More than 20 members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate have formed the first LGBT Equality Caucus inside the Capitol dedicated to educating colleagues on the lives and challenges facing Pennsylvania's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
The caucus' mission statement reads as follows: to extend equal rights, repeal discriminatory laws, eliminate hate-motivated violence, and improve the health and well-being for all Pennsylvanians, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
The idea for this first-of-its kind (in Pennsylvania) caucus came from the LGBT advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, and grew from there.
Not surprisingly, most of the new caucus' members are Democrats from Pennsylvania's two big cities - and its co-chairs also hail from around those parts of the state: Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery).
They will have their work cut out for them: LGBT issues haven't gained much traction in the legislature, even when Democrats had control over one legislative chamber and the governor's office. Now, with both chambers and the governor's office being controlled by Republicans, the effort to bring those issues to the legislative front burner is expected to get even harder.
There has been a big push in recent years to pass an anti-discrimination bill that would include sexual orientation, but that measure has remained in legislative limbo. The same goes for legislation to legalize gay marriage.
On the flip side, a push by conservative lawmakers for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage has gone nowhere.
"We are under no illusion that the caucus will suddenly change the legislature," said Equality Pennsylvania's executive director, Ted Martin. "But it will increase the visibility of [LGBT] issues and help better educate the public."
Added Andy Hoover, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, called the new legislative caucus significant: "As important as it is for the LGBT community and its allies to lobby the legislature, it's also important for the community to know that someone at the capitol has its back. The ACLU of Pennsylvania applauds all of the members of the LGBT equality caucus for their willingness to stand up for equal rights."
Aside from Frankel and Leach, the new caucus members are: Reps. Babette Josephs (D., Philadelphia), Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery), Brendan Boyle (D., Philadelphia), Kevin Boyle (D., Philadelphia), Joseph Brennan (D., Lehigh), Tony Payton (D., Philadelphia), Tina Davis (D., Bucks), Mike McGeehan (D., Philadelphia), Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D., Philadelphia), Tim Briggs (D, Montgomery), Ron Buxton (D., Dauphin), Mark Cohen (D., Philadelphia), Pamela DeLissio (D., Philadelphia), Lawrence Curry (D., Montgomery), Eugene DePasquale (D., York), Michael O'Brien (D., Philadelphia), Mike Gerber (D., Montgomery), Jim Roebuck (D., Philadelphia), Matthew Smith (D., Allegheny), Steven Santasiero (D., Bucks) and Mike Sturla (D., Lancaster); and Sens. Jim Ferlo (D., Allegheny) and Larry Farnese (D., Philadelphia).