LGBTQ Rights Committee

Chaired by Donald MacLeod, the LGBTQ Rights Committee works to end discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in our courts and throughout the Commonwealth. The Committee’s current initiatives include:

  • extending state discrimination protections to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians;
  • conducting training sessions for judges and attorneys on LGBTQ legal issues; and
  • training judges and staff in the juvenile delinquency and dependency system regarding the treatment of LGBTQ youth.

Anti-Discrimination Legislation: Although LGBTQ Pennsylvanians have seen progress in the expansion of their legal rights in recent years, they still lack legal protections against discrimination in many facets of their daily lives, specifically in the contexts of housing, education, and public accommodations. The Committee has submitted letters (attached at right) to the relevant legislative committees in support of pending legislation (H.B. 300 and S.B. 313) that would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to extend protection in those areas to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. The Committee is also collaborating with LGBTQ advocacy organizations and service providers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, as well as the Governor’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, to secure support for the bills from legislative leaders.

Amendment of Regulations for LGBTQ Youth in Out-of-Home Placements: In September of 2020, the Committee established a working group comprised of Lambda Legal, PA Youth Congress, the Juvenile Law Center, Penn State Dickinson Law’s Children’s Advocacy Clinic, Family Equality, and the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, to secure non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ youth and families within the state foster care system. Toward that end, Committee staff has reviewed the Pennsylvania Code, several sections of which do not contain the necessary protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The staff has also reviewed model regulations implemented in various other states, whose language is serving as guidance for drafting the amendments the Committee will ultimately propose to the relevant authorities in the Commonwealth.

Commenting on and Tracking Proposed Trump Administration Rule Changes: During the final days of its term, the Trump administration sought to amend Health and Human Services (“HHS”) and Housing & Urban Development (“HUD”) regulations to permit these agencies – or the organizations they contract with – to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In response, the Committee submitted comments opposing these proposed rule changes, which are attached at right. Fortunately, the HUD rule change was not finalized by the Trump administration. In addition, the effective date of the HHS rule change was suspended as a result of a lawsuit by Lambda Legal and the Biden administration’s consent to a court order delaying its implementation. Although that suspension ended on August 11, 2021, Lambda Legal was able to secure a stipulated extension to the stay of the effective date, whose status the Committee is continuing to monitor so that the rule does not ever go into effect.

Second Parent Adoption Procedures: In 2014, the Commission submitted detailed Comments (attached at right) to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee, proposing amendments and additions to the Rules that would establish standardized procedures for second-parent adoptions. The Commission had found through a survey it conducted that contrary to the Procedural Rules and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania case law, some judicial districts refused to schedule hearings for such petitions, thereby leaving unmarried parents unable to secure parental rights for both partners. This problem disproportionately affected same-sex couples who, at the time the Commission undertook this initiative, were not permitted to legally marry. Although the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania lifted the ban against same-sex marriage in 2014, and the U.S. Supreme Court extended this right to all Americans in 2015, LGBTQ couples who are unmarried still lack legal protections for their parental rights, and the procedural rules governing second parent adoptions are still not standardized. The Commission’s proposed amendments and additions to the procedural rules remain under consideration by the Rules Committee.

LGBTQ Bias in Jury Selection: In 2015, Lambda Legal produced a guide entitled Jury Selection and Anti-LGBT Bias: Best Practices in LGBT-Related Voir Dire and Jury Matters to help practitioners address both express and implicit bias during jury selection, conduct LGBTQ-inclusive voir dire, and challenge the discriminatory use of peremptory strikes. After receiving a copy of the guide (linked at right), the Committee sent letters, along with copies of the guide, to numerous local bar associations, urging them to use the guide as a basis for educational programming for their members. Several of the bar associations subsequently informed the Committee that they had produced programs on this issue that were well-received.

Training on the Treatment of LGBTQ Youth in Juvenile Delinquency and Dependency Systems: Based on the recommendation of the Committee, Allegheny County judges and juvenile court personnel received training on model protocols for the equitable treatment of LGBTQ youth in the county juvenile delinquency and dependency systems. The training program was conducted by Lambda Legal and was based on programs the organization had presented throughout the country.

Past initiatives of the Committee include:

  • proposing changes to Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act, establishing a second-parent adoption procedure;
  • advocating for legislation legalizing same-sex marriage; and
  • other initiatives.