FOX43 Focal Point: Commission’s Charter – PA Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, the first in the nation

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Governor Tom Wolf created the first commission exclusively dedicated to LGBTQ affairs in 2018. What do they do?

That opens up a wide gate of information with Executive Director Todd Snovel.

"I'm being terminated from my job. I'm not getting promoted. I'm being denied housing even though I qualify financially. My partner and I went to look at a venue and were told we wouldn't be welcome here," Snovel said.

Those are comments he hears every week. Since the creation of the commission, there has not been a solitary week he has not spoken to someone experiencing some sort of discrimination.

Unless you are a state employee or live in one of the approximately 55 cities, townships or boroughs, it's still technically legal to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. LGBTQ Pennsylvanians make up about four percent of the total population, according to a study done by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. 

Governor Milton Shapp signed an executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees in 1975. It has been signed by every governor since.

Snovel advises Governor Wolf on LGBTQ issues and leads the discussion on non-discrimination and civil rights in Pennsylvanai.

"We're not asking for extra rights. We're just asking for equity at its minimal definition," Snovel said. "It's not a partisan issue. It's good for economic development. It's good for retaining employees. It's good for building business in Pennsylvania."

21 states currently have full discrimination protection for LGBTQ individuals, including neighboring Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

But unless you meet one of the non-discrimination aforementioned criteria, discrimination can still happen. In Lancaster County in April, some argue discrimination in fact did happen.

The Star Barn in West Donegal Township, Lancaster County, refused to host a same sex wedding, citing religious beliefs. There have yet to be any legal ramifications against the venue, prompting the question - where is the line between civil rights and personal religious freedom?

The commission, which has no legal authority and serves only in an advisory capacity, believes you have the right to practice your beliefs in your own life. Everyone does. But, if you are a service provider of any kind, you must serve anyone and everyone, equally, public or private.  Not everyone operates on the same set of beliefs, so have personal beliefs for yourself and your behavior without using them to alter your services to others.

"You can still have your social, personal, religious viewpoints and still be welcoming and affirming and understand that others may share different ones than you do should still receive the same protections that you do," Snovel said.

Snovel also battles misinformation about the LGBTQ community, which he says is often hate-driven propaganda with no basis in truth.

"When we engage with our communities and see presence in our communities, it just helps them to put individual thought to these issues. When they actually see and hear from these folks being affected on the front lines," Snovel said.

As for what's next, the commission hopes to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to explicitly include non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals. They want to have it on Governor Wolf's desk before the end of his term.

There will still be the battle of religious exemption, as with the Star Barn. That is something they also hope to clear up as part of the process.

Below is the full list of townships, cities and boroughs with non-discrimination protections according to the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. You can find more information on their website.

Abington Township (April 12, 2012)
Allegheny County (July 1, 2009)
City of Allentown (April 4, 2002)
Ambler Borough (May 17, 2016)
City of Bethlehem (July 1, 2011)
Bridgeport Borough (April 24, 2018)
Bristol Borough (September 9, 2013)
Camp Hill Borough (May 10, 2017)
Carlisle Borough (December 8, 2016)
Cheltenham Township (February 15, 2012)
Conshohocken Borough (April 21, 2011)
Dickson City Borough (June 14, 2016)
Downingtown Borough  (March 19, 2014)
Doylestown Borough (August 16, 2010)
City of Easton (July 12, 2006)
East Norriton Township (July 24, 2012)
Erie County (February 26, 2002)
City of Harrisburg (1983)
Hatboro Borough (May 21, 2018)
Haverford Township (February 14, 2011)
Jenkintown Borough (November 28, 2011)
Kennett Square Borough (March 6, 2017)
City of Lancaster (November 27, 2001)
Lansdale Borough (August 15, 2018)
Lansdowne Borough (March 15, 2006)
Lower Merion Township (December 8, 2010)
Mt. Lebanon Township (November 14, 2017)
Narberth Borough (June 21, 2017)
Newtown Borough (October 11, 2011)
Newtown Township (November 28, 2018)
New Hope Borough (September 10, 2002)
Norristown Borough (July 3, 2018)
City of Philadelphia (SO: August 5, 1982/GI: May 16, 2002)
Phoenixville Borough (March 15, 2017)
City of Pittsburgh (SO: April 3, 1990/GI: February 7, 1997)
City of Pittston (May 28, 2013)
Plymouth Township (April 9, 2018)
City of Reading (September 28, 2009)
Ross Township (September 17, 2018)
Royersford Borough (March 28, 2017)
City of Scranton (December 8, 2003)
Springfield Township (September 14, 2011)
State College Borough (December 17, 2007)
Stroudsburg Borough (April 18, 2017)
Susquehanna Township (December 8, 2011)
Swarthmore Borough (March 13, 2006)
Upper Dublin Township (September 12, 2017)
Upper Merion Township (October 18, 2012)
Upper Moreland Township (April 1, 2019)
West Chester Borough (September 20, 2006)
West Conshohocken Borough (July 10, 2018)
City of Wilkes-Barre (September 15, 2016)
Whitemarsh Township (November 17, 2011)
Yardley Borough (March 6, 2018)
City of York (September 15, 1998)

 

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