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.

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.

Viral Photo Highlights Need for Action In Support Of LGBT Youth

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office


“I’m homosexual and I’m afraid about what my future will be and that people won’t like me.”

Sadly, this quote didn’t come from a gay person several decades ago, during a time before most people realized that they had gay people they knew and loved in their lives. It isn’t even from several years ago. The quote is from a young boy, captured in a haunting photograph from Humans of New York with a look of pained anguish on his face, as if he is holding back a well of tears.

In the days since the image was first posted, it has received more than 620,000 “Likes” on Facebook and has been shared nearly 60,000 times. Responses, overwhelmingly positive, have poured in from individuals from across the world, including Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton.

This week, the U.S. Senate will be presented with a rare opportunity to act to ensure that LGBT students across the country are able to obtain a quality public education that is free of discrimination. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) will be offering the Student Non-Discrimination Act, or SNDA, as an amendment on the Senate floor. The need for these protections could not be clearer.

As moving as the response to this photo has been, the fears voiced by this boy are reflective of a tragic reality impacting far too many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence continue to play far too large a role in the lives of LGBT students. A nationwide 2013 survey of nearly 8,000 students found that more than 30 percent of LGBT students reported missing at least one entire school day in the past month because they felt unsafe.

Too often, it is the schools themselves that are the problem. The ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia have filed a lawsuit, on behalf of a transgender student, against the Gloucester County School Board for adopting a discriminatory bathroom policy that segregates transgender students from their peers. The policy effectively expels trans students from communal restrooms and requires them to use “alternative private” restroom facilities.

SNDA, which is modeled closely on Title IX, would provide critical, explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBT students in federal law. When schools discriminate against LGBT students — such as denying trans students access to restrooms that reflect who they are or barring students from bringing a same-sex date to a school dance — or allow instances of serious harassment to go unaddressed, SNDA provides important legal remedies, including a private right of action, to hold schools accountable.

Schools found to be in violation of the law would also risk losing their federal funding. A half century of civil rights laws have demonstrated that these kinds of enforcement tools are most effective in preventing discrimination from occurring in the first place as well as getting schools to appropriately respond when students are being discriminated against or harassed. At the end of the day, the goal is to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, not lawsuits (important and necessary as they sometimes are).

While we continue to celebrate a landmark Supreme Court victory for the freedom to marry, we cannot lose sight of all the important work that remains. It is mindboggling to think that there is still no federal law that explicitly protects LGBT students in our nation’s public schools. By supporting SNDA, senators would make clear that LGBT students should be able to look forward to futures full of promise, not live in fear over whether they will be accepted and loved for who they are.

This article is cross-posted at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights

Learn more about the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Nondiscrimination work!

‘Unexpectedly Wonderful’

By Amanda Hayes

Amanda Hayes

Amanda Hayes, 2014 Frankel-Adair Scholarship winner

There is the expected, and there is the unexpected. Buying expensive textbooks when I went back to school to pursue my teaching certification – expected. My wife’s post-surgical complications and subsequent disability – unexpected.

Of course I was thrilled to receive the inaugural Frankel-Adair Scholarship last year. Some of the award’s effects were expected: my parents kvelled (kvell, v.: to go on and on about how wonderful someone is, usually one’s child). I placed excited phone calls to thank my recommenders. I ceased advertising myself as a tutor, and while I continued to work with just a couple of students, this allowed me to focus on my studies and be helpful to my wife. I added the honor to my resume.

But it is the unexpected benefits of this scholarship which have had the greatest impact on me.

When I visited the ACLU offices in Philadelphia, I was given a tour and introduced to most of the staff. I can’t help but smile remembering how excited a few of them were to meet me. Little old me!

I was invited to attend the ACLU-PA’s Bill of Rights Dinner. I was a scholarship recipient rubbing elbows with big donors, feeling a little out of my league. But the folks I’d met on my office visit – two months previous – were thrilled to see me. I was greeted with hugs – hugs! – like an old friend. At some point, my name was announced, I saw my picture appear on the projection screen, and I stood to blush at a round of applause.

The night’s honorees blew me away. I saw awards presented to the law firms that had protected voter rights (Arnold & Porter, LLP) and secured PA marriage equality (Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller). I admired the courage of the student editorial board of Neshaminy High School, who faced school sanctions for refusing to print the word “Redskins,” and of the clients in the Whitewood v. Wolf case, which made my marriage (among others) legal in the Keystone State. I heard Ben Wizner’s brilliant address about technology and privacy. (I also ate some delicious food.)

In attendance at the 2014 Bill of Rights Dinner.

In attendance at the 2014 Bill of Rights Dinner.

The event took place on a school night, and though I had fieldwork to do the following morning, I stayed until the very end, soaking up every bit of the experience. As I wove through empty tables and chairs, I was stopped by a woman who congratulated me. Unbelievably, it was Deb Whitewood – yes, that Deb Whitewood, as in Whitewood v. Wolf. Talk about the unexpected! She called over her daughter Abbey and we chatted, and the whole time I was too star-struck to thank or congratulate The Deb Whitewood. (Deb and Susan Whitewood, if you’re reading this, thank you!!!)

When the ACLU-PA honored me with the Frankel-Adair Scholarship, suddenly I became not only a member of the ACLU family, but someone that others within this amazing group would be excited to meet. My immense pride to be associated with the ACLU – expected. The ACLU’s apparent pride to be associated with me – unexpectedly wonderful.

Apply for the 2015 Frankel-Adair Scholarship

Applications for the Frankel-Adair Scholarship for the 2015-16 school year will be accepted from February 1, 2015, until April 30, 2015. All application materials must be received by 5:00 p.m. on April 30, 2015. Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.