Philadelphia Human Rights Committee speaks about sexually-oriented discrimination

Four of the most highly advocated issues within the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community: cessation of marital, medical, professional and sexually-oriented discrimination, were discussed in depth last Wednesday when two representatives from the Philadelphia Region Steering Committee of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Patti DeBow, co-chair of Campus Outreach, and Jeff Rudnick, co-chair of the Political Action Committee, came to the College. Their purpose in speaking to students was to address current legislative issues affecting the GLBT community.

The event, sponsored by the Gay Union of Trenton State at The College of New Jersey (GUTS), included an information session followed by a question-and-answer segment that addressed various legislative acts concerning GLBT equality.

HRC is the largest national GLBT advocacy organization. It was founded in 1980 and is supported by close to 600,000 members. The mission of HRC is to “lobby Congress, provide campaign support to fair-minded candidates, and educate the public on a wide array of topics affecting GLBT Americans.”

One branch of this organization, the bipartisan Political Action Committee (PAC), endorses federal candidates. In the upcoming presidential election, HRC is supporting Sen. John Kerry.

“The event was very informative and explained a lot of issues that people do not necessarily understand,” Julie Kirschner, GUTS president, said.

In reference to marital discrimination, former President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. This act defined legal marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Recently, state judiciaries have been redefining marriage to allow for the civil union of same-sex couples. However, this union is only upheld within the state where it occurred. Therefore, same-sex couples do not receive any federal marriage protection.

In an effort to make marriage solely available to heterosexual couples, President George W. Bush addressed Congress on Feb. 24 in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). The amendment, if passed, would deny same-sex couples legal protection as well as limit civil union rights.

Additionally, the speakers said HRC is lobbying the Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA). Currently, Medicaid only provides for the treatment of individuals inflected with full-blown AIDS. ETHA would allow for Medicaid to benefit individuals who are HIV positive in an effort to prevent or delay the onset of full-blown AIDS.

The GLBT community is advocating the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Presently, federal law provides legal protection on the basis of gender, race, religion, national origin or disability, but not sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. According to HRC, “Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, whether such orientation is real or perceived, effectively denies qualified individuals equality and opportunity in the workplace.” Currently, it is still legal within 36 states to fire an employer based on sexual orientation.

The representatives addressed the need for a more comprehensive hate crime law such as the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA). Federal hate crime laws have been in effect since 1968 and serve to protect the maltreatment of anyone, regardless of race, religion or national origin. However, current hate crime laws are not all-inclusive and instead alienate many.

LLEEA would expand on the current hate crime laws to include “the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability” of any person.

For supporters of GLBT equality, DeBow and Rudnick stressed the importance of becoming politically aware and involved in the advancement of current legislative acts.