PA State Human Relations Commission Expands Discrimination Classes to Include Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

This is a pretty significant move, but please note that this is NOT the same thing as the General Assembly passing legislation. Like the other two statewide rights (marriage equality and second parent adoption) for LGBTQ people, this has not come from our elected officials in the General Assembly.

The Commission issued a guidance that expands the definition of sex as it applies to state law. The word now includes not just sex assigned at birth, but also sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, gender transition, and transgender identity.

The change allows Pennsylvanians to file complaints about discriminatory treatment in five areas: employment, education, housing, public accommodations, and commercial property.


In a July comment and response document, the commission said the “legislature declined to provide a definition for ‘sex’ when they added it as a protected class,” so it’s left to interpret the laws by looking at court precedent. Federal courts have several times ruled that sex discrimination under the workplace-focused Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes bias against LGBTQ people.

So this means if you experience discrimination based on your LGBTQ identity, you can file a complaint with the State Commission.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress, the leading statewide LGBTQ organization, applauded the change

We must still fight for an LGBTQ-inclusive statewide non-discrimination law for explicit protections, but this is a huge step forward. LGBTQ Pennsylvanians who experience discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations can now formally file complaints with the state commission.

I don’t have hard data, but I can say with a degree of certainty that statewide nondiscrimination is the top priority of almost all of the Pennsylvania residents who contributed to the #AMPLIFY project, at this point 269 people. It is probably the only thing most people agree on among those 269 people. They clearly know that we don’t have many protections and they think the state government should address this. We are hoping to find funding to crunch these numbers with a bona fide social scientist and make that aggregate data available. But right now you can take a look at the archive itself to see what I mean.

For more information on how to file a complaint, visit the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission website.

Be sure to visit the Billy Penn website original reporting for a thoughtful exploration of how religious liberty factors into discrimination definitions in Pennsylvania.

If you are an LGBTQ person age 18+ and have ties to Western Pennsylvania, we’d really like to include your voice in the #AMPLIFY archive. It takes about 30 minutes and you’ll help set the record straight (ha!) about the LGBTQ experience of discrimination and more. The Q&A link is here.

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission


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