Last week, the Chambersburg, Pa. Town Council repealed its ordinance that banned discrimination based on sex, race, religion, and other factors in terms of employment, housing, and public accommodations. The council established a local human relations commission tasked with handling complaints of violations.
By repealing the ordinance without implementing any further protections for the LGBTQ community and others who have historically faced discrimination, the Chambersburg council sent a clear message that LGBTQ businesses and their allies are not welcome. Without a comprehensive nondiscrimination act, other towns might be inspired to repeal LGBTQ rights, which would have a cascading effect on these measures across the state. It’s essential to our local and state economy that all business owners, employees, customers, and visitors feel safe and welcome in every community in Pennsylvania.
As the executive director of the Independence Business Alliance, I believe that all of us win when everyone has the opportunity to work hard and dream big. I’m proud of the work we do as the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. Our members promote economic development, diversity, and leadership in our region — helping to build a spirit of inclusion in our community and strengthening the economy at the same time.
Organizations like ours are necessary because LGBTQ people face discrimination across all areas of life, including in the workplace. According to a 2021 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, our legal landscape in Pennsylvania puts LGBTQ residents at risk of discrimination and harassment. Nearly half of LGBTQ employees in Pennsylvania have experienced workplace discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This kind of discrimination has downstream effects which negatively impact the state’s economy by tens of millions of dollars each year.
Everybody should be able to participate in all aspects of daily life with dignity and respect and without fear of discrimination. No one should be at risk of being fired from their job, refused service, or denied housing simply because of who they are or who they love.
Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania, we have no explicit, comprehensive statewide law that establishes LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. In fact, about half of LGBTQ Americans live in states that lack laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. Congress should pass clear, comprehensive, and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans in all 50 states. This is something we can all agree on, no matter our political affiliation.
I’m calling on Pennsylvania Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey to work together to support a path forward on bipartisan legislation that would update federal law to include express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for 13 million LGBTQ Americans across virtually every area of daily life.
This kind of legislation has broad support across lines of political party, demographics, and geography. Public support for LGBTQ protections is at an all-time high; a 2021 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 76% of Americans say they favor LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, including 62% of Republicans. After all, equality is not a Democratic or Republican value, it’s an American value.
That may help explain why federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation has been endorsed by a broad coalition that includes over 500 businesses and over 500 advocacy organizations. At the end of the day, that legislation is about respect for people of all backgrounds — that’s why 94% of America’s biggest companies have codified gender identity protections, in addition to other measures barring discrimination on the basis of religion, race, and disability.
To be sure, there has been movement on this issue nationwide. The 2020 Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County held that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is sex discrimination and is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That’s great news for workers and a positive step forward, but here in Pennsylvania, we know that workplace discrimination has continued. The Williams Institute report found that 5% of LGBTQ employees from Pennsylvania have experienced discrimination — including being fired or not hired — in the year since the Bostock decision.
Sens. Toomey and Casey have the opportunity to collaborate on an extremely popular, nonpartisan issue and secure strong LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections for the millions of us who have been long denied full equality under the law.
I’ve learned an important lesson from working with LGBTQ entrepreneurs and business leaders in Philadelphia: When we work together to support each other, everyone prospers. When we build each other up, all of us win. I hope our leaders in Congress can get on board because everyone deserves to live in a country that cares for all of us.
Zachary Wilcha is the executive director of Independence Business Alliance, Greater Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce.