HARRISBURG- Several hundred Pennsylvanians gathered in the capitol rotunda today in support of House Bill 300, which would end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the commonwealth.

“The message today rang through the capitol loud and clear: It’s time for the legislature to stand up for fairness and end discrimination,” said Jake Kaskey, policy and outreach coordinator for Equality Advocates Pennsylvania.

HB 300 would amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), the commonwealth’s non-discrimination law, to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.” Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County) introduced the bill on March 4 with more than 70 co-sponsors, including members of both parties.

“As long as we continue to allow this type of discrimination, our state will continue to fall behind economically,” Frankel said. “Several of our neighbor states already have this protection, and others are taking it up.”

The rally was one part of a full day of activity sponsored by the Value All Families Coalition that also included constituent lobbying of their representatives. The lobby day follows on the heels of last week’s vote on HB 300 in the House State Government Committee. The committee passed the bill by a vote of 12-11.

“Every single person deserves all the rights that belong to all citizens of Pennsylvania and our nation, regardless of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” said Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia), who is chair of the House State Government Committee. “It is the responsibility of government to protect each and every one of us, to make every citizen stronger, and to empower every community.

“I am in this battle to stay, and I will continue to fight for justice, fairness, and human rights on behalf of all Pennsylvanians.”

The PHRA protects people from discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, handicap or disability, education and the use of a guide dog. Fourteen Pennsylvania municipalities already have some form of this protection, but nearly 80 percent of the state’s population is not covered by those local ordinances.

“We know from the cities that have these ordinances that this can be implemented fairly throughout the state,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “If passed, this bill will both protect LGBT people from discrimination and uphold the First Amendment rights of religious institutions.”

Hoover noted that federal case law, state case law, and the PHRA itself exempt religious institutions from civil rights statutes when following the law violates a tenet or belief of the faith.

Twenty states have non-discrimination laws on sexual orientation, and 13 of those states also have gender identity or expression protections. In the last month, legislative bodies in West Virginia and North Dakota have passed similar legislation.

The Value All Families Coalition is comprised of diverse statewide, regional, and local organizations that support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pennsylvanians.