Meet Akudo Ejelonu — Frankel-Adair Scholar 2017–18

Akudo Ejelonu at the ACLU of Pennsylvania offices on March 8, 2018 (credit: Ben Bowens)

How did you hear about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship?

Through the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

What, if any, was your connection to the ACLU prior to applying for the scholarship?

I have always been familiar with the mission and work of ACLU since high school.

What were the most important events or influences that brought you to where you are today?

My family migrating to the United States from Nigeria seeking better opportunities, employment, and access to education. I grew up in inner-city Boston and had to fight against xenophobia, racial disparity, bullying, and socioeconomic inequality and even discrimination from other people of color. My parents worked two full time jobs and being the second born out of seven children, I was responsible for caring for my younger siblings and maintaining the household. After I came home from school, I would assist my siblings with their homework, make dinner and get them ready for school for the next day. I had to grow up really fast but know that I was destined to do extraordinary things with my life (big or small). These experiences were just part of the chapter in my life and not the conclusion.

What do you see as the critical issues facing the LGBT community at this time?

Everything! But if I had to pick one, I would say that we need to shed more light on the treatment and lack of support for “undocumented” LGBT people, especially people of color. It is imperative that undocumented individuals be given the chance to step out of the shadows and away from the fears of deportation and continue the work they do every day in this nation to support themselves and their family. How they are treated by employers, family, romantic partners, friends, colleagues, classmates, and neighbors matter. How are they treated by the legal system, healthcare system, law enforcement, social services and educational institutions all matters. Their physical, emotional and spiritual safety matter. Any comprehensive, successful immigration policy needs to expand opportunity for all rather than selectively applying our nation’s values.

Akudo and ACLUPA Executive Director, Reggie Shuford. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Do you envision your own professional career having an impact on concerns of the LGBT community?

Yes, I do. I am still building my professional aspirations and hope that wherever life takes me, it will allow me to have a direct and/or indirect impact on the community. I feel indebted to Bayard Rustin and other people who history tried to erase because of homophobia. I want the work that I do to matter and to help communities grow and prosper.

What other social issues motivate you?

Global health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), homelessness, poverty, environmentally induced migration of IDPs (internally displaced persons), and refugee rights.

What effect do you think being a recipient of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship will have on you?

This is the first time I am being recognized within the community-at-large. It is a different feeling. It bears a level of responsibility and gratitude. I stand on the shoulders of giants before me and hope that I can bear that same weight for those in my present and future. This is more than just an award, it is an affirmation, rite of passage and homecoming.

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The Frankel-Adair scholarship provides $1,500 in support of post-secondary education to an LGBT student residing in the Greater Philadelphia area.  Learn more about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship here!

Discrimination in CHIP Renewal is Hurtful to Transgender Youth. Shame on Our State Senators.

My name is Carrie Santoro, and I want to tell you about my son Finn.

Finn loves hiking and exploring nature.

His favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day, and he hates to see people in pain.

He is Student Council President, loves to read, and bemoans homework.

He has a little sister who would swear that he hung the moon and stars just for her.

Loving and nurturing other people is woven into the fabric of who he is. He is a ray of sunshine that makes our corner of the world a brighter place.

He is also transgender.

When Finn told us he was a boy at the end of the third grade, we supported him during his transition to live openly as male. The difference we saw in him was unbelievable. He did better in school, he was happier at home, he talked about his future, and he absolutely glowed, as the way he saw himself was finally reconciled with who everyone else saw on the outside.

Two years ago, we had our first appointment with a pediatric endocrinologist. The medical options available — which, make no mistake, can be life saving for trans youth — were largely not covered by insurance and incredibly cost prohibitive.

Luckily, federal legal protections expanded and eventually trickled down to states, and enough doctors, patients, and parents of patients successfully (and painfully) appealed insurance company denials of these services to set precedent that makes denials in Pennsylvania rare.

The state Senate’s recent passage of House Bill 1388, which renews the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a provision that discriminates against trans youth, threatens that progress.

Senator Don White, the author of the trans discrimination provision, chose to hold hostage 176,000 children insured through CHIP, fabricating a choice between them and care for my son, in a publicity stunt meant to turn people against each other for his own political gain.

For reasons lost on most, Senator White chose to politicize Finn’s existence to sow discord among those of us who have more in common than not, to demonize my son, and to turn other parents and, subsequently, their children against him.

