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"I now commend the bill to the House and the House to history." So ended the four-hour debate on the House floor on the most important civil rights legislation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Rep. Jerry Nadler, who had chaired the debate called the vote for HR5, also known as the Equality Act.

The bill will protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

In its current form, the bill was first introduced in 2015. It is sponsored by Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in the House and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prioritized passage of the legislation, which now heads to the U.S. Senate.

In a sweeping assent from the Democratic Party, the bill passed 236-173. Eight Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), joined 228 Democrats in passing the legislation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called one of the most historic bills in American history.

The bill faces likely defeat in the Senate where Democrats do not have the votes for passage. On May 13 a senior aide to President Trump said he was against the bill, signaling veto even if the Senate were to pass it.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming support in the House was a historic event because it marked the first time the legislation had gotten a full vote in Congress.

In an emotional speech, Hoyer said, "It’s a shame that the House is not full and the gallery not packed with people because this is an historic day."

Hoyer said that the Civil Rights Act and the ADA were voted in through bipartisan actions. He said, "Every Democrat will vote for this bill. The Equality Act is about America. It’s about who we are and what we believe."

Rep. John Lewis, one of the great Civil Rights icons in American history spoke with eloquence and passion. "Today is May 17. On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled on Brown versus Topeka Board of Education. I remember that day," Lewis said, his voice rising. "I was 17 years old. I thought I would be attending desegregated schools. It never happened for me. Today we have the opportunity to cast this vote and set all of our people free."

The floor erupted into spontaneous applause.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX18), another leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, read from a pocket copy of the Constitution. Lee said the bill had been "germinating for five years plus." In response to Republicans who asserted that the bill harms religious freedom, Lee said, "Religious liberty is not dead but it is alive. This bill stands up for transgender people denied the right to serve in the U.S. military, stands up for transgender women killed in my area of the South."

Lee held up a pocket version of the Constitution and asserted, "the Constitution will be alongside of the Equality Act. The Civil Rights Act will stand alongside for fair housing and accommodations and no matter who you are in this country you will have this act."

Lee urged people in the religious community to vote for the Equality Act.

Newly elected Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA04) said simply, "This is a historic day, I am proud to be a part of it" as she urged everyone to vote for the bill.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Caucus, quoted from the Declaration of Independence, noting, "these words are incomplete in their application." Jeffries cited "the legendary Barbara Jordan," a black lesbian member of the House, and her observation that those words "did not apply to African-Americans, to people of color, to Native Americans, to women, to the LGBTQ community."

Jeffries said, "If you truly believe in liberty and justice for all, support the quality act, if you truly believe in equal protection under the law and if you truly believe that we are created equally under the law, we are all God’s children. Love does not discriminate and neither should the law, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Most of the Republicans who spoke, claimed the bill would harm both religious freedom and women’s rights. Rep. Ross Stano (R-FL15) said he was a "proud Christian" and spoke about the "fundamental importance" of the First Amendment, quoting Coretta Scott King to undermine the bill.

Rep James Comer (R-KY-01) and Rep Bradley Byrne (R-AL01) focused on women’s sports. Both said they were "deeply troubled" that there would be "unintended consequences–serious, harmful consequences" by eradicating all protections based on gender and subverting them to gender identity. Comer said the Equality Act "delivers a serious blow to one and totally redefines the other."

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO04) insisted, "a vote for this bill is a vote against women." Describing herself as a former teacher and coach, she made a detailed case that teams and even the Olympics would be "recruiting men who identify as women" to "win medals." She deconstructed how all of women’s sports would become "men competing as women" and repeatedly referred to trans women athletes as men pretending to be women in order to win easily against female competitors instead of men. "Men are taking home the Gold in women’s sports," she said.

Hartzler claimed, "In case after case, men competing as women are out-competing, out-cycling, out-running, out–fighting women. Welcome to the brave new world of HR5."

Hartzler added, "Women’s scholarships would be ended by HR5" and declared the Equality Act "Devastating legislation."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX01) quoted Antonin Scalia and said, "Gender dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria." Gohmert invoked images of rape victims "triggered" by being forced to share public bathrooms "with men" and battered women forced to share shelters with men.

But Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX29) said the Equality Act would mean having "explicit protections for LGBTQ people for the first time–first time. Finally in Texas when we say ‘y’all’ we will mean you all."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose district includes San Francisco, was smiling and beaming as she laid out a history of anti-gay legislation that had been overturned. She referenced longtime lesbian activists and San Franciscans Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons as "an inspiration to many of us" who had taught her and many others about the need for comprehensive civil rights for LGBTQ people.

Pelosi said, "Tolerance–that’s a condescending word to me. Respect. That’s what we need."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD08) invokes Abraham Lincoln and the original Civil Rights Act which he said passed in 1964, 334-85. "We brought down the walls of segregation. Today is a triumphant and glorious moment for the House and the United States of America. Let us finally bring down the walls of discrimination against all Americans. Let us vote

for this bill."

LGBTQ activist groups argue that federal law should shield LGBTQ people from discrimination, because bans on sex discrimination should extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been the basis for all discrimination lawsuits in recent years.

HRC President Chad Griffin said, "Today's historic vote is a major milestone for equality and sends a powerful and profound message to LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ youth, that the U.S. House has their backs. No one’s rights should depend on which side of a state or city line they live on, and today we took a giant step forward in our journey toward full equality. This historic victory would not have been possible without the millions of LGBTQ people and our allies who organized, mobilized and turned out to elect a pro-equality majority in 2018.

“Now, we will take our fight to the U.S. Senate and turn up the pressure on Leader McConnell to allow a vote on this crucial legislation. And we won’t slow down in working to turn out the 10 million eligible LGBTQ voters and our millions more allies to elect a pro-equality president in 2020 who will sign the Equality Act into law."

A majority of people in every state support laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in jobs, housing, education and public accommodations. This applies even in red states in the Deep South.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

LGBTQ groups are claiming victory following Google’s decision Thursday to stop offering an app by a ministry that included material considered “ex-gay” involving conversion therapy, which is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation.

The group Truth Wins Out has been at the forefront in the fight against the practice.

“Today is a major victory for those who want to protect LGBTQ youth from charlatans,” said Wayne Besen, Philadelphia resident and founder of Truth Wins Out. “We have clearly sent the message that dangerous and discredited products designed to ‘pray away the gay’ have no home on mainstream online stores.”

Philadelphia’s primary election will be held in two months — but much of the groundwork was completed this week.

And for two of the three LGBTQ candidates running for at-Large City Council seats, it was especially fruitful: They received prime ballot spots — a factor that, while randomly drawn, is considered the most important determinant of success in a crowded race.

An LGBTQ judicial candidate, however, has had his petition challenged.

March 19 was the last day to file objections to nomination petitions, and there were dozens. One was that of LGBTQ candidate Henry Sias, who is running for judge for the Court of Common Pleas.

Sias’ nomination papers are being challenged by John Hanssens, Jr. and Brian Eddis, according to the Commonweath Court docketHanssens is the Democratic committeeperson for Ward 23, Div. 10, along with a John Hanssens III. Eddis is the Democratic leader of the entire 63rd Ward. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for March 27, here in Philadelphia.

Unofficially, the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners, acting as the County Board of Elections, reported 93 people are running for mayor, City Council, sheriff, register of wills and city commissioner — assuming they survive any challenges.

The number of signatures needed on each petition depends on the office. In citywide races — for mayor, City Council at-Large, city commissioner, sheriff and register of wills — the number is 1,000. For Council districts, the number is 750.

The signatures must be from registered voters of the political party, living in the location the eventual winner of the election will be serving.

Candidates who have a change of heart — usually due to challengers with more signatures and campaign money — have until March 27 to withdraw their names from the ballot.

Each candidate who filed nomination petitions draws a lot to determine their ballot position for that office. The city commissioners go through the candidate list for each office by filing date until all candidates for that office have drawn. The candidate who filed his/her nomination petition draws his/her lot first. Then, when each candidate for the office has drawn, the commissioners go on to the next office.

Finally, candidates draw numbered bingo balls from a coffee can to determine the order of the important ballot positions, so they’re decided at random. The coffee can has traditionally been from Horn & Hardart, which was noted for operating the first food service automat in Philadelphia. The can now has its own Facebook and Twitter pages.

