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Transgender health care becomes flash point in debate about Pennsylvania anti-discrimination bill

A parade marcher waves a rainbow pro-LGBTQ+ flag in Downtown Pittsburgh.JPG
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
A proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act would enshrine anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people into state law.

A day after a Pennsylvania House of Representatives committee voted to advance anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, Democratic state Rep. Emily Kinkead drew the attention of a conservative media outlet for comments she made shortly before the vote.

The Daily Caller reported Tuesday that Kinkead said physicians should be held “accountable” if they deny gender-affirming treatment to transgender people. The Pittsburgh-area lawmaker also indicated that transgender women should have access to shelters for women who experience intimate partner violence.

Critics have argued that the anti-discrimination bill pending before the state House, HB 300, could penalize individuals who object to transgender medical procedures. But Kinkead dismissed that idea, noting that the measure would not enact mandates for medical care. She said the Daily Caller’s focus on her remarks represents a misleading attempt to stymie the legislation altogether.

“Fundamentally, they can't have a reasonable conversation about what this bill is actually about, which is preventing discrimination in daily life against people who are LGBTQIA+,” Kinkead said of the legislation’s opponents.

“I took the bait of what they have been trying to do this entire time,” she acknowledged, “which is to mischaracterize HB 300 as something that's going to actively and affirmatively require doctors to provide a specific kind of care. It plays into their narrative … that [the bill is] going to criminalize doctors.”

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Critics of the proposal warn that it also threatens religious rights, and they say they worry it would change the nature of traditionally gendered spaces.

Such policies “have been used to erase safety and privacy rights by forcing compliance to allow men into women-only spaces such as restrooms, locker rooms, shelters and athletics,” the Pennsylvania Family Institute said in a statement following the judiciary committee vote.

“These harmful laws,” it continued, “have been used to punish religious ministries and schools who hire based on their shared mission.”

Under the legislation, the state would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The act already covers discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, and disability. It gives the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission the power to investigate and try to resolve complaints of discrimination in employment, education, housing, and public accommodations.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeastern region of the country that has not adopted a law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The progressive think tank Movement Advancement Project notes, however, that the Keystone State explicitly interprets its existing prohibition on sex discrimination to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Pennsylvania House judiciary committee voted along party lines Monday to approve the proposal to enshrine protections for LGBTQ+ people into state law. Kinkead said she is confident that the bill will win passage once it reaches the floor in the Democrat-controlled chamber.

But it could be a different story in the state Senate, where Republicans still hold a majority of seats, she noted.

The bill’s opponents, she said, want “to sow seeds of doubt among Republicans in the Senate who might be inclined to support this but who are afraid that this bill is actually going to force doctors to perform procedures that they are not qualified to perform [or] don't want to perform. And it has absolutely nothing to do with that.”