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Chester County Press

Editorial: Pennsylvania: The state of inequality

07/09/2019 10:33AM ● By Richard Gaw
On June 30, confetti fell upon the streets of Manhattan, and on the 5 million people who attended the 2019 New York City Pride March. The event took on the spectacle of a unified collective, emblazoned in all colors of the rainbow; a furiously powerful message lit by inclusion; an army of love that could push back any enemy by the strength of its sheer numbers, alone. 

It was very likely that many gathered in the mass of midtown humanity were too swept up in the moment to recognize the great irony of the event: the parade's short distance from its very beginnings.  On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village, brutalizing the bar's patrons and employees with intimidation and bully clubs.

Quickly, the bloodied masses began to fight back with bricks, stones and punches, and the riot spilled onto neighboring streets and led to a week-long protest and more violent clashes.

It was the cataclysmic Big Bang moment of the gay rights movement, during a period when an individual's sexual orientation was on trial; when it was illegal for a member of the LGBT community to hold hands, kiss or dance with someone of the same sex; when it was common for a gay person to be spit on, accosted, misunderstood and marginalized, simply because of one's choice in whom he or she chose to love.

If the Stonewall Riots did anything, it was in the unabashed response of the LGBT community to galvanize and organize, and within a few years, hundreds of  activist groups had been formed, which led to hundreds of other groups, which led to pioneers and warriors who forced their way into the offices of our elected officials to demand equality; which led to slow assimilation and acceptance and the vanishing of labels; which has now led to same-sex recognition, same-sex marriage and the ban of discriminatory laws that have their roots in ignorance.

While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made several advances in affording its LGBT citizens equal rights (anti-discrimination laws for sexual orientation and gender identity, recognition of same-sex couples and same-sex marriage equality), it still woefully lags behind other states in a few categories.

In a report by the Movement Advancement Project, Pennsylvania still has no family leave laws for same-sex couples; no hate crime law that protects the LGBT community; no adoption non-discrimination protections for LGBT parents; and no foster care non-discrimination protections for LGBT parents.

Perhaps most shocking of all is that while 11 cities in the Commonwealth have passed laws that ban conversion therapy – the pseudoscientific practice to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, using psychological or spiritual interventions – none of the 67 counties in the Commonwealth have done so, including Chester County.

Sadder still, a bill to prohibit mental health professionals to engage in conversion therapy with LGBT minors in Pennsylvania was introduced in 2015 by 20 sponsors – all Democrats – and died without any legislative action.

A UCLA study has reported that approximately 350,000 LGBT adults in the U.S. received conversion therapy as adolescents, on the heels of research stating that conversion therapy poses devastating health risks for LGBT young people such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior, and is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.

Currently, a little more than 4 percent of the 12.8 million people who live in Pennsylvanian identify themselves as LGBT adults. It has been 50 years since a large group of people stood up to the long arm of the law on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, and took their cause to the streets and to legislators around the country. We must recognize that what happened at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 was the giant unveiling of wrongs, and that the true heroism of that refusal to back down again has resulted in laws that afford freedoms for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

In 2016, our commonwealth unveiled its newest slogan: “Pennsylvania. Pursue Your Happiness.”

Until every piece of legislation is passed that provides across-the-board protection and freedoms for its LGBT community, our state's slogan will be remain an atrocious lie.