Explaining the issues

LGBTQ equality: Who calls the shots, from Philly to D.C.

A no-frills explainer on the issues facing gay Americans.

The LGBTQ flag flying alongside Pennsylvania's

The LGBTQ flag flying alongside Pennsylvania's

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr
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It’s been three years since same-sex marriage was legalized on a national level — but that barely scratched the surface of the fight for LGBTQ equality.

People who identify as LGBTQ still work hard to overcome pervasive stigma against them and obtain full protection by law. It’s harder for them to accomplish everyday tasks that heterosexual and cisgender people can typically do with ease — like joining the military, accessing necessary health care and fostering children.

With a record number of LGBTQ candidates running for office in Pennsylvania, the upcoming November election is sure to dictate future policy on the topic.

The biggest debates

  1. Defining gender. There are ongoing national debates set to impact the LGBTQ community — especially transgender and gender non-conforming people. The Trump Administration currently seeks to define gender as “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Just last week, Philly pushed back against the policy with a protest at Love Park.
  2. Military service. After years of unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy came to an end under President Obama, with LGBTQ servicemembers encouraged to serve openly, President Trump recently issued an order prohibiting transgender people from joining up. Although the Department of Justice overturned that order, many trans people are still having trouble enlisting, per a New York Times report.
  3. Discrimination. In states across the country, it’s still not illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people when it comes to employment, housing or public accommodations.

How national policy can address LGBTQ equality

The Trump Administration has largely refrained from any moves that would advance LGBTQ rights. But some members of the U.S. House and Senate have been active.

In advance of the midterms, House Democrats have promised that they’ll prioritize a bill to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Dubbed the Equality Act, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she’ll introduce it if Democrats retake the House in November. Only two Republican legislators support the bill (no big surprise: Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Pat Toomey is not one of them).

How state policy can address LGBTQ equality

Some Pennsylvania state legislators are actively drafting policy to address LGBTQ issues.

In August, the Pa. Human Relations Commission released new guidelines to expand the definition of “sex” as it applies to discrimination laws. The word now encompasses not just the sex you’re assigned at birth, but also your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender transition and transgender identity — meaning Pennsylvanians now finally have a legal basis on which to file discrimination complaints.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia is working on legislation to outlaw the use of the “panic defense” in murder trials. Basically, it suggests that the discovery of a victim’s orientation can be so provocative that it can cause a defendant’s temporary mental breakdown, leading them to commit murder.

How city policy can address LGBTQ equality

City policy often seeks to address LGBTQ discrimination in specific ways.

After Philly officials discovered that two of its adoption agencies wouldn’t place children with same-sex couples, they halted intakes at both locations. After months of heated debate, a federal judge took Philly’s side this summer, ruling the local adoption agencies couldn’t discriminate against LGBTQ people.

And this year, the Philadelphia School District began teaching its staff how to create a safe environment for LGBTQ children.

Further reading

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