As for the other 33 Republicans, including my state senator, Patrick Browne, and three Democrats who voted to advance a bill that says my son is less human and says appealing to the very worst of human nature for cheap political points is worth sacrificing him on the altar of your own ambition, shame on you.

Shame on you for stoking fear and prejudice and deciding to vote based on political expediency rather than public service or even facts.

Shame on you for being more concerned about re-election and intra-party political promotion than advocating for what is right and just.

Considering Pennsylvania legislators are the second highest paid in the country — topped only by California — I understand you have a lot to lose. But we have more.

You could have stood on solid moral ground and told your colleagues and constituents that the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association are just a few of the many organizations that agree gender-transition services are medically necessary for children like my son.

You could have eased their economic concerns by sharing studies like the 2015 analysis by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that show this care is cost-effective for insurance companies, as transgender people make up a small segment of the population and gender-affirming services actually reduce patients’ future health expenses.

You could have chosen to use your station as a source for change in public understanding of the trans community. You could have publicly called this amendment what it is — hateful, unnecessary, and absurd — and exposed the political motivations behind it. Instead, you continue to fail us. All of us.

Who will be Harrisburg’s next target for exclusions? Will they follow the national model of going after kids with asthma? Cancer? Perhaps cystic fibrosis? Where will they draw the line? The precedent set by this bill will not only affect transgender children nor will it only affect children insured by CHIP.

Bills like HB 1388 that include hateful and exclusionary provisions are not based in economics or medical science nor are they for the greater good. They are meant to call into question the humanity of children like my son and perpetuate the myth that they are less deserving of needed health care.

Our children deserve better. My son deserves better.

Carrie Santoro writes from Lehigh County.

My transgender son is trying to find his way. Politicians aren’t helping.

By Ellen*

I’ll never forget when my son, Jacob, told me that he is transgender. He was 13 years old at the time, and we were out for dinner. As he ate his lobster, he looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m in the wrong shell,” as tears welled in his eyes.

Since his decision to live openly as male, I have done everything that I can to support his healthcare needs, both physical and emotional. We found a pediatrician who has a well-deserved reputation for being supportive of transgender kids, and she has been wonderful. The Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia has also been an irreplaceable resource. He is now 15 and has the healthcare support that he needs.

His social isolation, though, has been a greater struggle. When Jacob came out, he was attending a brick-and-mortar charter school. Being an adolescent is hard enough, but being a transgender teenager is incredibly difficult. We all know that teens can be abominable to one another, and his classmates did not understand Jacob’s experience and gave no indication of interest in understanding what it’s like to be transgender. He had one friend who outed him to others who did not know that he’s trans, which compounded his social anxiety. He now attends a cyber charter school. He has become introverted, uncomfortable with other kids, and friendship with others his age is very difficult for him.

Philadelphia Trans March, October 7, 2017 (photos: Rick Urbanowski Photography)

I celebrate and am grateful for the many trans kids who are able to live their lives openly with support from their families and their friends. I want my son to live the fullest life possible as the person he is, and I hope we’re moving toward a day when transgender people in America are treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.

Politicians compound the challenges for transgender youth when they actively pursue discriminatory policies against the trans community. When elected officials use transgender people as a wedge to score cheap political points, it feeds a negative narrative about the lives of trans people, and that narrative is felt acutely by young people.

The Pennsylvania Senate recently engaged in this very kind of underhanded behavior when it passed a bill to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a provision that prohibits CHIP coverage of transition-related surgical procedures. This isn’t a benign policy discussion about how expansive CHIP should be. This is an effort to diminish the humanity of trans youth. If it becomes law, this bill would deny coverage of medically necessary and sometimes life-saving medical care for transgender young people. It feels like nothing less than dehumanization of my son and kids like him.

Jacob and I are lucky that we are able to access private health insurance. Unlike our state senators, though, I have a basic level of empathy, and I don’t need the experience of using CHIP to be able to relate to any parent of a transgender child who just wants the best healthcare coverage possible for their kid.

The teenage years are fraught with challenges. And transgender teens face unique hurdles that cisgender kids do not. They don’t need politicians making things worse.

*Ellen and her son live in Lehigh County. She writes using pseudonyms for both herself and her son to protect their privacy.

Finding the Path to Transgender Equality

By Naiymah Sanchez, Organizer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Naiymah and Dena Stanley at the 2017 TEAP Convening in September 2017.

Last week, the ACLU hosted the annual convening of its Transgender Education and Advocacy Program (TEAP) in New York City. This yearly gathering brought together seven ACLU affiliates who have identified transgender equality, advocacy, and leadership development as part of their programming goals.

