Advocacy and Visibility
Neither Pennsylvania nor federal law specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Within Pennsylvania there have been steps at the local level and through executive authority to push for protections and equality. Harrisburg is the first municipality in PA and among the first in the nation, March 9, 1983, to pass an antidiscrimination ordinance that includes both categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, progress for protections never reached beyond individual municipalities until two decades after Harrisburg passed its ordinance.
On July 28, 2003 Governor Edward Rendell, through an executive order, extended antidiscrimination protections to cover gender identity for state employees. The extension altered the order issued by Governor Milton Shapp in 1975. The action taken
by Governor Rendell can be connected with the growing movement within Pennsylvania and nation around transgender identities. The organizing, community building, and advocacy started by Renaissance and individuals in the 1980s was
producing results by the early 2000s.
Not only were legal protections slowly expanding in the state and at the local level, but also the visibility and recognition of transgender individuals. A first in the nation occurred when Alberta Hamm, a 60 year old and a transgender woman, was elected President of Harrisburg Area Community College’s Student Government Association. She was the first transgender individual in the nation to attain the Presidency of a college or university student government body. Serving as President from Spring 2002 to Spring 2004 she sought to reorganize the student government, improve the budget, and handle campus diversity issues.
Even with these successes of the early 2000s obstacles were still present for those wishing to receive equal rights and the ability to facilitate gender transition, if applicable.