Mayor Jim Kenney is being challenged by two other Democrats — former City Controller Alan Butkovitz and current state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. The primary winner will face Billy Ciancaglini, a South Philadelphia lawyer and the sole Republican candidate, in November.

Forty-one people are running for seven Council at-Large seats: 34 Democrats and seven Republicans, five of whom are incumbents. Blondell Reynolds Brown and Bill Greenlee will not be running.

January 2019 — Philadelphia city council sees its first trans candidate

Openly LGBTQ candidates running for seats are Adrian Rivera Reyes, a cancer biologist, who will get the top spot, and Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender woman, will be second. Sherrie Cohen, the lesbian daughter of late Philadelphia Councilman David Cohen, garnered the 17th position out of 34 Democrats running for at-Large seats.

December 2018 — Cohen runs for council for the third time

In the 10 Council districts, all members are running for reelection, but 27 candidates want to replace them. Two Council members — District 6’s Bobby Henon (D) and District 10’s Brian O’Neill (R) — have no primary challengers. Henon faces federal corruption charges.

Openly LGBT candidate Lauren Vidas is challenging District 2 Council member Kenyatta Johnson in the primary. Johnson served as a state representative from 2009-12, when he became a Council member. Vidas was a legislative aide for City Council and successfully sued Mayor Michael Nutter to prevent him from closing numerous library branches. Mayor Nutter then hired her to serve as an assistant finance director. District 2 covers parts of Center City, South and Southwest Philadelphia, down to the stadium area, Philadelphia International Airport and the Navy Yard.

Another openly LGBT candidate, Daniel “Duke” Orsino, will run as the Republican in District 1 in November. Incumbent Mark Squilla, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Lou Lanni in the primary.

No LGBTQ person has ever held a Philadelphia City Council seat.

There are 14 candidates running for three city commissioner seats, four others running to become sheriff, and three candidates running for register of wills.

Voters will also be selecting six judges to serve on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for 10-year terms. There are 40 candidates.

December 2018 — Out candidates run for common pleas court

The Victory Fund has endorsed the three LGBT Democratic candidates: Wade Albert, Tiffany Palmer and Sias.

The Philadelphia Bar Association’s Commission on Judicial Selection and Retention investigates judicial candidates’ qualifications. It has not released any ratings yet, but individual candidates are notified and Tiffany Palmer received a “Highly Recommended” merit rating. She reports she’s the first candidate to do so since the 2015 electoral cycle.

The commissioners meet every Wednesday at 11 a.m. in City Hall Room 387.

The deadline to register to vote is April 22. You can register at https://www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/Pages/VoterRegistrationApplication.aspx.

 Since time began, people have been playing bingo with their friends in basements, gymnasiums and church halls.

To be historically correct, it was originally called “beano” and players covered numbers on their cards with beans. But whatever you call it, the game has been a staple in the United States for centuries.

Fast forward to 1999. A few years prior to that, AIDS Fund Philly had been raising money through GayBINGO! with marked success, but wanted to step it up a notch.

Accusations came out this week against The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia's independent LGBTQ youth center, claiming an alleged sexual assault against a minor occurred on its premises, and racism was rampant among its staff.

The allegations were first posted March 4, on the Facebook page of the Black & Brown Workers Co-op.

 Few people can simply be famous for being famous, by their wholeheartedness and friendliness. Donald Carter was one of those rare people.

He was found dead Feb. 25 in his West Philadelphia apartment. Early reports indicate he had suffered a massive heart attack. Carter was 69.

William Way Community Center (WWCC) executive director Chris Bartlett remembered Carter’s intelligence and appearance.

“I have a very warm spot in my heart for Donald, who always showed up at every community event in his suit, tie and scarf,” Bartlett said.

Not many mayors make national headlines, and those who do often do for the wrong reasons, as Philadelphia residents who remember Wilson Goode will attest. Pete Buttigieg has so far not been one whose national headlines have been unfortunate.

Buttigieg, 37, spoke on Feb. 19 at the Free Library in Philadelphia, ostensibly to promote his new book, “Shortest Way Home.” However, the crowd that packed the Free Library’s almost-400 seat auditorium didn’t come to see the young Democratic mayor of modest South Bend, Ind. They came to see the country’s first openly gay Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

The police continue to investigate Sunday’s violent attack on a 50-year-old gay man outside the Toasted Walnut at 13th and Walnut Streets.

The investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s office is ongoing, and officials say they will not be making any determinations until the inquiry is concluded.

The examination of the case has been complicated by the retraction of statements by an individual who claimed to have been an eyewitness to the events.

In an interview on Jan. 30, Josh Schonewolf, a bartender at the Toasted Walnut, told PGN he witnessed a gaybashing in front of the club on Jan. 27. Schonewolf had given an on-camera interview with a similar account to WPVI/6ABC the day before. At 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, Schonewolf contacted PGN to retract his account of the incident. He told PGN at that time, “I never went outside during the altercation.”

Shortly thereafter, on the nightly broadcast of Action News on WPVI/6ABC, anchor Jim Gardner issued a retraction of ABC’s story. The news program’s original report was removed from its website on Feb. 1. Reporter Trish Hartman wrote a new story headlined "Witness to Center City attack retracts his statement," datelined Feb. 1, 7:13 a.m.

PGN also removed its initial online report, after Schonewolf contacted PGN to retract his story. The original story also appeared in the print version of the newspaper.

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Schonewolf, who had originally posted his account of witnessing the assault to Facebook, put up a new post in which he said, “I jumped the gun, plain and simple ... I never saw a car, and I never saw the altercation itself happen.”

Schonewolf says in the post that he only witnessed the end of the altercation from the bar, which looks out onto the street.

“I was just trying to help catch the guys who I thought committed a gay bashing & punched one of my friends."

Sources close to the investigation affirmed to PGN on Feb. 1 that Schonewolf had not been outside the Toasted Walnut during the attack. As PGN reported originally, general manager Rocco DeFinis did go outside and attempted to break up the fight. He was struck during the melee. He declined medical attention, as reported and was not the subject of the attack, as has been rumored on social media.

The facts of the case remain murky. Security footage is being evaluated by both the PPD and the District Attorney’s office to determine what transpired and how best to address the incident.

Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs, has been monitoring the investigation since it was first reported to the police. On Feb. 1, she issued the following statement to PGN: "Over the past few days our office has been working with police to get more details on the assault that happened Sunday night in the Gayborhood. After reviewing the evidence of the incident and speaking with the witnesses and complainant, Sunday evening’s incident does not appear to be a hate crime.

“The complainant and witnesses have confirmed that no homophobic slurs were uttered during the altercation and the assault was not motivated by bias or homophobia.”

The statement continued, “Initial accounts indicating that the complainant was randomly targeted and assaulted because of his sexuality are false. The police investigation of Sunday’s incident is ongoing."

PGN also spoke with Toasted Walnut owner Denise Cohen on Feb. 1. Cohen, well known in the community for her various club operations, including Sisters, shared her concerns over the incident. She was upset that anyone had been injured in the Gayborhood, including her employee, DeFinis, who she clarified was not targeted, nor the subject of the attack, but was merely trying to help the victim in the incident.

Cohen declined to comment directly, saying only that "The police are investigating and we really want to leave it to them."

Another source familiar with the investigation told PGN that the attack appeared to be random, but not a gaybashing and was not related to the Toasted Walnut.

PGN contacted the PPD again and were told there is "no update at this time." The PPD still has not released the victim’s name.

The PPD Office of Media Affairs gave PGN the following statement about the assault: "On Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019 at approximately 10:52 p.m., police responded to the 1300 block of Walnut Street for a person screaming. A 50-year-old male victim was assaulted by four male defendants and one female defendant. The defendants fled in a vehicle prior to police arrival. The victim was transported to Jefferson University Hospital by medic unit for head injury and is listed in stable condition. This investigation is active and ongoing with Central Detectives Division. Offenders and vehicle make unknown at this time."

Schonewolf declined to speak further with PGN, but said in his Facebook post that, "I’m sorry to anyone this has affected," which would include PGN, to whom he gave a false account of the attack.

What remains true about Schonewolf’s initial interview with PGN is that violence against LGBTQ people has risen dramatically under the current administration, which has instituted many anti-gay and anti-trans policies. In November 2018, the FBI released new statistics showing victims targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity made up nearly 17 percent of all hate crime victims — an increase of more than 5 percent over the previous year.

This remains an evolving news story. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Sixth District at 215-686-3060.

 

 

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