A sweeping trans inclusive LGBTQ reform bill passed through a Philadelphia City Council committee this afternoon. The Labor and Civil Services Committee unanimously approved the landmark legislation which provides new transgender inclusive policies, such as the construction of gender neutral bathrooms within new and renovated bathroom facilities in city owned buildings, prohibiting businesses from not allowing patrons to use the bathroom facilities which are consistent with their gender identity, removing gendered terms from city forms, and forbidding employers from not allowing their employees to dress in a way consistent with their gender identity.
This new legislation will amend Philadelphia’s Fair Practice Ordinance, which prohibits, among other things, discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Philadelphia City Council added sexual orientation as a protected class in 1982, and gender identity in 2002. This bill was reintroduced in March by City Council members Jim Kenney and Wilson Goode.
At the legislation hearing, experts on LGBTQ and trans issues spoke about the effect the new legislation will have on both the local economy and the wellbeing of trans citizens. The community leaders who delivered testimony included Nurit Shein (Executive Director, Mazzoni Center), Harvey Hurdle (CEO, Sellers Dorsey), Rue Landau (Executive Director, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations), Joe Grace (Director of Public Policy, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce), and Kathy Padilla (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, Philadelphia International Airport). In his testimony, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, Jason Landau Goodman, said, “Mandated sex segregation only serves to reinforce a binary that strips away the self-determination of people to identify their own gender. If a trans youth in Philadelphia can spend less time enduring the psychological and physical harm of not being able to easily access a restroom – they can be more attentive on schoolwork and becoming a healthy and contributing member of society. The time is now to head toward full inclusion.”
On behalf of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Joe Grace concluded his remarks stating the need for us to interpret the United States Constitution as “gender-blind.”
There was only one testifier critical of the bill. A woman, whose name was not available at the time this post is going live, expressed anger to the Committee that while she understood the plight of trans inclusive health care insurance asserted that there are plenty of other health care and discrimination issues that also deserve City Council’s attention. She explicitly stated her opinion in feeling the only reason this bill was going through committee was because of political pandering to the LGBT community and white privilege. She was specifically critical of white advocates who were able to influence City Council’s agenda due to their privilege; but as a black woman, she was unable to access the political capital necessary to have other issues addressed.
Additionally, the legislation creates two new tax credits for employers. The Life Partner Health Benefits Tax, which provides a tax credit to businesses that offer health insurance to domestic partners’ and children of same sex couples.
The bill will also create the Trans-Care Health Benefits Tax Credit, which benefits businesses which offer health insurance that covers trans-related medical needs, including, “medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria and gender-identity disorder, including office visits, laboratory tests, prescription drugs, hormone treatments, counseling and transitional surgeries necessary for the treatment of either,” as reported in the Philadelphia Gay News.
Having been passed through committee, the legislation will go on to be voted upon by City Council. If passed, it will be one of the most trans friendly city laws in the nation. Legislative Aide to Councilman Kenney, Chris Goy, said to the Philadelphia Gay News, “No other city has gone as far as we have in a state that is as unfriendly to LGBTs as ours,” Goy said. “We talked to LGBT legal experts at the local, state and federal levels and basically asked how far we can push our LGBT rights as a city without violating state law or state Supreme Court rulings and that’s what we’ve done with this bill, and we’re really proud of that. Are we going to be the most LGBT-friendly city in America? No, we can’t be until Pennsylvania and Washington allow us to be. But with so little help from Harrisburg and from the federal government, this is a really big step.”