Chaired by Kaitlyn Burns, Esq., the LGBTQ Rights Committee works to end discrimination against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians in our courts and throughout the Commonwealth. The Committee’s current initiatives include the following:
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 submitted letters (attached at right) to the relevant legislative committees in support of bills introduced in the 2021-2022 legislative session (H.B. 300 and S.B. 313) that would have amended the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to extend protection in those areas to LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians. The Committee also submitted letters (attached at right) in support of legislation that would have prohibited use of the so-called LGBTQ+ “panic” defense in Pennsylvania, which currently serves to legitimize violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. Unfortunately, these bills did not pass before the legislative session concluded.
In the 2023-2024 session, the Committee again submitted a letter (attached at right) in support of H.B. 300, which was re-introduced from the prior session. It also submitted a letter (attached at right) in support of SB 326, which would establish a voluntary LGBTQ+ demographic identifier on all state-sponsored forms and applications so that policymakers have improved access to such data and can better identify and address the most pressing issues facing LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians. An additional letter (attached at right) advocates for the passage of SB 63, which would expand PA’s limited Hate Crimes statute to provide protections against such crimes based on, among other characteristics, an individual’s gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
As an alternative or supplement to protections implemented at the state level, the Committee is also collaborating with LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, service providers, and municipal committees and governments to secure such protections at the local level, via the amendment of county ordinances. The Committee has researched model ordinances enacted in Scranton, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and other places, which will serve as the basis for the suggested reforms it proposes to other counties.
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. To that end, Committee staff have reviewed the Pennsylvania Code, several sections of which do not contain the necessary protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The staff subsequently drafted and submitted to the PA Dept. of Human Services (“DHS”) extensive proposed amendments to those regulations based in part on the model regulations implemented in various other states. The Committee is in contact with DHS staff, who have reviewed its proposal, to determine the next steps in the regulatory process.
Federal Rule Changes: In the fall of 2019, 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. Since the HUD rule change was not finalized by the Trump administration, it did not become effective. The HHS rule change was finalized but suspended as a result of a lawsuit by Lambda Legal and the Biden administration’s consent to a court order delaying its implementation. After issuing several additional orders further delaying the rule’s effective date, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia officially rescinded the rule in June 2022. The Committee is now working with Lambda Legal to urge HHS to reverse the Trump-era policy to not enforce the non-discrimination protections implemented in 2016, which provided safeguards to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things. The Committee submitted a letter to HHS (attached at right) in March 2023, urging it to rescind the policy.
Second Parent Adoption Procedures: In 2014, the Commission submitted detailed Comments (attached at right) to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orphans’ Court Procedural Rules Committee to establish standardized procedures for second-parent adoptions. The Committee took this action after it found through a survey it conducted that some PA judicial districts refused to schedule hearings on petitions for second parent adoptions, thereby leaving unmarried parents unable to secure parental rights for both partners. This problem disproportionately affected same-sex couples who, at that time, 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 (attached 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 across the country.
Additional Resources for the LGBTQ+ Community: The 2022 Pennsylvania LGBTQ Public Health Needs Assessment, a biannual survey funded by the PA Department of Health and conducted to evaluate the health needs, health disparities, and barriers to care impacting LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, was published in January 2023. The Assessment reached over 4,000 self-identifying LGBTQ Pennsylvanians representing 66 of the 67 counties in PA, making it one of the most comprehensive snapshots of such data available. The Assessment found that LGBTQ individuals in our Commonwealth continue to face many barriers in their lives, with more than six out of ten respondents reporting that they have experienced discrimination based on their LGBTQ identity. It also found that more than a third of respondents have experienced a negative reaction from a healthcare provider when that provider learned they were LGBTQ. Three in four respondents also indicated that they have experienced a mental health challenge in the past year. The Committee is working with LGBTQ-friendly organizations to disseminate the Assessment and craft legislative and policy-based proposals responsive to its findings.
- Kaitlyn Burns, Esq. (Chair)
- Morgan Bonekovic, Esq.
- Lee Carpenter, Esq.
- Judge Kathryn Mary Hens-Greco
- Lisa M. Herbert, Esq.
- Donald MacLeod, MSW
- Michael Roche, Esq.
- Gerri Sperling, Esq.
- Judge Victor P. Stabile
- Letter in Support of SB 63, Combating Hate-Based Violence Against LGBTQ+ People
- Letter in Support of SB 326, Data for LGBTQ+ Lives Act
- Letter in Support of HB 300, Expanding Non-Discrimination Protections for LGBTQ+ People
- Letter Urging HHS to Reverse Trump-Era Decision to Not Enforce Existing Non-Discrimination Protections
- Letter in Support of SB 854, Prohibiting Use of LGBTQ “Panic” Defense in PA
- PBA Article – Pushing Forward: The Need for State-Based Protections Post-Bostock
- Letter in Support of HB 300, Expanding Non-Discrimination Protections for LGBTQ Individuals
- Comments re HUD’s Proposed Rule, Homeless Shelters & Facilities
- Comments in Opposition to Proposed Rule Permitting HHS Grant Recipients to Deny Services to LGBTQ+ Individuals
- Comments on Proposed Amendments to PA Orphans’ Court Rules