State Rep. Wendy Ullman, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero in Harrisburg last week | Image courtesy Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus State Rep. Wendy Ullman, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, and state Sen. Steve Santarsiero in Harrisburg last week | Image courtesy Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus

The designation would have coincided with an LGBTQ prom for youth happening this weekend.

“Love is love” has become a common refrain in the fight for LGBTQ equality, and it’s one that is sure to be familiar to the more than 150 LGBTQ and ally teens who are expected to gather in Doylestown this weekend for a special Valentine’s Day-themed prom night.

Despite its universality, however, it’s also a phrase that still riles up opponents of LGBTQ equality, including among some Pennsylvania Republicans. 

Earlier this month, the majority party in the Pennsylvania Senate blocked a resolution that would have designated Feb. 15 as “Love is Love Day,” a measure offered by Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-10). Santarsiero, along with state Rep. Wendy Ullman (D-143) in the House, pursued the unanimous-consent resolution to coincide with the upcoming LGBTQ prom being held by Planned Parenthood’s Rainbow Room, an LGBTQ youth center in his district. 

Surrounded by fellow Democrats, many wearing rainbow pins, Santarsiero held a press conference in Harrisburg Feb. 5 to decry the Republican pushback and call for “respect and dignity” for all Pennsylvanians, including LGBTQ residents. Earlier that day, all Senate Democrats signed onto a joint proclamation, a more informal avenue, celebrating Love is Love Day.  

Santarisero said lawmakers regularly introduce “simple” resolutions like his original measure—often to honor the achievements of constituents or organizations in their districts. 

“I’ve done it many times before and I’ve never encountered an obstacle like this,” he told COURIER. “I suppose it says a lot about how far we still have to go in terms of equality for our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors.” 

The legislator did note that Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman “made a real effort,” in concert with Minority Leader Jay Costa, to bring the original resolution to the floor. 

This isn’t the first time Senate Republicans have blocked an LGBTQ unanimous-consent resolution. For years, Democrats have been stymied in June from bringing forth a resolution to mark LGBTQ Pride Month. 

At last week’s press conference, Santarsiero cited the dismal statistics facing LGBTQ youth today: More than one-third have considered committing suicide in the past year, and 18% have actually attempted it; a staggering 71% report having experienced discrimination because of their LGBTQ identity.  

Those issues are often amplified this time of year, as mainstream society rarely includes LGBTQ individuals in traditional Valentine’s Day celebrations. 

Rainbow Room founder and director Marlene Pray said the Republican response signaled to these young people “that they are not respected or supported, and that their representatives ultimately will not stand up for them, even for something with no teeth to it, but filled with heart, like this resolution.”

Prom organizers planned to have Santarsiero and Ullman present the resolution as a surprise during the event, which will be held at the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. The pair still plan to attend and will present a large rainbow flag from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who unfurled it in Harrisburg after the proclamation was issued. The Bucks County Commissioners will also unveil their own resolution to honor the occasion, and there will also be letters of support shared from Doylestown Borough Council members and the Doylestown mayor.

“The fact that this resolution was blocked is a strong message to all of us of how important it is to celebrate, dance, and join together—and to organize, pay attention, vote, protest, and educate our community and our elected representatives on the realities of our lives,” Pray said.

That includes highlighting that Pennsylvania remains the only state in the Northeast without a law banning LGBTQ discrimination. The long-stalled Fairness Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations; in lieu of state action, many municipalities have moved on their own to outlaw LGBTQ discrimination.

Santarsiero said he believes state lawmakers will eventually follow suit. 

“I have faith that Pennsylvania will eventually land on the right side of history. The question is when,” Santarsiero said. “When will our Republican colleagues realize that this is right, that the wellbeing of thousands of Pennsylvanians is at stake? Pennsylvania needs to pass the Fairness Act, and we’re not stopping until we do.”