PHILADELPHIA—Today, Council passed a package of bills introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large), to promote safety, dignity, and inclusion in the city we all call home.
Trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive people experience significantly increased rates of depression, suicide, and victimization compared to their cisgender peers.
“City Council just took a big step towards making this city safe and affirming for all people,” said Councilmember Gym. “For far too long, trans and nonbinary people have lived with the uncertainty that their jobs and their lives are not protected. Every Philadelphian deserves the right to live their life with dignity. Today, we move closer to that goal.”
The first bill, number 190558, requires youth-serving organizations to implement policy that meets or exceeds the School District’s policy 252 to protect trans and nonbinary young people from discrimination, and goes one step further by requiring regular training for staff who work with our young people. The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers William Greenlee (At-Large), Mark Squilla (District 1), and Derek Green (At-Large).
The second bill, number 190559, requires one gender-neutral bathroom on each floor of City Hall, and better ensures we are fulfilling our obligation to add gender-neutral bathrooms in every new and renovated City-owned building. Testimony highlighted that this is both a civil rights issue of accessibility, and a public health issue of safety. The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers William Greenlee (At Large) and Mark Squilla (1st District).
The third bill, number 190651, amends the city’s anti-discrimination law (Fair Practices Ordinance) to update and expand the definitions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to be more inclusive, ensuring the law clearly protects everyone from discrimination. The law already prohibits discrimination based on gender identity, an important protection not available on the state or federal levels. The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Green (At Large), Greenlee (At Large), Henon (6th District), and Reynolds Brown (At Large).
“As a transgender man, I fully support the provisions of these bills and want to emphasize the importance of being there for every Philadelphian, especially our most marginalized,” said student Camilo Duran. “These bills show our community that the City values and respects one’s gender identity and expression, and that individuals in these communities deserve accessibility and protection in navigating Philadelphia, just as everyone else. We deserve to be supported, valued, and respected, and these bills are a step in the right direction.”
“Many of the more than 1,300 transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents for whom we provide care have experienced bullying at school or in social settings,” said Linda Hawkins and Nadia Dowshen, co-directors of the Sexuality Development Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “When we work with patients, families, and school staff to ensure a better environment for transgender youth in our clinic, and youth can then go to school and learn rather than feeling excluded or discriminated against, we see positive impacts on their health and well-being.”
“When people mis-gender me it can be painful,” said Itzela, a non-binary student and an advocate with Philly Family Pride. “Sometimes, people tell me how hard it is for them to use they/them pronouns. I don’t need to hear that it is hard. I don’t expect people to be perfect, I only ask for people to try, and to respect me for who I am. Because I know that I am supported, I am here to speak for those who are not.”
“Young people are experts on their own lives, and the wisdom of their lived experiences should inform policies that affect them,” said Christina Sorenson, a fellow at the Juvenile Justice Law Center. “However, unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not have a state law specifically protecting all children served by the foster care or juvenile justice systems from discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The bills received supportive testimony from Evan Thornburg, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, who celebrated the demonstration of the city’s commitment to recognizing and protecting all gender identities. Rue Landau, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, also testified in support of the bills, saying they will strengthen protections for some of the most vulnerable Philadelphians.
“Students do best in environments in which they feel connected, supported, and celebrated,” said Policy Director Reynelle Brown Staley, and staff attorney Paige Joki, for the Education Law Center of Philadelphia. “Far too often, LGBTQ students are deprived of opportunities to learn and thrive simply because of who they are. Students’ rights cannot be fully actualized, advanced, or protected when they are denied access to necessary and affirming facilities or are otherwise subject to discrimination.”
“We owe it to every single child in Philadelphia and across the country to provide the very basic human rights outlined in Bill 190558,” said Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. “We must support our young people in every facet of their life, and that includes actively confirming their right to exist on the most fundamental human level.”
“There is a need to protect marginalized Philadelphians,” said Naiymah Sanchez, Trans Justice Coordinator of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Passing bills like these should be a priority, as a city lacking these protections through policy only causes further trauma to a community already oppressed.”
The youth-serving organizations Philadelphia Student Union, Asian Americans United, VietLEAD, and Youth United for Change said in a joint statement, “Philadelphia young people need to be able to thrive anywhere in this City. They need to know that their City stands with them. They need to know that their City does not accept the discrimination they experience. They need to feel supported by the adults leading the City. We believe that these bills will bring us closer to the city that we know Philly is capable of being.”
“At a time when the President of the United States has so consistently targeted our trans and gender non-conforming citizens, it’s more important than ever that Philadelphia stands in solidarity with them to say that our city is a place of sanctuary for trans and gender non-conforming citizens, and all those who face hostility from our President,” said Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “City Council’s support for these bills will send a powerful message of hope and practical support.”
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Photo: City of Philadelphia