This year, each TEAP affiliate was asked to bring one community member from their state to help shape the directions of the movement in their states. I had the pleasure of attending the convening with Julie Zaebst, senior policy advocate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Dena Stanley, the director of TransYouniting and a board member of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, to brainstorm on our goals of achieving comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in state law. In Pennsylvania, we have been fighting for comprehensive nondiscrimination for almost 14 years, and we won’t stop now.

At the convening, we focused on not just the goals but the tactics we need to choose that will push us towards winning definitive nondiscrimination protections. Here at the ACLU of PA, we are dedicated to building a stronger coalition of organizations and community leaders to get us where we need to go.

Naiymah Sanchez is an organizer and the transgender advocacy coordinator at the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

The work of defending civil liberties goes on

ACLU of Pennsylvania Executive Director Reggie Shuford addresses the crowd at the “Show Love for the Constitution” event. | February 15, 2017. (credit: Ben Bowens)

Dear supporter,

In some ways, our country changed on November 8. The United States elected a leader who, by all measures, is hostile to the basic foundations and principles that we stand for. President Trump and his regime deserve every ounce of pushback we can gather, and the ACLU will be on the front lines of the resistance.

And yet, at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, we have always taken the long view. Issues that are with us today were with us before November 8 and, to one degree or another, would have continued regardless of who was elected, including mass incarceration, police brutality, inequality for gay and transgender people, and efforts to compromise women’s access to reproductive healthcare.

You may have heard that there has been a major increase in giving to the ACLU since the election. While much of that growth has occurred at the national level, in fact, here in Pennsylvania, our membership has tripled. We saw a notable rise in donations after Election Day, but the real surge of giving happened after the weekend of the Muslim Ban. It was in that moment that many Pennsylvanians realized the significance of the threat to our values and to the people we most cherish.

You have put your trust in the ACLU in these challenging times. We are grateful for that trust and take it as a responsibility. Thank you.

The generous outpouring of support we’ve received in recent months has allowed us to think big about our work. It is my intention to add new staff to our existing staff of 22. Our current team has the talent, skills, and persistence to take on the many challenges before us. I also know that we can advance the cause of civil liberties throughout Pennsylvania by bringing even more talented people on board. The times demand it. Your support enables it.

In the months ahead, you’ll hear more about our Smart Justice campaign, our effort to reform, reinvent, and revamp the criminal justice system; our Transgender Public Education and Advocacy Project; the campaign for District Attorney in Philadelphia; the many bills we’re advocating for and against at the state capitol; and more litigation to push back against government excesses wherever they occur.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is prepared to thwart the Trump administration’s worst instincts as they play out in the commonwealth.

And state and municipal officials aren’t off the hook. We’re working with immigrant communities to monitor federal immigration enforcement tactics while also standing with municipal governments that insist they won’t bend to every demand of ICE. We’re insisting that the commonwealth keeps its commitment to open beds for people who are too ill to stand trial and are being warehoused in local jails. We’re working at the state legislature to defeat efforts to hide the identity of police who seriously injure and kill people and to hide video that captures police brutality from the public. And we are active in ongoing struggles to diminish police presence in schools, to stop rollbacks of women’s reproductive healthcare, and to fight the practice of jailing people for their debts.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has the infrastructure and the experience to defend civil rights at every turn. Consider some of our recent work:

  • Our legal team successfully freed travelers who were detained at Philadelphia International Airport the weekend of Muslim Ban 1.0, our advocacy team supported the protests at airports in Philly and Pittsburgh, and our communications staff echoed the message to #LetThemIn.
  • Two weeks ago, we settled a lawsuit against the School District of Lancaster for denying enrollment at its regular high school for older refugee students. Older refugee students will now be able to attend the regular high school instead of being segregated at an alternative school.
  • Over the last month, our legislative director has been busy at the state capitol in Harrisburg lobbying against efforts to reinstate mandatory minimum sentencing, which has been suspended for two years due to court rulings.
  • In tandem with allies, our advocacy team has launched the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney, an effort to push the candidates for district attorney to commit to reforming the criminal justice system.
  • Last week, our lawyers filed to intervene to defend a school in Berks County that has been sued for affirming its students’ gender identity. We’re representing a transgender student and a youth advocacy organization who would be harmed if the lawsuit successfully overturns the school’s practice.

These five examples are just from the last two months. In fact, four of them happened in the last two weeks.

