Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania scored a major victory earlier this year when a federal judge ruled they could marry, but there is still work to be done to end inequality, said a group rallying on the Penn State campus Thursday.
Local community and business leaders joined with a statewide advocacy group to call on the General Assembly to pass a bill that would ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated fairly at work and their homes.
“I think a lot of people are under the assumption that now that marriage equality has happened ... that there is nothing else to do,” said State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, who spoke Thursday at the event. “This is a reminder we still have some serious issues and that equality isn’t really legally enforced.”
Equality PA, the group that organized the event, has been on a tour of the state in recent weeks to spread its message that people in the LGBT community can still be legally discriminated against by employers and landlords.
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Allison Subasic, director of the LBGT student resource center at Penn State, works with students who are graduating and preparing for their first job interviews. Some are worried about whether being “outed” will cost them a chance at employment.
“It’s something that other folks might not think about,” Subasic said. “It’s enough that you’re worried about getting a job and the interview and everything. But for them, they are like, ‘Am I going to slip up and say the wrong thing and out myself?’ ”
As it stands, Subasic said, employers without nondiscrimination policies on the books can choose not to hire someone if they are “out.”
“For some people, that’s not an issue for them,” she said. “For other students, they don’t want to work for somebody that’s not going to support them.”
Equality PA spokesman Sam Gehler said at the rally that businesses across the state are joining the group’s cause — from several hundred small businesses to some Fortune 500 companies.
Count the owner of Benjamin’s Catering in Boalsburg among those showing support.
“I’d wager a lot of people don’t realize that (they) aren’t protected already,” Heather Benjamin said Thursday. “If they knew that, I think people would be more vocal, that this change would happen quicker.
“I want to have faith in the people that I live around and work with and think that if they realized this was still where we are ... I think people would step away from it if they knew,” she said.
Gehler said it’s not just business owners who are showing support; the group has been joined in its efforts by more than 450 faith leaders, he said.
State College Presbyterian Church Pastor Dean Lindsey attended the rally at Penn State and issued his own plea to end discrimination.
“Within my faith tradition, we have prayed together, studied together, listened to one another and argued a great deal, too, but we are united in this belief: There is no moral justification for denying the basic requirements of social existence to any person on the basis of sexual orientation,” he said in a statement.
“Discrimination is immoral,” he said.
“We look forward to the day when we can call this type of legal discrimination a thing of the past.”