One of the little known facts about Pittsburgh is that, despite Pennsylvania’s failure to protect its LGBTQIA+ residents with State laws, the City actually steps up. QueerPGH talked to Megan Stanley from the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, a law enforcement agency that investigates complaints of discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
QueerPGH: Thank you for talking to us. First of all, could you tell us who you are and what your role is in the City of Pittsburgh government?
Stanley: The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations is the official civil rights agency for anyone living in, working in, or visiting the City. We enforce civil rights laws and investigate complaints of discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. Complaints can be made to our office up to 365 days after the date of harm (which can take many forms). We are an independent city agency, meaning that we are not part of the mayoral administration and can investigate the City as an employer and a housing provider. We are overseen by a group of 15 commissioners, who represent a wide spectrum within the city (both geographically and professionally).
QueerPGH: So, we know that there are no protections for LGBTQIA+ tenants on the Federal or State level, but can you tell me about the laws/guidelines on the City level?
Stanley: You are correct that at the Federal level there are only seven protected classes; however, in the City code we now currently cover 12 classes (and can always add more to legislation when problems are brought to our attention). The current protected classes in housing include: race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, familial status, handicap or disability or use of support animals because of the handicap or disability of the user, or actual or perceived status as a victim of domestic violence. Anyone who feels they were treated unfairly based on any of these characteristics, in the City of Pittsburgh in the last 365 days, is encouraged to call or email our office to get more information about filing a complaint.
The State commission DOES take sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression complaints, they just file them under the basis of sex. So, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both took steps to clarify these protections with their own definitions in the legislation, but the state is taking complaints on those bases and rolling them into the “sex” protected class basis. However, state legislators were unwilling to amend the actual law, so it could be challenged in court. Also a lot of people (myself included) are unsure of how this plays out and how often they find discrimination based on this. Additionally, if it happens in Allegheny County, their commission does explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
QueerPGH: Does this mean you can’t be evicted or otherwise discriminated against for being queer or trans in the City of Pittsburgh, at least with regard to housing?
Stanley:Simply put, you cannot be subjected to different terms, conditions, or treatments, based on any of the above listed protected classes, including sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This would include eviction, which must be based on a violation of the lease terms, and not motivated (even in part) by discriminatory intent. You also cannot be given different lease terms than your neighbors who are of a different protected class. For example, if neighbor X has a standard lease, but your lease includes extra clauses with noise restrictions, different payment dates, etc., your landlord is likely subjecting you to different treatment, which is enough for the Commission to investigate the claim. There are also more overt things like being charged more in rent once your landlord finds out your LGBTQIA+ status, so we encourage people to contact our office whenever they feel there is a suspicious temporal connection to a landlord or property owner learning of your protected class status and a negative action being taken.
QueerPGH: How many cases of anti-LGBTQIA+ housing discrimination do you typically get?
Stanley:Sexual orientation or gender identity/expression discrimination are not our most common reasons for housing complaints, but we have gotten them in the past. I think if more people knew that they had these protections, we would probably see an increase in the number of complaints. This means that we need to do a better job in the outreach/education realm to make sure all residents of Pittsburgh know their rights, and all landlords know their responsibilities.
QueerPGH: What should someone do if they feel they have been the victim of this kind of discrimination?
Stanley:First, contact our office to ensure you have a timely filing date and meet jurisdictional requirements (in City boundaries, harm in the past year). It’s also important to keep a record of everything that you feel may be discriminatory, whether that be an offhand comment, denial of a unit you are qualified for, or a change in lease terms. Text messages and contemporaneous notes also count as evidence and can help us in the investigative process. Residents should also know that any time they file a complaint, they are protected against retaliation and action cannot be taken against them by a housing provider simply for exercising their rights under the Fair Housing Act.
QueerPGH: Do you know, offhand, if there are protections in place for people who live outside the City limits?
Stanley: Anyone who lives in a county outside of the city would make a complaint to the PA Human Relations Commission. Unfortunately, they do not currently have protections for sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. I would encourage everyone to get as involved as they can and attend the PHRC public meetings to voice the need for these protections at the State level, so that our neighbors in the county can enjoy equal protections!
This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.