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In the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Healthcare Equality Index, Philadelphia was among the highest-ranked cities in the country for LGBTQ-friendly medical care. But is the city able to care for its trans population? 

In January, Rob Jordan was tasked with reviving the Pennsylvania chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans and has been building that chapter, which is based in Philadelphia, ever since. At the end of a recent vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Jordan spoke with PGN about why LCR is endorsing President Trump for 2020 and why he voted for Trump in 2016 and will again next year.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office just became more diverse. On Monday, Sept. 9, the DAO welcomed the largest, most diverse class of over 60 new prosecutors, some of whom are members of the LGBT community. Two percent of this year’s recruits identify as nonbinary, over half of the recruits are women and a handful graduated from historically black colleges and universities. Additionally, about 15 percent of the class is from Philadelphia. 

In July, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it would offer a gender designation of “X” on driver’s licenses beginning in 2020, joining 13 other states that have made the same decision.

This week, Jesse Topper (R-Dist. 78) announced plans to introduce a bill preventing that change. Topper told PGN he’s concerned about Real ID requirements, public safety and medical care, adding that the state’s current gender markers refer to sex, not gender.

“If we want to change [state definitions] to gender instead of sex, then that’s a conversation we need to have,” Topper said.“But I believe it’s a distinction when we use sex instead of gender.”.

While driver’s licenses do use the term “sex,” the state vehicle code uses neither “sex” nor “gender.” 

Topper also expressed concern over what federal implications would come from offering an “X” on state-issued identification cards, but federal Real ID requirements require one’s “full legal name, date of birth, and gender,” leaving the definition of gender to states.

Erin Waters-Trasatt, communications director for PennDOT, told PGN in July, “REAL ID requires a gender indicator. An X indicator will meet those requirements as defined by see 37.17(c) of the federal regulations.” 

PennDOT has authority under Section 1510 of the PA Vehicle Code to issue driver’s licenses and ID cards with a gender-neutral designation,” Alexis Campbell, press secretary for PennDOT, said in a statement.

The department of transportation has “clear authority” to offer a gender-inclusive option on driver’s licenses, she said, and it’s part of PennDOT’s “ongoing work to create a licensing product and process that is inclusive of all Pennsylvanians.”

Topper said he doesn’t want this “lumped into bills that want to take on a social cause issue,” and he’s “open to anything, any idea,” that would solve what he said is a discrepancy between sex and gender on ID cards.   

In 2017, Topper introduced H.B. 1933, which is described as, “An Act prohibiting certain benefit packages for children's health care and medical assistance to include gender or sex reassignment surgery or gender or sex transition services.”

“I will introduce legislation that would prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to provide gender or sex reassignment surgery and gender or sex transition services under the medical assistance program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Topper wrote in a memo introducing H.B. 1933. “This legislation would apply to gender or sex reassignment surgery and gender or sex transition services, including but not limited to, physician’s services, inpatient and outpatient hospital services, prescribed drugs or counseling services related to such surgery or services.”

This bill was removed from the State House on Oct. 1, 2018. 

Out State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Dist. 181), who welcomed PennDOT’s decision to offer a gender-inclusive “X” option on drivers licenses in July, released a statement this week regarding Topper’s bill proposal. 

“Sometimes we see really dumb ideas come out of Harrisburg and this bill is a prime example,” Kenyatta said, “Allowing all Pennsylvanians to have an ID that reflects their gender identity is common sense and doesn’t infringe on the rights of anyone else. There is no good reason to block this change from happening, other than to play politics with the lives of those who are already marginalized.”

A 2016 National Center for Transgender Equality survey that included 28,000 transgender respondents found 69 percent of Pennsylvanians said their IDs listed a gender that did not reflect their gender identity. Of the Pennsylvanians who participated in the survey, 30 percent said they’d been verbally harassed, denied service or assaulted after they provided an ID that did not reflect the gender with which they identified. 

Kenyatta said he supports PennDOT and the Wolf administration’s initiative to add an “X” “so that nonbinary, trans and other queer Pennsylvanians have an option that they feel best represents them. This bill should never make it to the floor.”

Undaunted by an unfavorable appellate court ruling, Sherrie Cohen has vowed to ask the state Supreme Court to hear her case for reinstatement to the November 5 ballot as an Independent candidate for Philadelphia City Council.

Last month, Common Pleas Judge Abbe Fletman disqualified Cohen from running for a seat on City Council as an Independent candidate in the general election after having relinquished her primary run as a Democrat. Fletman ruled that March 27 was the deadline for a candidate to voluntarily withdraw from the primary and still be eligible to run in the general election. Cohen didn’t withdraw from the primary until April 18.

On  September 5, Commonwealth Court upheld Fletman’s ruling. The court opined that the nomination petitions Cohen filed as a Democratic candidate weren’t voided in time for her to run as an Independent candidate.

