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.

Volunteer Spotlight: P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

P. Griffin Sneath

Hometown:
York, Pennsylvania

School:
Senior at the Central York High School in York, PA

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I serve as the Secretary for the South Central Chapter of ACLU of PA. Most of my volunteer time goes to tabling local events, composing the meeting minutes, doing chapter paperwork, and attending the chapter’s board meetings once a month.

As of July, I began a high school internship as the Harrisburg office. I am working on chapter business, assisting Jamie Pauls, Chapter Relations Manager, with paperwork and gathering supplies for the other chapters, and shadowing different aspects of the work of Andy Hoover, Legislative Director.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I have volunteered with the organization since 2012, attending tabling events and chapter meetings with my mother, Cyndi Sneath, Treasurer, ACLU of PA. I joined the chapter board as Secretary in September 2013.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I first heard about the ACLU of Pennsylvania at a young age during Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2006 (my mother was a plaintiff in the lawsuit). However, I took a true interest at an older age when I read about the ACLU in my 9th Grade Civics textbook and the work organization has done to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
The ACLU actively seeks to protect every citizen’s constitutional rights; if it were not for organizations like the ACLU that stand up for citizens, I worry that we would not have the necessary protection to prevent the violation of our rights. I want to do anything I can to support the ACLU as they protect the very freedoms I enjoy.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I am also very interested in the protection of LGBTQ Rights. I believe that the primary source of opposition to same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community comes from a religious interpretation. I support the First Amendment right to partake in religious beliefs. But, those rights shall not extend to violate the rights of another individual. Therefore, I feel using religious beliefs to ban same-sex marriage and prevent LGBTQ protection is a violation of the rights of LGBTQ individuals guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I am also interested in the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and other forms of religion in public schools. As a biology student, I am fascinated by the level of misunderstanding by intelligent design proponents on the theory of evolution by Natural Selection, and scientific theories in general. It is interesting that there is a notion that ID deserves equal time in a biology classroom, considering that ID has virtually no scientific consensus among biologists relative to that of Darwin’s Natural Selection. I respect an individual’s right to utilize their religious freedoms and endorse ID; but, I do not support that endorsement taking place in a place of government, including the public school science classroom.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
Outside of the ACLU, most of my activities are academic. I am often studying for upcoming tests and working on projects for my Advanced Placement classes. I am the president of my Model United Nations Club, run Track and Field and Cross Country, play trombone in Marching Band and Jazz Band, and do other volunteer work for National Honor Society. I also participate in Science Olympiad and review articles for Scientific Journal Review Club throughout the school week.

When I am not working on academics, I work at Target as a cashier. I also spend time with my family, read political articles, and run when I find a little bit of down time!

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer