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Stepping Up Our Advocacy for LGBTQ+ Rights

By Russell Johnson, President and CEO

Earlier this month, after years of advocacy work, the United State Supreme Court issued a ruling protecting LGBTQ+ people from workplace discrimination. It was a long overdue ruling. The ruling resonates personally for me. 

I serve as president of a private, independent foundation whose board has long-valued diversity. I’ve had the privilege of working with board and staff members who identify with the LBGTQ+ community. These individuals have made a difference, worked hard, and contributed to our mission of promoting a more just and healthy community. Privately, I have a nephew and friends who identify as LGBTQ+. They are great people – fun, smart, sensitive, bold, sometimes outspoken, shy and modest, and so much more. In fact, they are unique – just like everyone else I know. And, they bring such joy and happiness to the people who take the time to get to know them. 

We all have unique personalities. Yet the world around us continues to single out people by their sexual orientation and gender identity as ways to discriminate and deny their human rights. I’ve seen and heard about the hurt, the anger, the frustrations and still for at least for some, the self-determination and commitment to fight and to seek justice. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling is based upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That was more than 50 years ago. This month’s ruling was hardly a timely decision. But protections for LBGTQ+ people in Pennsylvania are not universal. Landlords and operators of public accommodations still have the right to refuse rental housing and overnight accommodations based on sexual and gender identity. The federal government has announced policy decisions just this month that erode equal protections for healthcare access and housing for LGBTQ+ people, in particular transgender people. Additionally, we need to direct our attention to law enforcement agencies that have not yet developed universal policies and practices that respect and support the rights of LGBTQ+ people and especially Black and trans people. They can and must do better to commit their resources to protecting the well-being and safety of LGBTQ+ people and to support them with the same vigor and level of professionalism as is customarily provided to white, straight, cisgender people.   

It’s time to step-up and continue our advocacy work to focus and strengthen our laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. Over recent weeks the social conscience of many have been raised and reactivated to address racism and inequality in our communities. This month’s Supreme Court ruling offers some hope. But that can’t just be a momentary effort or celebration. There is more that must be done, and we can’t wait. 

I do it for my nephew and his partner, for my friends and colleagues, for the opportunity to live in a better and more just community.