My favorite playwright, Pittsburgh native August Wilson, said this about gratitude in his play Two Trains Running:  “You walking around here with a ten-gallon bucket. Somebody put a little cupful in and you get mad ’cause it’s empty. You can’t go through life carrying a ten-gallon bucket. Get you a little cup. That’s all you need. Get you a little cup and somebody put a bit in and it’s half-full.”

Well, thanks to you, our ten-gallon bucket runneth over.

Onward!

Reggie Shuford
Executive Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Introducing Naiymah Sanchez

Naiymah Sanchez joined the ACLU-PA in January 2017 as the transgender advocacy coordinator. She is a proud female of transgender experience and previously worked as the coordinator of the Trans-Health information project for five years providing education and advocacy services for transgender individuals in Philadelphia. Naiymah has worked to help the Philadelphia prison system become more PREA (Prison Rape elimination act) compliant since 2015. Part of Naiymah’s initiative is to build coalitions to better serve transgender individuals and the injustice they face. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted by Julie Zaebst, director or the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Julie Zaebst: Naiymah you joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in a brand new position as our first Transgender Advocacy Coordinator. What are you going to be doing during your first couple of months on the job?

Naiymah Sanchez: For my first couple of months, I will be touring throughout Pennsylvania, hosting community discussions, also Know Your Rights workshops, and board trainings for ACLU chapters. I want to hear what the concerns are for my community members in different parts of the state and find out how the ACLU of Pennsylvania can work together with community members to make a difference.

JZ: You were the co-chair of Creating Change, the largest LGBTQ organizing conference in the country that took place in Philly a couple of weeks ago now. What are you taking away from that conference?

NS: This year Creating Change was different from the four previous Creating Change conferences that I have been a part of. I was able to attend the conference not as a conference goer but being on the organizing side or welcoming side. But one thing that I have taken away from the conference is the dire need of connecting as community. There were 4,100 people that was registered for the conference. I connected with many of the transgender community members, just letting them know that the ACLU of Pennsylvania has made a commitment to having transgender representation on staff in the state and also transgender or non-binary representation on their board.

JZ: Absolutely. What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to transgender rights and justice right now?

NS: We’ve seen though discussion here in Philadelphia that criminal justice reform is a main issue and also non-discrimination when it comes to public accommodations, housing, and health insurance. We’re seeing that as a big issue. And that’s just from having a conversation with individuals here in Philadelphia. Ideally within these next couple of months having a conversation with transgender community members throughout the state, we can see if there are any intersections of issues, if the issues overlap or if are there other issues that we at the ACLU of Pennsylvania can tackle.

JZ: What, or who, inspires you to do this work?

NS: Being a transgender woman of color and being subjected to stigma is what brought me to this work. Who? Actually, I can’t pinpoint a single person. There’s many people who have had a great impact on me continuing to be an advocate or activist. Knowing about my ancestors like Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, also Miss Major as being one of my elders who is still alive. Jaci Adams here in Philadelphia or Charlene Arcila who had the movement here and was working towards equality here in Philadelphia. But being just a transgender woman of color, being stigmatized and also not wanting for the younger generation what I had to go through is really what keeps me going.

JZ: And what do you do when you’re not at your paid job or wearing your activist hat?

NS: My activist hat is always on. That is one thing about me. I need to learn to sometimes take my hat off, but there was a time when nobody was there for me and I don’t want it to be a time that no one is there for someone, you know? And if I could be of assistance to any issue or barrier or conflict or whatever, I’m going to try my best to be that person. But when I’m on my free time I just relax with my animals, my kitty and my dogs. So that’s what I do.

JZ: Great. Thank you. We’re so excited to have you on board here.

NS: And I’m excited to be here.

An Open Letter to the Pennsylvania Trans Community from the ACLU of Pennsylvania

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It’s a scary time for many communities. It is an especially harrowing time for those who are disproportionately affected by bigotry, structural and institutional racism, and other types of discrimination. We are in awe of those of you who are sharing your stories during Transgender Awareness Week and coming together in your communities for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

I know personally what it means to have to fight for recognition and respect. I know what it feels like to run up against bias, discrimination and institutional barriers as so many of you do. I also know that I have benefited from cisgender privilege, given the issues that the LGBT movement historically has prioritized. The LGBT movement – and, honestly, my own organization – has not always centered the experiences of trans people and the issues facing your communities. We must do better.

