on the bill for two main reasons.

The first, he says, is because he feels the bill would never garner enough support from committee members to be voted through.

"I don't bring bills up in committee just to vote them down," Metcalfe said. "I don't bring bills up just to make a point. I don't want to waste the time and energy of our members."

The second, which Metcalfe is undoubtedly more passionate about, is what he feels would lead to a dangerous precedent.

HB1510 included the provision of not discriminating against "gender identity," meaning for Metcalfe, a man who identifies as a woman could freely use a women's restroom or locker room with ulterior motives.

"It's going to set up the potential for victimization," he says. "You would have a situation where men could decide to use the ladies restroom, or the ladies locker room, or ladies shower, just based off their own declaration of another gender for the day."

House Democrats, including Frankel and bill co-sponsor Rep. Brian Sims, feel Metcalfe is using personal animosity in his decision-making.

"We've seen from Chairman Metcalfe over the years in his legislation a level of animosity towards the LGBT community, towards women, towards seniors, towards people of color, towards immigrants," said Sims (D-Philadelphia), Pennsylvania's General Assembly first openly gay elected lawmaker.

Passing LGBT anti-discrimination laws is personal for Sims, who says of the current landscape in Pennsylvania, "We have nothing right now. There are no civil liberties for me as a gay man in this state, other than marriage which we got through the courts."

In the wake of last weekend's terrorism in Orlando, where 49 people were shot and killed at a gay night club, Sims and Frankel are hoping to shine a light on the need for anti-discrimination laws for Pennsylvania's LGBT community.

"You don't have to draw too long of a line to connect what happened (Saturday) to a lack of discrimination protections," Sims says. "When states fail to protect, and fail to respect LGBT citizens, people take it upon themselves to enact opposition."

Metcalfe calls their claims "opportunistic," using a national tragedy to advance their own agenda.

"They're more interested in advancing this radical policy that would put more Americans at risk of perverts and people that would commit sexual assaults," he says. "Keeping Americans safe does not include opening up women's restrooms to men."

Democrats can move the bill out of the State Government Committee through petition. On Wednesday, Frankel initially discussed bringing a discharge notice to the House floor, a standard procedure which would lead to a petition of the full House in two session days. Frankel would need a simple majority in order to move the bill out of its current committee.

However, no such notice was given during Wednesday's session. Frankel's office, in a statement, said he continues to have "meaningful conversations" with colleagues in the House and Senate in an effort to advance the bill.