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Expanded Definition of “Sex” Protects Rights of LGBTQ Community in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission recently released new guidelines for handling discrimination complaints based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Commission expanded its legal definition of “sex” to include not only the individual’s biological sex, but also his or her sexual orientation, gender expression, gender transition, and gender identity. As a result, LGBTQ Pennsylvanians may now file civil complaints with the Commission if they believe that they have been denied employment, education, housing opportunities, or public accommodations on the basis that identify as LGBTQ.

More Comprehensive Legislation Needed

While this change is an important step for LGBTQ rights, it does not take the place of comprehensive, state-wide legislation, according to the advocacy group, Equality PA. Since the 1990s when the laws were updated, the General Assembly declined to change the laws on several occasions. Local municipalities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, have passed ordinances that help to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. However, a proposal in Harrisburg may jeopardize those laws.

Many people already assumed that protections were in place, so the updated guidelines bring the law in line with protections that people thought already existed. Prior to the updated guidelines, Pennsylvanians who wanted to pursue legal action against an employer for discrimination had to file a Title VII lawsuit against their employer. However, unlike those listed in the Human Relations Act, anti-discrimination protections under Title VII do not apply to retail stores, restaurants, and other public accommodations.

The Commission received thousands of comments from Pennsylvania residents, ranging from concerns over religious liberty to claiming that the proposal would expose women and children to sexual assaults in public restrooms. The Commission stated that the Religious Freedom Protection Act prohibits governments from placing a significant burden on the “free exercise of religion,” and the law does not apply to private businesses. Burden is defined as a government action that results in the following:

  • Constrains or inhibits conduct or expression mandated by a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs
  • Curtails a person’s ability to express adherence to that person’s religious faith
  • Denies a person a reasonable opportunity to engage in those activities that are fundamental to that person’s religion
  • Compels conduct or expression that violates a mandatory tenet of a person’s religious faith

Philadelphia Business Lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Handle Claims Involving LGBTQ Discrimination

If your rights have been discriminated against due to your gender identity or sexual orientation, contact the Philadelphia business lawyers at the Law Office of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia, where we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.