In the wake of a devastating election for trans rights and in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, I want to make clear that the ACLU of Pennsylvania stands in support of Pennsylvania’s trans communities. We commit to lifting up your voices and experiences and priorities for change. We will fight for you and with you in the months and years to come.

The indomitable spirit and resilience of trans communities inspire ACLU-PA to become an ally you can count on in all times, good and bad. We are here for you.

In solidarity,
Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

Life After Becoming a Frankel-Adair Scholar

By D’Angelo Cameron, 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship Winner

D'Angelo Cameron

D’Angelo Cameron

On June 15th, 2015, I received the wonderful news that I was chosen to be one of two recipients of the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The scholarship, awarded to LGBTQ youth who are pursuing post-secondary education in the greater Philadelphia area, is highly competitive, and the financial assistance provided by the award allowed me to pay for my last semester without worry. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, being awarded this scholarship would be the start of my most active year as a young leader living in Philadelphia, and eventually New York City.

I first learned about the Frankel-Adair Scholarship from the HRC’s LGBTQ School Scholarship Database. This was not my first time hearing about the ACLU, and specifically the Pennsylvania affiliate. I was familiar with the ACLU of Pennsylvania being present at Philadelphia’s LGBTQ centered events, like Pride and Outfest. It was during these moments I would take stacks of the ACLU’s Know Your Rights wallet cards for LGBTQ youth and distribute them to my peers who were interested in knowing their rights as students.

Shortly after receiving the award, I became vice president of Philadelphia Black Pride, one of the few organizations that create space and opportunity for social and economic equity for the city’s Black LGBTQ community. In this role, I organized one of the most successful convenings of healthcare providers in the city of Philadelphia to discuss access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, a once-a-day pill that has been proven to be extremely effective in preventing HIV infection. Organizing this summit came from my dedication to addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect young Black LGBTQ young people.

My work for social change outside of the classroom did not stop there. While in the first few weeks of my final semester of senior year, I received another opportunity to serve on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative or YBGLI, a national group of young Black Gay, Bi-sexual, and Same Gender Loving (SGL) men who organize at the regional and federal level around issues that impact their peers such as HIV infection rates, HIV criminalization, homelessness, police violence, and others.

As a recipient of the Frankel-Adair scholarship I became more connected to the ACLU and therefore was alerted to opportunities that existed in the organization to become more involved. My invitation to the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s annual Bill Of Rights dinner was one such amazing opportunity that allowed me to connect with other young professionals in the region, as well as some nationally recognized personalities like New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow. Another was to be a Communications Assistant at the ACLU Foundation offices in New York City. Although it required moving from my home city of twenty-two years, I embraced the chance to work at the National office and learn from some of the best lawyers, communications professionals, and advocates for civil liberties.

It has been eight months since I moved to New York to work for the ACLU Foundation. Despite having to leave the board of Philadelphia Black Pride and other projects centered in Philadelphia, I’m quite confident that other young Black LGBTQ leaders will continue to drive the progressive and much needed work in the city. I’m still on the organizing committee of Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative, and we are quite busy with planning new projects for 2017. I could not have been more proud of how much I have accomplished and I give my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the Frankel-Adair Scholarship committee at the ACLU of Pennsylvania for helping me achieve my academic and leadership goals.

In the Struggle for Equality, We Choose Dignity and Respect

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

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For more than a decade, the ACLU of Pennsylvania has advocated for protections from discrimination for gay and transgender Pennsylvanians. We have always known that the opposition would get uglier as we got closer to passage. And now that we have a coalition of business and academic interests at our back called Pennsylvania Competes and some of the most prominent members of the General Assembly in support, “the antis” – in the parlance of advocates- have sunk to their lowest level yet, as was inevitable.

The Pennsylvania Fairness Act- House Bill 1510 and Senate Bill 974- amends the commonwealth’s non-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression as protected classes in employment, housing, and public services. It levels the playing field for gay and transgender Pennsylvanians. We’re the only state in the northeast that does not have some form of this protection.

A few weeks ago the Pennsylvania Family Institute- the state’s leading anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-woman advocacy group- launched a new campaign called “defend my privacy” that claims that the Pennsylvania Fairness Act would make it illegal to have gender-specific public restrooms. That’s not a joke and it’s not from The Onion. That’s actually what they say.

The areas in which the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act provides protection from discrimination include “public accommodations.” This means that people cannot be denied services based on the protected classes in the act. Think of an interracial couple being denied a wedding cake from a baker because of their race. Or a public golf course refusing to allow women to play there.

