2013 was a historic year for the national LGBTQ justice movement. In Pennsylvania, we had an extremely productive year filled with local and state policy wins. We also experienced devastating violence and setbacks both from within and toward the LGBTQ community. Here, the KSV highlights 13 of the most captivating stories of LGBTQ Pennsylvania in 2013!
WIN = Philadelphia Adopts Strongest Local Trans Rights Law in the Nation
Councilman Jim Kenney (Center) speaks at a Committee hearing on the ordinance
(PGN/Scott A. Drake)
Philadelphia City Council adopted what has been hailed as the strongest local protection law for transgender people in the United States. The bill, introduced by Councilman Bill Kenney, was adopted in April 2013 with a 14-3 vote. It includes sweeping reforms for the city: two new tax credits for employers which provide trans-friendly healthcare insurance coverage, a requirement that all new and renovated City-owned buildings have gender-neutral bathrooms, a provision which prohibits businesses from not allowing patrons to use the bathroom facilities which are consistent with their gender identity, the removal of gendered terms from city forms, and a prohibition of employers denying their workers the right to dress in a way consistent with their gender identity. The City of Philadelphia once again received a perfect 100 in the LGBTQ-friendliness rating by the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
FAIL = Anti-Transgender Discrimination in School: Issak Wolfe and Kasey Caron
Issak Oliver Wolfe
Red Lion Senior High School student Issak Oliver Wolfe faced horrible transphobic discrimination from his school district. Issak’s school in York County denied him the opportunity to run for Prom King, tried to not allow him to go to prom with his girlfriend, was forcing him to wear a girl’s gown for graduation, and insisted upon reading his former name at the commencement ceremony. Through his advocacy in challenging this discrimination, he attended his prom with his girlfriend and wore the male gown for graduation. His former name was still read when he walked across the dais.
In September, a similar incident occurred in Johnstown at Richland Senior High School. Kasey Caron was denied the opportunity to run for Homecoming King by his school because he is transgender. He organized with community leaders and students to protest this decision, and brought national attention to the lack of resources for LGBTQ students within his district. Though the school board would not allow Kasey to run for Homecoming King, he was able to establish a GSA at his school, creating the first GSA in the Johnstown area.
WIN = Pittsburgh Adopts Equal Benefits Bill for City Contractors
The Pittsburgh City Council adopted an ordinance on July 23, 2013 that will require all city contractors receiving over $250,000 from the City to provide equal employee benefits for same-sex couples. Out Councilman Bruce Kraus introduced and led the passage of the legislation, which was unanimously adopted. Philadelphia adopted a similar ordinance in 2011.
FAIL = Equality Federation Shames and Silences Pennsylvania LGBTQ Youth
In July, the Equality Federation removed the Executive Director of PSEC from an open community meeting on nondiscrimination in Harrisburg, simply for arriving to the meeting as a young person. This was the first time a national organization participated in such an adultist action in Pennsylvania. The Equality Federation had no public comment following the incident.
WIN = Governor Tom Corbett Comes Out to Support LGBTQ Nondiscrimination
In December, following the Pennsylvania Society’s annual gala, Governor Tom Corbett announced his support for the nondiscrimination legislation that would protect LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. It was reported in the Philadelphia Gay News that his public statement was the result of a meeting spearheaded by PGN’s Mark Segal following the slew of anti-marriage equality remarks he made earlier this year. Every Governor since 1975 has re-authorized Gov. Milton Shapp’s executive order banning discrimination against LGBTQ state employees (the orders were limited to sexual orientation until Gov. Ed Rendell’s re-authorization in 2003 – and have since been inclusive of gender identity as well).
FAIL = Rep. Mike Fleck Shoved Into Closet by Victory Fund
Rep. Mike Fleck
(The New York Times)
It was revealed in a December interview with Rep. Mike Fleck in the Philadelphia Gay News that he was strongly urged by the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to remain in the closet until 2013. The Keystone Student Voice and Washington Blade reported further on this situation in revealing their actions were potentially motivated by a former board member who was running for a Pennsylvania House seat on the explicit platform of being the first openly gay state legislator. If Rep. Mike Fleck came out before the new legislative session began in 2013, he would lose the title. Both now-Rep. Brian Sims and the Victory Fund provided vague public statements to the Washington Blade and neither outright denied that these actions took place.
WIN = PASS Act Backed by an Equally Bi-Partisan 98 Co-Sponsors
The PA Safe Schools Act, HB 156, secured a total of 98 Co-Sponsors in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives – with 49 Republicans and 49 Democrats. The PASS Act is a critically needed anti-bullying bill to strengthen our state’s weak and antiquated safe schools law. This is the most number of co-sponsors on any safe schools bill in state history.
FAIL = Bucks County Schools Fail LGBTQ Employees:
FAIL = Holy Ghost Preparatory Fires Teacher;
FAIL = Central Bucks Denies Equal Employee Benefits
A suburban Philadelphia all-boys Catholic High School terminated the employment of Michael Griffin when he applied for a New Jersey marriage license with his longtime partner. Griffin, who is an alumnus of Holy Ghost, was a very popular teacher at the school. While the administration was aware of his sexual orientation over his 12 year tenure, they deemed his getting married as unacceptable. In response, the petitions were launched and LGBTQ Catholic students across Pennsylvania wrote joint letter to the school in support of Griffin.
