Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. But it doesn’t include several other categories—like ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
Some lawmakers have been trying to change that—but not everyone is on-board.
The commonwealth’s hate crimes law didn’t always exclude protections for sexual orientation, disabilities, or gender identity. From 2002 to 2008, it protected an expanded number of groups.
But then it was declared unconstitutional for violating the state’s one-subject rule—a technicality.
Despite multiple attempts, lawmakers still haven’t been able to reinstate the protections.
Montgomery County Democrat Kevin Boyle, who’s sponsoring a House bill that would do so, said it’s been thwarted repeatedly—always by the same people.
“Too often it’s my chamber,” he said. “Obviously I’m a House Democrat, but it’s the House Republican caucus—specifically about those two dozen hardcore conservatives.”
Boyle singled out Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe, who chairs the House State Government Committee and has opposed expanded protections in the past.
For instance, an LGBT nondiscrimination bill stalled in his committee—in part because Metcalfe disliked provisions that would let people use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
Metcalfe didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a Democrat, called the current hate crimes law an embarrassment—and said he fears it sends the wrong message to people outside the state.
“You should be worried that Pennsylvania being a civil rights backwater could hurt our efforts to attract jobs to this state—not just for this century, but forever,” he said.
Boyle acknowledged crimes against all groups are already punished under other laws.
But he said it’s important to make hate crime protections clear to show where Pennsylvania stands.