Southwestern Pennsylvania isn’t the friendliest place for LGBTQ people. In all the counties bordering Allegheny, it is still legal to fire, evict, or deny public accommodation to someone merely because they identify as LGBTQ — and many aren’t even aware of it. That's why Kathy McCully Cameron, co-founder of the Washington Gay Straight Alliance, says it's so important for the LGBTQ community and its allies to have a visible presence in these counties, even if they risk repercussions.
On June 27, 2020, the small city will hold its first ever Pride celebration in the Community Pavilion in Washington’s downtown. Cameron made this announcement on Aug. 22, in front of a crowd of about 100 allies and LGBTQ people in Washington, according to Washington County’s Observer-Reporter.
“We just feel it is time to have more viability and celebrate the community,” says Cameron. “It has been a difficult road. Washington County has no protections, so we have been a bit more hesitant. But maybe the way to make change is to let people know we are here.”
Cameron says this festival has been the culmination of more than a decade of work, with progress coming slow. While her organization has been more involved publicly like participating in the Whiskey Rebellion events and marching in Washington’s Christmas parade, the Pride festival will mark a significant step forward for the community's presence and visibility.
“I have been involved in this passion for the last 14 years,” says Cameron. “We need to make a change for the community to be not just tolerated, but accepted and embraced.”
Cameron says many people in Washington County assume that LGBTQ people are covered by the protections of federal civil rights laws. But the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes, and in states and municipalities that haven’t updated their local ordinances, LGBTQ people lack those same protections.
A statewide bill to add give LGBTQ Pennsylvanians non-discriminations protections has languished in Harrisburg for years since Republicans in charge of committees have failed to bring the bill up for a vote. This year, a national bill to give all LGBTQ Americans non-discrimination protections passed the U.S. House, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to bring the bill to the U.S. Senate floor.
According to a 2017 Hart Research poll, more than 53 percent of Pennsylvanians support making it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in employment and housing situations, while only about 25 percent oppose it.
Cameron hopes the festival will not only celebrate the community and its allies, but also inform the vulnerabilities that LGBTQ people endure in the legal system. Luckily, she is getting some high-profile support to spread that message.
To announce the festival, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-Braddock) was on hand not only to offer support for the Pride celebration, but also to pressure lawmakers to support the creation of LGBTQ non-discrimination laws.
“To me, it’s always been equal protection under the law, nothing less, nothing more,” Fetterman told the Observer-Reporter on Aug. 22. “You can’t be fired or denied employment or services based on who you love or how you identify. That’s just wrong.”
Cameron says additional announcements about the festival will be forthcoming, and Washington Pride will soon be soliciting for entertainment and vendors for the city’s inaugural LGBTQ festival.