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T wo weeks ago, a group of young men and women savagely beat a gay couple in Center City . The attack, which left one of the gay men hospitalized, reportedly began with the group calling out homophobic slurs . Three suspects have now been charged , and while we don’t know all of the details yet, one thing is clear: This was violence motivated by hate.

But no one will be charged with a hate crime.

Here at Penn, it’s easy to see a thriving LGBT community and think that we’ve won the battle for equality. But if you look beyond campus, even just to the city around us, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Pennsylvania is one of just 14 states with hate crime laws that do not include protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community . Hate crime protection increases the severity of charges for violence motivated by malicious intent , and these laws protect the people in our community who are the most vulnerable. It is inexcusable that the LGBT community is not protected.

Pennsylvania did include protections for violence motivated by gender and sexual orientation beginning in 2002, but in 2008 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down these provisions on a technicality. It’s time to get this vital law back on the books.

Only 18 states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity , and Pennsylvania is not one of them. This means that here in our own state, there’s nothing to stop an employer from firing an employee based solely on their sexual identity.

There are bills in the State House and Senate to end this discrimination, bills that even Governor Corbett supports, but they are not yet law. We have to push our state legislators to pass these bills and ensure that employers can’t discriminate based on whom their employees love or which gender they identify with.

Fortunately, we’ve made strides on the national level — a majority of the population favors same-sex marriage , the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Congress repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

But here in Pennsylvania we still have a long way to go.

Even though a federal district court finally brought marriage equality to Pennsylvania in May, we have a governor who compares same-sex marriage to incest and a state legislature that refuses to protect its citizens. Until that changes, we’re relegating an entire segment of our population to second-class citizenship.

But it’s going to take more than new politicians to fix deeper social problems. It’s going to take a culture shift led by proud activists. It’s going to take our generation’s support, time and effort, or we won’t see any real change. And we have to see change, because this is an issue that affects our generation disproportionately.

In the workplace, only five percent of LGBT workers age 18 to 24 are “out” about their sexual and gender identity, compared to 32 percent of those age 35 to 44 , according to the Human Rights Campaign. Because they’re younger and less established in the office, many in our generation likely feel pressured to remain closeted, hiding a part of their identity from their coworkers and peers.

And just getting into that workplace is more difficult for young LGBT activists. A recent Equal Rights Center study sent two resumes to 100 companies — “Michelle” was less qualified and listed either environmental or women’s rights activism, while “Jennifer” was more qualified and listed her LGBT activism. Even though Jennifer was more qualified, Michelle was invited to interview more frequently. The LGBT applicant was 23 percent less likely to receive a call-back . This kind of discrimination is deep-seated and can’t just be fixed with legislation. We all must take an individual stand against these unacceptable biases.

The bottom line is this: No one should be denied the most basic protections solely because of outdated hate and prejudice.

On election day, it’s up to us to make sure our lawmakers share our values and our commitment to social justice and equal rights for every member of our community. Staying silent is not an opt ion.

Penn Democrats is a student-run political organization dedicated to promoting progressive political values on and off campus through dialogue and action. They can be reached at

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