“You’re fired.” “Why?” “Because you’re gay.”
Think this is illegal? You’re not alone. Many people assume that overt discrimination like this, whether it be directed at minority races, women, or LGBT individuals, is against the law.
The fact is, however, that it is perfectly legal most places in Pennsylvania to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Gender expression, for those who might need a refresher, refers to aspects of a person’s appearance and behavior that identify him or her as a him or her. It is gestures, mannerisms, dress, way of speaking, interests and hobbies, grooming methods, and many other things that are culturally perceived as either “masculine” or “feminine.” Clearly, these gender markers are culturally defined. For example, wearing a skirt is a feminine trait in the United States, while in the Scottish Highlands, no one considers a kilt “girly.” Likewise, a man who wears short shorts, crosses his legs, and orders wine (as opposed to beer or hard liquor) at a bar would likely experience social sanctions in the United States for his “feminine” behavior, but these would be perfectly normal masculine behaviors in Western Europe.
Today members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, recognizing the inappropriateness of allowing this sort of discrimination to go on in the United States of America – a country that professes to be the land of opportunity, equality under the law, all men are created equal (where the women are in that one is a topic for another time) – introduced a bill to amend the PA Human Relations Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
This bill would take the existing law (which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education, or the use of a guide dog), and simply add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the list.
It’s high time that we correct this deficiency in the Act. Certainly it is necessary to bring Pennsylvania law in line with the promises of the U.S. Constitution and the principles of freedom and equality this country was founded on, but more than that…it’s the only fair thing to do.
Becca in Harrisburg