How do transgender rights square with Pa. law?

  • Joseph Darius Jaafari
Good morning Contexters! It’s Trans Remembrance Day, and across the nation LGBTQ+ groups will hold events in honor of trans people who have been victims of violence, as well as in recognition of those who helped kick off the queer rights movement 50 years ago. Even Jupiter (yes, THAT Jupiter) is celebrating. Today, we’re going to look at where trans rights are in Pennsylvania, and — as always — we welcome your thoughts, via email to me or through our online listening tool. We only ask you keep your comments respectful. This isn’t Twitter. — Joseph Darius Jaafari, PA Post reporter

Some Pa. cities already bar trans discrimination

LGBT supporters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in its first cases on LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights while his successor, Brett Kavanaugh, is regarded as more conservative.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo

LGBT supporters gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in its first cases on LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights while his successor, Brett Kavanaugh, is regarded as more conservative. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP Photo)

This year, considerable media attention is being paid to trans and queer rights, in large part because the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing three cases that could vastly expand (or limit) workplace protections for trans and gay employees. It’s unclear, given the court’s new conservative majority, how the justices will side on the cases, so Pa.’s LGBTQ rights advocates are — as I’m told they say in Philly — “goin’ hard” to amend the state constitution to provide equal protections for queer people.

There are more than 50 municipalities in the state that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But get this: there are close to 2,500 municipalities in Pa. (Side note: we have the third largest number of local governments in the U.S. – crazy, huh?).

In the past, Republicans in the Pa. House made attempts to stop municipalities from creating their own anti-discrimination rules for businesses. Those attempts failed, though.

Still, some state agencies are at least making an effort for statewide anti-discrimination enforcement.

Last year, Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission — which enforces the state’s nondiscrimination laws — began to accept complaints where gender identity was alleged to be the reason for housing, employment and public accommodations discrimination. But simply accepting applications and complaints is bottom-of-the-barrel enforcement, advocates say. A Philadelphia Inquirer story last year pointed out the paradox advocates highlight, that even though the state takes on discrimination cases for housing or employment, current state law includes no provisions defining hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

House and Senate Democrats in October proposed legislation that would update the hate crimes statute to include LGBTQ protections. Those proposals are currently in committee for review.

Gov. Tom Wolf urged the state to pass anti-LGBTQ hate crime statutes along with an equal protections bill. He called the lack of protections here an “embarrassment.”

Question: How do you think the state should protect marginalized individuals like those within the LGBTQ population? Drop your thoughts in our listening post here.

In related trans news, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear arguments from state police that the way they monitor social media – which advocates say can target LGBTQ people – should remain a secret. — Joseph Darius Jaafari

Best of the rest

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority trains are seen parked in the vicinity of 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

  • In a gut wrenching story published by The Philadelphia Inquirer, almost half of America’s train workers have operated a train where someone committed suicide by stepping in front of it. In Philadelphia, the train system has the highest rate of suicide per mile. And SEPTA operators, who only get three days to recover when a train they’re operating is involved in a suicide, often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Gov. Tom Wolf says he has the executive authority to add Pennsylvania to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade pprogram to cut carbon emissions in nine states. The legislature wasn’t happy when Wolf made his announcement in early October, and now some legislators are pushing a bill to make clear that joining the RGGI is the legislature’s call. StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Scott Blanchard has the story.

  • Following an explosive Los Angeles Times investigation published last month on harvesting organs from donors prematurely, PennLive did their own local look at how body parts are sometimes removed from donors before investigators have a chance to determine proper cause of death. Scientists and victims’ rights groups argue that the practice hinders — or altogether ruins — police investigations.

  • Pennsylvania might get an earlier presidential primary in 2024, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Senate State Government Committee on Monday sent a resolution to the House that would move the primaries from April to March, in line with Louisiana and Wisconsin. What do you say, Context readers: Do you want an earlier primary?

  • Pennsylvania came up in the impeachment inquiry hearing on Tuesday. Late in the afternoon when Republican counsel Stephen Castor began his questioning of Ambassador Volker, he noted Volker is a native of Hatboro in Montgomery County. Castor said he’s from nearby (exchange happens around the 1:32:00 mark). Here’s more on Castor from The Inquirer.

  • Democrats overwhelmingly want Medicare for All, but those swing voters n battleground states such as Pa. aren’t as supportive, a Kaiser Family Foundation report found. The survey suggests a Democratic nominee running on a Medicare for All platform would have a hard time winning the 2020 election, but Axios says the presidential election will come down to a referendum on President Trump, not specific issues.

  • When we talk about criminal justice reform, we’re often reporting on ways lawmakers are working to reduce the prison population. Yesterday, I attended the House Judiciary Committee, which seemed to do the exact opposite. The committee approved multiple bills that grant corrections officers a say in if prisoners are paroled, increase time penalties for inmates who assault officers while incarcerated and then pushes back their parole eligibility by years. The reason for such hard-on-crime enforcement? One of the bill’s sponsors stated multiple times, “We’ve lost control in our prison facilities.” All those bills will advance to the full House for consideration.

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