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Legislators in Harrisburg have begun delivering on promises to introduce LGBT-inclusive legislation this session, including bills to combat hate crimes and conversion therapy and two to advance transgender rights.


Gabe Spece, chief of staff for state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.), said House Bill 300, the long-stalled statewide anti-discrimination bill, will likely be introduced in March, as Frankel and his colleagues are still working on rounding up cosponsors in both the House and Senate.

Hate crimes

A statewide LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, following its introduction by state Reps. Kevin Boyle (D-172nd Dist.) and Thomas Murt (R-152nd Dist.) late last month.

HB 218, previously introduced by Boyle’s brother, former Rep. Brendan Boyle, last year as HB 177, made significant progress when it was approved by the Judiciary Committee in October, but stalled before being brought to the House floor.

The bill would expand the offense of ethnic intimidation to include actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity — and close the legal loophole between the municipal law here in Philadelphia and the hard-to-implement Matthew Shepherd Act federal bill to protect LGBT Pennsylvanians.

HB 218 already has bipartisan support — the 47 co-sponsors include Republicans Murt, Rep. Bernie O’Neill (29th Dist.), James Santora (163rd Dist.), Chris Ross (158th Dist.) and John Taylor (177th Dist.) — but its fate in committee remains in the hands of Republican committee chair Rep. Ron Marsico (R-105th Dist.), who decides if the bill gets a hearing.

Boyle remained optimistic about the bill’s passage this session, pointing toward LGBT-friendly Gov. Tom Wolf as a major factor for its potential success.

“I am hopeful we can gain passage of this bill in this legislative term,” Boyle said. “We have a very LGBT-friendly governor who strongly supports it — that changes the dynamics of passing a bill like this. I am also encouraged by the amount of bipartisan support.”

“Because of the bipartisan nature of the support for this bill, we’re hopeful that Chairman Marsico will hold a hearing and give the bill a vote,” added Mason Lane, chief of staff for Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.). “We’ll be reaching out to members of the Judiciary Committee over the next couple weeks to build support for the bill.”

Garnering additional support from across the aisle, especially locking in support from the five-county “Southeast delegation” that includes Philadelphia’s neighboring counties, will be a key part of his strategy to pass HB 218, Boyle said.

“We have more co-sponsors on this bill than the vast majority of co-sponsors for other non-LGBT pieces of legislation,” Boyle added. “I think it speaks to the popularity of this issue.”

As for a timeline, Boyle noted that bill passage in general usually hits its stride later in the spring.

“It has been pretty slow up here since the new term began,” he said. “But this is my fifth year in the state House and I have seen so much happen in late May and June, when a lot of impactful legislation gets done.”

Transgender rights

Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) introduced two transgender-rights bills Feb. 2 that would address several major concerns for transgender Pennsylvanians.

The first, HB 303 or the Transgender Pupil Education Rights Act, eliminates gender-based restrictions and prerequisites for transgender students. The bill would allow all students who identify with a certain gender to use that gender’s spaces and would bar harassment in gender-segregated spaces.

The legislation has nine cosponsors: Reps. Cohen, Michelle Brownlee (D-195th Dist.), Vanessa Brown (D-190th Dist.), Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.), Stephen McCarter (D-154th Dist.), Michael O’Brien (D-175th Dist.), James Roebuck Jr. (D-188 Dist.), Peter Schweyer (D-22nd Dist.) and Michael Schlossberg (D-132nd Dist.).

HB 303 awaits a hearing in the Committee on Education.

The second bill, HB 304 or the Transgender Health Benefits Act, expands health-care coverage for transgender individuals. It requires coverage of transition-related care, including hormone therapy, mental-health care and surgery in all private, public and Medicaid plans.

HB 304 also has nine cosponsors: Cohen, Frankel, Brown, Brownlee, McCarter, O’Brien and Schlossberg, as well as Stephen Kinsey (D-201st Dist.) and W. Curtis Thomas (D-181st Dist.).

The bill awaits a hearing in the Committee on Health.

Conversion therapy

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8th Dist.) introduced SB 45, or the Protection of Minors from Sexual Orientation Change Counseling Act, on Jan. 16.

The bill would ban state-licensed mental-health professionals from engaging in sexual-orientation “reparative” or “conversion” therapy with minors.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association concluded that sexual-orientation change efforts pose critical health risks to LGBT people.

Williams previously introduced the legislation in 2013.

SB 45 cosponsors include Reps. Williams, Judith Schwank (D-11th Dist.), Sean Wiley (D-49th Dist.), Lawrence Farnese Jr. (D-First Dist.) and Christine Tartaglione (D-Second Dist.).

The bill awaits a hearing in the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.

From our media partner Philadelphia Gay News