|Pennsylvania offers essentially no legal protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. There are currently no statutes or laws passed by the General Assembly in effect that explicitly provide equality for LGBTQ people. The only policy in place directly relating to LGBTQ people is marriage equality, which was through the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in May 2014. Pennsylvania continues to be the least LGBTQ-equal state under the law in the northeast United States.
Since 1982, 33 municipalities have adopted local non-discrimination ordinances inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, in 1975, Gov. Milton Shapp signed an Executive Order prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against those working for the Commonwealth government. This order has been renewed by every single Governor since, with Gov. Ed Rendell expanding it to include gender identity. The leading non-discrimination bills are HB 300 and SB 300.
In 2002, the state legislature passed an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill. However, that law was struck down by the Commonwealth Court on a technicality in 2008. The leading hate crimes bills in the 2013-2014 session were SB 42 and HB 177.
Pennsylvania has had marriage equality since May 2014 through the Whitewood v. Wolf decision was handed down by a federal court. Judge John E. Jones ruled in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in favor of marriage equality, and struck down the ‘mini-DOMA’ that had been in place in 1996. Marriages were immediately conducted throughout the commonwealth. The General Assembly itself has not passed any laws extending relationship recognition to same-sex couples. Nearly a dozen civil union and marriage equality bills had been introduced between 2010-2013.
Two parents, regardless of their sex, can become the legal guardians of a child in Pennsylvania. This is ensured by the US District Court ruling in 2014 in favor of marriage equality. Additionally, in 2002, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that second-parent adoption is legal for same-sex couples. This was a two-step process, as there was no state policy between 2002-2014 that allowed same-sex parents to outright and jointly adopt a child. The legislature has not passed legislation granting or prohibiting two parents of the same sex to adopt.
Gender Recognition: Name and Gender Marker Changes
Pennsylvania does allow for its citizens to change their legal name and sex. The name change process is handled through county courts and can be completed in as little time as three – six months. Since 2010, Pennsylvanians have been able to change the gender marker on their driver’s license with a doctor’s note through PennDOT – without gender confirmation surgery as had been the case before. Changing the gender marker on a birth certificate still requires a note from a physician that comprehensive gender confirmation surgery has taken place. Please review the Mazzoni Center’s “Changing Your Name and Gender on Identity Documents in Pennsylvania” for more information.
The City of Pittsburgh has operated the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Council since 2009. The Mayor’s Office of the City of Philadelphia opened an Office of LGBT Affairs in 2008, first by Director Gloria Casarez, and now by Nellie Fitzpatrick. The Governor’s office operates no LGBTQ community commission, unlike other social and cultural minorities which have offices and staff to ensure appropriate and effective governmental engagement with the represented constituency.
Other major areas of policy which are of significant concern to LGBTQ people include in policing, healthcare, and educational institutions. Additionally, securing strong and inclusive services from the government that address homelessness, poverty, and HIV/AIDS are a high priority for Pennsylvanians in the movement for LGBTQ justice and equality.