There is no state law in Pennsylvania that bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on an actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, there is no federal statute to prohibit this discrimination. However, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955 allows local municipalities in Pennsylvania to adopt local non-discrimination ordinances which may include protected classes not enumerated under the state law. As of October 2018, 53 local governments have adopted inclusive non-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ people – the most of any state in the nation (Movement Advancement Project).
Nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians live in communities where discrimination
against LGBTQ people is not banned.
Many LGBTQ Pennsylvanians face this discrimination every day. LGBTQ Pennsylvanians – or those perceived to be LGBTQ – can be fired, denied a job, demoted, kicked out of their home, rejected from a hotel room, or asked to leave a restaurant in a majority of the state. Just 33% of Pennsylvania’s population lives in these 53 municipalities (2015 US Census Estimates). (Map updated as of October 2018)
Legal Framework under State Law
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) was established by the 1955 law to enforce the non-discrimination policy. The PHRC has jurisdiction to investigate alleged acts of discrimination on the basis of:
Race; color; sex; age (over 40); ancestry; national origin; religious creed; having a GED rather than a high school diploma; handicap or disability, or the use of a guide or support animal for disability, or relationship to a person with a disability.
However, they receive hundreds of complaints every year and have a limited staff in only three offices. At first, several municipalities found self-determination to form their own local human relations commission to provide more efficient recourse for victims of discrimination. The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations was formed in 1951 and the Allentown Human Relations Commission was established in 1962. Realizing that the state law did not cover LGBTQ members of their communities, over time, more local government took initiatives to pass local laws to fill in where the state was behind.
There has been only one significant court challenge against the merits of a non-discrimination ordinance. In Hartman v. Allentown (2005) the Commonwealth Court upheld a ruling by the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas that municipalities do have the authority to form their own Human Relations Commission and include protected classes not explicitly defined in the state statue. The challenge was brought by a group of Allentown rental property and business owners claiming that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act superseded any local statue, which was ultimately rejected by the courts.
LGBTQ State Employees are Protected
Governor Milton Shapp (1971-1979) issued a landmark Executive Order in 1975 to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under the state government’s jurisdiction. With his decision to issue Executive Order 1975-5, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the government. Most Governors since have renewed his Executive Order. While there is no expiration on the Executive Order, it is important he reissue the order to preserve its continuity as state policy.
Governor Milton Shapp (D): 1975-5 (and revised in 1976, 1978)
Governor Dick Thornbrugh (R): 1984-1
Governor Robert Casey, Sr. (D): 1988-1
Governor Tom Ridge (R): 1996-9
Governor Mark Schweiker (R): 2002-3
Governor Edward Rendell (D): 2003-10 (Governor Rendell extended the protections to include gender identity in 2003)
Governor Tom Wolf (D): 2016-04