LGBT rights

The rainbow flag waving in the wind at San Francisco's Castro District.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation — the educational arm of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC ), and the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization — joined with the Equality Federation Institute to release the 7th annual State Equality Index (SEI) on Monday.

The index included an improved grade for Pennsylvania, due to administrative actions taken by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission rather than changes in state law, according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June in Bostock v. Clayton County, that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the term ‘sex’ includes sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to workplace discrimination, many Pennsylvanians are still not protected. Title VII applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees.

The report notes that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission, in line with the Bostock decision, bars LGBTQ discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. That prompted the HRC to move Pennsylvania up on its scorecard, sad Madeleine Roberts, deputy press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign.

“Because of this, HRC gave Pennsylvania credit for sexual orientation and gender identity protections in employment, housing and public accommodations,” Roberts said.

But that decision isn’t set in law and could be changed if there is a change in administration, said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress.

The SEI is a comprehensive report that details statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people and their families and assesses how well states are protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Pennsylvania falls into the category, “Building Equality”.

Last year, Pennsylvania was in the group’s lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality”

Pennsylvania is one of four states -- the others being Kansas, Utah and Wisconsin -- in that “Building Equality” category. Twenty-five states, including Ohio and West Virginia, were ranked as “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality,” the group’s lowest rating. All of the other states neighboring Pennsylvania were in the group’s top category, which they dubbed: “Working Toward Innovative Equality.”

“The 2020 legislative session was one of the most unusual in recent memory, given the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the shortened sessions in many states, we saw multiple states pass pro-equality laws to protect the LGBTQ community,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David.

Pennsylvania wasn’t one of them, even though the state did move up in the group’s rankings. Among the key changes was the move by the Department of Transportation to announce that motorists no longer have to have their gender on their driver’s licenses.

“We can talk about press releases and scorecards but the fact remains we have significant work to do” in Pennsylvania, Goodman said.

Among the shortcoming in the state’s protections for the LGBTQ community cited in the report were that there is no ban on conversion therapy, no protection for students from LGBTQ discrimination or bullying and no state hate crime for attacks on members of the LGBTQ community.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.


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CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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