PA Commission on LGBTQ Affairs Meeting on Feb 20

The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs held their quarterly meeting on February 20, 2021, via Zoom. The report on the December 9, 2020, statewide LGBTQ town hall will define the issues to work on by the commission. About 120 people attended the virtual town hall, and we were delighted with the scope and perspectives shared by all of the speakers. The State Archives are currently transcribing the town hall, and the report will be issued to all State Assembly members and administration members.

Executive Director Rafial Alvarez Febo thanked The Health committee for their many achievements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennsylvania was the first state to collect sexual orientation and gender identity info on COVID-19 infections. Only Rhode Island and Illinois currently collect SOGI data for COVID-19 infections.

There are currently six committees for the Commission - Aging; Arts, Culture and Events; Health; Housing; Legislation and Policy; and Youth and Education. All committees currently have non-commissioners in addition to commission members, and participation is welcomed!

The Aging committee reported that they are currently working with the Pennsylvania Department on Aging (PDA) for a section on the PDA's website dedicated to managing HIV as a chronic disease, similar to PDA pages on managing diabetes. The 2021-2024 State Plan on Aging explicitly addresses concerns of the LGBTQ and HIV+ communities. It is now important to verify that regional area agencies on aging (AAA) will adequately implement the state plan and support LGBTQ cultural competency. AAAs have consumer boards, and the committee will be working to make sure that LGBTQ community members are on these boards. The PDA's state plan is the first to mention HIV. The committee is also working on having the LGBTQ community acknowledged as one of the populations of greatest need. The committee meets via Zoom the first Wednesday of each month at 6 PM. On June 9, members of the Aging group will attend the virtual meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging to talk about the committee's goals.

The Health committee has been focused on COVID-19. In addition to working for SOGI data to be collecting in infection contact tracing, they also successfully advocated for including people living with HIV in phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccinations. The state's COVID-19 app includes LGBTQ data and is available on Google and Apple. There have been several regional presentations of data and trends from the 2020 Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment. The committee is exploring a potential roundtable about accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, and they are also looking into access to telehealthcare. Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is launching an LGBT vaccine hesitancy survey shortly. The Health committee meets every other Tuesday at 10 AM.

The Legislation and Policy committee's initial focus was passing anti-discrimination statewide. This is still the top priority, but the committee's focus has expanded to other issues. They also strengthen ties with the bipartisan and bicameral Equality Caucus to fight to advance and fight against harmful legislation. The committee will also evaluate and react to how the upcoming state budget will affect the LGBTQ community. At the federal level, the committee is working on efforts to help support the passage of the Equality Act, particularly getting the support of Senator Pat Toomey. Commissioner Henry Sias presented a resolution currently being explored by the PA Bar Association on ending the gay/trans panic defense and how usage of that defense negatively affects the lives of LGBTQ people. The Legislation and Policy committee usually meetings Thursdays at 4 PM but may shift their meeting time.

The Housing committee strives to address the increased housing needs prompted by the current pandemic. They serve to advocate and partner with landlords, overcome barriers, and find innovative ways to find funding for equitable housing. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) can consider LGTQ discrimination in housing as a complaint when the issue is a form of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping. The committee is also working on a Ban the Box campaign, which will prevent employers and housing providers from asking about criminal record when not directly relevant. Asking this question makes it harder to access housing, and sex work convictions create a barrier, thus keeping people trapped in homelessness and poverty. The committee is also reaching out to housing and developer partners for LGBTQ cultural competency and to incentivize rental owners to get training to be safe and affirming.

The Youth and Education committee expanded from their original focus of education to include advocating for LGBTQ youth in dependent care. They are also working on getting the Pennsylvania Department of Education to collect SOGI data and include nonbinary markers. In the midst of the COIF-19 pandemic, they have haven working on getting age extensions for foster youth services. They meet monthly as determined by a Doodle poll.

The next quarterly meeting of the PA Commission on LGBTQ Affairs will be on May 21.

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