The antis have taken a bill that is intended to stop discrimination against gay and transgender people in their daily lives and twisted it into an attack on the simple act of peeing in peace. Last year Brae Carnes, a trans woman from Canada, and Michael Hughes, a trans man from Minnesota, took on the absurdity of the antis’ argument by posting pictures of themselves in public bathrooms of their assigned gender at birth.

Transgender women are women. And transgender men are men. That’s it.

At the ACLU of Pennsylvania, we share the values of privacy and public safety. In my 11 years here, I cannot think of another organization in this state that has done more to protect the right to privacy than us. The issues are too numerous to list.*

Privacy and public safety are not compromised by ensuring that people can use public services based on their gender identity. The city of Harrisburg has had an ordinance like the Pennsylvania Fairness Act for more than 30 years without complaint. If there were problems in Harrisburg or in any of the 30+ municipalities with such ordinances, I can assure you that the antis would tell us.

But the rhetoric of the antis- from the Pennsylvania Family Institute to the advocates and politicians behind recent anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina and Mississippi- does compromise public safety. It inflames hostility toward transgender Americans. According to the FBI, hate crimes against transgender people tripled in 2014. And advocates believe the actual victimization number is much higher.

In advocating for the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and its allies have chosen a campaign of respect, dignity, and basic human decency. It is a shame that the people who oppose this bill cannot offer transgender Pennsylvanians the same.
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*But here are a few. Women’s reproductive healthcare, the Real ID Act, two-party consent in the state Wiretap Act, DNA collection from people not convicted of a crime, protecting data in prescription drug monitoring, the PATRIOT Act, anonymity for parents who give their biological children for adoption, access to location data gathered by EZPass. Etc., etc., etc.

Andy_Blog_HeadhshotAndy Hoover joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania in December 2004, as a community organizer and became legislative director in 2008. As the organization’s lead lobbyist, Andy largely deals with civil liberties and civil rights issues at the state capitol.

Pennsylvania’s Anti-Discrimination Laws are in Need of a Makeover

By P. Griffin Sneath, Secretary, South Central Chapter of the ACLU of Pennsylvania

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

As a young American, I strive to get an education so that one day, I can work hard to earn a living and provide for my family. I value the opportunity to push myself forward with quality work performance, determination, and the right qualifications. But, because of the lack of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pennsylvanians in the current anti-discrimination laws, people like me face being fired for their gender identity or expression, or for who they love.

As the law currently stands, I could be denied a mortgage someday because of my sexual orientation. I could be denied a job I was best qualified for just because of who I love. It is possible that someday I could be denied care at a hospital because I married someone of the same sex. And, my transgender friends have to fear being evicted from their apartments someday–not for not paying their rent, but for their gender identity or expression.

As I prepare to apply for college this fall, I should be able to look upon my future without having to fear the setbacks that I could potentially face when I join the workforce. I should not worry about whether or not I will receive care when I am sick.

In a few years, I will make choices about where to live and to work. Pennsylvania is my home, and I believe I have plenty to give back to the commonwealth after I finish my higher education. But will I really want to live in this state knowing that everything I’ve worked for could be denied because the law doesn’t protect me from discrimination?

There are currently statewide anti-discrimination laws that protect many Pennsylvanians, but none explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity or expression under their protections. Some municipalities do have LGBT protections, but these only cover 30% of Pennsylvania’s population. This oversight in statewide legislation makes it perfectly legal outside select municipalities to fire, refuse to hire, deny a mortgage or a lease, and deny other public accommodations and services for people just because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I am confident that most business owners and employers will hire employees based on their characteristics that truly matter in the workplace–dedication, hard work, and quality performance–and not on an employee’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. But, some will continue to only employ and serve Pennsylvanians who are protected by current anti-discrimination laws–that is, unless we modernize the laws to include LGBT people. It is time we find the middle ground by giving LGBT employees a chance to be held to the same standards as their straight counterparts under the law.

I believe that I should always treat others as they wish to be treated. I would like to see individuals judged for their work, and not for who they love or how they identify and express themselves. I believe it is time for the Pennsylvania legislature to update current anti-discrimination laws that protect Pennsylvanians to include those who are LGBT. I ask Pennsylvania to make sure that people like me have a chance at achieving the American Dream through hard work and dedication–just like everyone else.

In addition to his duties as Secretary for the South Central Chapter, Griffin has a high school internship with the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg office. He is also the son of Cyndi Sneath, ACLU-PA board member and one of the clients in the ACLU’s landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover case.