A year after it was established, the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs has helped local governments pass inclusive laws, establish policies for transgender students and worked to end discriminatory practices in the state.
Gov. Tom Wolf created the commission in 2018 through an executive order and appointed 40 members from across Pennsylvania.
Jason Landau Goodman is a member of the commission, as well as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, an advocacy group for young LGBTQ individuals. He said he was part of a cohort pushing for the commission, which was inspired by the Governor's Council on Sexual Minorities created in 1975 by then-Gov. Milton Shapp. The council established that state employees couldn’t be fired based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
The commission’s first year has involved forming subcommittees to identify how to tackle issues facing LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, says Goodman. Subcommittees include economic opportunity, education and nondiscrimination. Pennsylvania does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
“People are hurting in Pennsylvania,” Goodman said. “We were just coming from a more rural part of the state where a college student was told he was being evicted last week for being gay. This is happening today.”
The Wolf administration has been receptive to the commission’s suggestions, Goodman said, but it’s been difficult passing related legislation. In September 2018, Wolf sent a statement mourning the loss of Shantee Tucke, a black transgender woman who was murdered in Philadelphia.
“Our queer and trans communities of color deserve to be seen. Their stories deserve to be heard, valued, and trusted.” The release went on to talk about the importance of nondiscrimination protections. In May, Wolf issued another statement, calling Pennsylvania “glaringly behind our neighbors on equality and protections for LGBTQ citizens.” Twenty-one other states and Washington D.C. prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We look forward to advancing nondiscrimination over the finish line,” Goodman said. “Too many people are being harmed in Pennsylvania for the legislature and not take this as a serious issue.”
But other state agencies are finding ways to be more inclusive, Goodman said, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT. Recently it began offering an X on licenses for people who don’t identify as male or female. The move was significant for people who identify as non-binary, gender non-conforming or transgender. PennDOT doesn’t have the official forms yet, Goodman said, but the X is available now.
“There is a special manual workaround until the forms have officially caught up later,” Goodman said.