Pa. Democrats try again to bolster gay rights

    Pennsylvania House Democrats are once again introducing a bill banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Sponsor Dan Frankel of Allegheny County has submitted the measure in three consecutive legislative sessions now. He shepherded H.B. 300 through the State Government Committee in 2009, but couldn’t persuade his party’s leaders to call the measure up for a floor vote.

    Now that Republicans have taken control of the chamber, he’s acknowledges the fight will be even tougher.

    “I don’t think that we have great prospects,” he said at a Capitol press conference. “But at the same time, I’ve been around this business for a long time, both as a participant and an observer. And it is important to continue to put these issues in front of Pennsylvanians. To create what I hope in the long term is momentum.”

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    The fact the State Government Committee is chaired by Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe means the measure likely won’t get as far as it did last session. One example of Metcalfe’s anti-gay viewpoints: he opposed a 2009 resolution naming October Domestic Violence Awareness Month because the measure had “a homosexual agenda.” That “agenda” was noting that men are sometimes the victim of abuse. He has also sponsored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

    Many municipalities and counties already ban companies from firing a person based on his or her sexual orientation, but the law isn’t on Pennsylvania’s books.

    “This is a long haul,” said Frankel, pointing out more than 20 other states have passed similar laws. “It shouldn’t be. I regret that it takes such a long time to get this done. But it’s our responsibility to continue to advocate.”

    Speaking at the press conference, Harrisburg City Controller Dan Miller argued the bill isn’t there to solve a hypothetical problem. He was fired from his accounting job in 1990 after his boss found out he was gay.

    “When my employer was asked under oath if I was performing my duties adequately, he said … ‘not if he’s a homosexual, he can’t perform his duties adequately.’ Suddenly I went from being a potential partner to being incompetent, all because I’m gay,” said Miller.

    Miller opened up a rival accounting firm after he was fired, and took most of his clients with him. But because Miller’s contract had a non-compete clause, his former boss sued and won, costing Miller more than $200,000.

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