State LGBTQ commission pushes for hate crime legislation

Gov. Wolf's commission is the first of its kind in the nation

Shara Dae Howard
August 21, 2018 - 7:10 pm
Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order creating the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs on Aug. 6, 2018.

The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A new Pennsylvania commission formed by Gov. Tom Wolf has a focus on health, education and expanding protections for LGBTQ communities across the state — the first in the nation to do so.

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs is tasked with advising the governor on LGBTQ issues ranging from health and education to hate crime legislation. 

Anne Wakabayashi, commission chair, said the state has a lot of work to do.

"We are still the only state in the Northeast where you can be fired or kicked out of your home for being gay or being trans, and that is just not acceptable," she said. 

Wakabayashi said that begins with legislation.

"We need to absolutely pass the Fairness Act," she continued. "That is a very basic set of protections and it has overwhelming support from Pennsylvanians."

The Fairness Act will set the groundwork for future legislation, she noted, like classifying crimes against LGBTQ people as federally prosecuted hate crimes.  

In Philadelphia, those crimes are classified as hate crimes and carry a heavier penalty, but the state of Pennsylvania — like many states across the nation — doesn't legally recognize orientation or gender identity as a protected class, such as race and gender. 

"It's hugely important for our government, legal system and justice system to be able to differentiate between acts that have the intention of intimidating and silencing entire communities," said Wakabayashi. "Being able to differentiate that in the law and punish it differently and have different repercussion."