“[Cohen] admittedly filed nomination petitions seeking the Democratic nomination for the office of an at-large seat on the Philadelphia City Council in the May 21, 2019, Municipal Primary Election,” Commonwealth Court’s ruling states. “She also admittedly pursued her candidacy for such office by seeking endorsements and contributions to the point of actually drawing her placement on the Democratic Party ballot for that office in that election. Although she was ultimately granted leave to withdraw as a Democratic Party candidate from the [primary] by the trial court prior to the election, her extensive participation in the nomination process as a Democratic candidate clearly falls within the purview of Section 976(e) [of the election code], which [precludes her from running as an Independent.]”

Cohen, a lesbian, dropped out of the primary race after her former campaign manager made negative comments about Deja Alvarez’s ancestry during a Trans Day of Visibility celebration.

Alvarez ran as a Democrat for an at-large Council seat. Had she won, she would have been the first openly trans member of the municipal governing body. Alvarez is challenging Cohen’s candidacy as an Independent in the general election.

Of Council’s 17 seats, seven are at-large, including two reserved for non-Democrats — which Republicans have historically held. Cohen hopes to fill one of those posts as an Independent.

Cohen’s appeal to Commonwealth Court faulted Fletman for allegedly interpreting the relevant case law on election matters too narrowly.

“All the case law in election cases cites a need for liberal interpretation to keep — if at all possible — a candidate on the ballot. Judge Fletman failed in not using this liberal interpretation, which is so obvious in this case — particularly since Sherrie Cohen, in her nomination papers, had over 8,000 signatures, which is a very significant number of signatures,” Cohen’s appeal stated.

But Commonwealth Court asserted in its ruling: “We are mindful that we must strike a balance between the liberal purposes of the Election Code and the provisions of the Election Code relating to nomination papers that are necessary to prevent fraud and to preserve the integrity of the election process.”

Louis S. Agre, an attorney for Alvarez, agreed with Commonwealth Court’s ruling.

"We think the court made the right decision,” Agre told PGN. “It's a well-written and well-reasoned decision.  I would be very surprised if the state Supreme Court overturns the decision. I think that, at this point, any more appeals would be futile."

Cohen expressed hope that the high court will agree to hear her case.

“I have a large amount of case law in my favor,” Cohen told PGN, “I’m very disappointed with the Commonwealth Court ruling.  It’s a setback for ballot access. It limits the choices available to voters, and it limits the right of candidates to choose in which race to run.”

Oral arguments have been scheduled for next month in an open-records case involving records held at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office relating to the death of Nizah Morris.

Morris, 47, was a trans woman of color who was found with a fractured skull shortly after getting a police “courtesy ride” from the area of 13th and Walnut to 16th and Walnut on Dec. 22, 2002. Her homicide remains unsolved.

In April 2018, trans attorney Julie Chovanes requested all records at the office relating to the Morris case, citing the state’s Right-to-Know Law. Last week, attorneys at the DA’s Office filed a legal brief opposing transparency in the Morris case. The brief was filed two days past its September 3 deadline but was accepted by the court clerk’s office.

Cameron Kline, a spokesperson for the DA’s Office, said the late filing was due to an “error.”

“I spoke with the prosecutor who apologizes for the error, but the reason the filing was late was because they, unfortunately, missed the deadline,” Kline said in an email.

The matter is pending before Common Pleas Court Judge Edward C. Wright, who is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Oct. 17 at 10 a.m. in room 243 of City Hall.

Chovanes’ brief relies heavily on a statement made by DA Larry Krasner during a February 2018 press conference. In response to a question by PGN, Krasner said: “In reference to the Nizah Morris case, which is not a pending criminal matter in this office, as you know. It happened many years ago and charges were not brought, although there was a civil lawsuit around it. I can say a little bit more than I can say about a lot of cases because this is not something that is being prosecuted at this time.”

Chovanes contends that since the DA’s Office isn’t investigating the matter, Morris’s records should be publicly accessible. But, so far, the DA’s Office has declined to release its records to Chovanes, other than a nine-page transcript of 911 recordings transcribed by a PGN reporter and a computer-dispatch record relating to the case.

The DA’s brief emphasizes that the case is an “open” homicide that hasn’t been solved. As a result, its records are confidential. “The case remains open, but there is no pending

prosecution,” the brief states. “The DA’s Office respectfully asks that this appeal be denied because [Chovanes] plainly seeks nonpublic records of a criminal investigation.”

The DA’s brief goes on to state, “All of the records that [Chovanes] seeks in the possession of the DA’s Office are not public records because they are confidential criminal-investigative records.”

Chovanes expressed hope that the records will be released. "I’m deeply interested in this case as a trans citizen of the city, especially in this current environment,” Chovanes told PGN. “Times are getting worse for trans people, not better. And I appreciate that DA Larry Krasner is a noted progressive, but I just hope he does the right thing. We've been waiting 16 years for transparency in the Nizah Morris case. That's long enough."

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