Central Bucks School District, centered on Doylestown, initially denied the request of a teacher to include her wife on her school sponsored health care insurance. The teacher had legally wed her wife in Delaware in 2013 – and the district had adopted a nondiscrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation almost a decade earlier. Many residents of Central Bucks were outraged at the School Board’s decision and spoke out at several meetings. The Board reversed their decision in December and will no offer equality employee benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
WIN = Pittston and Bristol Adopt Local Nondiscrimination Ordinances
The City Council of Pittston, in Luzerne County, unanimously adopted a LGBTQ inclusive local nondiscrimination ordinance on May 28, 2013. As well, the Borough Council of Bristol in Bucks County adopted an inclusive ordinance on September 9, 2013. This now brings the total number of Pennsylvania municipalities with this ordinance to 32, which covers 31% of the state population.
HB 300 and SB 300, the leading LGBTQ nondiscrimination bills in the General Assembly, were introduced in August 2013 and have a record number of co-sponsors – totaling 94 House members and 25 Senate members.
WIN/FAIL = Boy Scouts Accept Gay Youth, Continue Ban on Gay Adult Leaders
The Boy Scouts of America voted on May 23, 2013, to end their controversial policy banning openly gay scouts from the organization. The new resolution reads, “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.” Over 60% of the 1,400 delegates in the National Council’s voted to remove the ban. The change will take effect on January 1, 2014. The ban on gay adult leaders is still in effect.
WIN = National Center for Transgender Equality to Hire Pennsylvania Organizer
The National Center for Transgender Equality announced that they will be hiring a trans rights organizer for Pennsylvania, who will start in January 2014. This is the first time Pennsylvania will have a transgender justice-specific organizer on the state level.
WIN = Federal Marriage Equality Suits Filed in Pennsylvania;
WIN = Why Marriage Matters PA Launched
Following the US Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the legality of Pennsylvania’s “mini-DOMA.” The 23 plaintiffs sued several parties with state and local governmental agencies, including the Governor and Attorney General. AG Kathleen Kane declined to defend the state in this case in July, and the Governor was replaced as a defendant in the case with the State Secretary of Revenue in the fall. A trial date has been set for June 2014 in the US Circuit Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, located in Harrisburg.
In December 2013, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Freedom to Marry joined forces to launch the Why Marriage Matters PA campaign to support education and outreach across the state in anticipation of the trial. Over 100 community organizations across the commonwealth have endorsed the campaign.
Several additonal marriage equality cases were filed in Pennsylvania following the historic Supreme Court decision. One of them involves Montgomery County Register of Wills Bruce Hanes, who began issuing marriage licensees after the federal court issued its ruling. He was eventually barred from doing so by the Commonwealth Court, and those that were already issued are have been considered invalid. However, his case is currently being appealed in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Who We Gained
It was a big year for celebrities coming out, and our already open national icons championing monumental advancements toward justice. Pennsylvania is not shy in being the home state of many famous LGBTQ people. Here are a few who shared with the world who they are in 2013.
Born and raised in Norristown, Montgomery County, Bello came out as in a relationship with a woman in a powerful editorial published in the New York Times. Maria is an alumna of Archbishop John Carroll High School, in Radnor, and Villanova University – both in Delaware County.
Although he was born in England, the Prison Break star graduated from Quaker Valley Senior High School in Sewickley, PA. He moved to the Pittsburgh suburb for high school and has roots in the state. Wentworth came out in September in the process of refusing to attend an event in Russia due to its harsh anti-LGBTQ laws.
(The New York Times)
A native Philadelphian, Edie rocked the nation this year with a triumphant victory in the Supreme Court as the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down. She graduated from Girls’ High School and Temple University in Philadelphia, before moving to New York City.
(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
While Raven is technically from Atlanta, Georgia, she spent her childhood portraying Olivia Kendall on the Cosby Show, whose creator and star, Bill Cosby, is a fierce Philadelphian. Raven recently finished her Broadway debut, starring as Deloris van Cartier in the Sister Act on Broadway, which is set in Philadelphia. After years of speculation and pushing away the media from her personal life, Raven came out without fanfare through Twitter in August.
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Jennifer Finney Boylan, a long-time GLAAD Board Member and transgender rights advocate, was appointed as the Co-Chair of GLAAD this fall. She is one of the first trans people to helm a Board of Directors of a national LGBTQ organization. Boylan was born in raised on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, and is currently a professor at Colby College in Maine. She is a national bestselling author and regular contributor to several major media outlets including the New York Times.
Who We Lost
We faced another devastating year of violence against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.
Vigil for Kyra Cordova in 2012
(Justice for Kyra)
In July, we mourned the loss of 31 year old Diamond Williams. She was a transwoman who was brutally killed in Philadelphia. Charles Sargent, 43, has been charged for her murder and is in police custody.
During the early morning hours of October 6, 2013, Ben Stoviak was the target of violence outside the Remedy Bar in Pittsburgh. His story was shared across the nation as an upsetting case of street harassment and an example of a hate crime.
There were also multiple assaults this year in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. In October, a 29 year old woman was violently raped, beaten, and robbed. In the same week, on the same block of 1200 St. James Street, Nick Forte was severely bashed and robbed outside Voyeur nightclub as he was heading home. Two men, including a former Voyeur employee, have been charged as the assailants.
The Keystone Student Voice wishes you a fantastic New Years,
and a 2014 that advances Pennsylvania toward the justice of all.