Once again, Philadelphia has come out on top of the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, which is especially appropriate in light of the progress made this year on Council Jim Kenney’s LGBT-rights bill, as well as SEPTA’s removal of gender stickers (which was influenced by a City Council resolution calling for the policy change). Many would believe that we have “maxed out” on what we can do. However, as someone who was deeply involved with those two developments this year, I have to say, we aren’t done yet.
Perhaps the current low-hanging fruit is urging the Philadelphia Prison System to amend its policies to allow transgender people to be placed in a gender-appropriate wing of the jail, to definitively allow hormone treatment and to allow gender-appropriate commissary items on both sides. Currently, inmates are classified based on genitalia in Philadelphia; other locales, such as Washington, D.C., Illinois and even Texas, have county jail systems that are sensitive to trans inmates’ needs. Gender self-determination in jails and prisons is not a radical concept; the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act mandates that transgender inmates not be placed based on genitalia alone, under pain of reduced federal funding. It’s time for the Philadelphia Prison System to step up and affirm that biology isn’t destiny, an important first step that could be a model for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to follow.
Another issue that can be addressed is getting tough on subsidized discrimination. Sure, the Boy Scouts saga is now moot; however, religious groups who are hostile to the LGBT community still regularly receive funding from the city to perform social services (i.e.: Salvation Army is contracted to operate a family shelter for the Office of Supportive Housing and receives city funding). This leads to discrimination when people most need help. A good idea would be to put strict enumerated penalties (similar to those in the Equal Benefits Law passed in late 2011) for any entity that violates any portion of the Fair Practices Ordinance while receiving city funds, such as the termination of a contract, barring the entity from bidding for five years and forcing it to repay or forfeit any city funds it received/is receiving for the time it was found in violation. It would save the city valuable money and help to address a lot of issues surrounding the often-impoverished transgender community and access to social services.
Other issues include, but are not limited to:
• Enhancing the gender-neutral bathroom laws to require all single-occupancy restrooms to be gender-neutral, as there is no compelling interest for gender segregation of a restroom that is designed for only one use at a time.
• Codifying a requirement that all city workers and contractors who have direct contact with youth or whose work directly affects youth undergo LGBT cultural-competency training. San Francisco has had such an ordinance since 1999.
• Codifying a requirement that all city workers and contractors who have direct contact with elders or whose work directly affects elders undergo LGBT cultural-competency training. This should be yet another prong, along with LGBT-friendly senior housing, that would help enhance the lives of LGBT seniors.
• If it is legally at all possible, ban conversion therapy on the city level.
Many of these issues affect some of the most marginalized in our community: youth, transgender people, people of color, elders, those with disabilities, etc. We need to do better in including those who do not have privilege in our policy discussions, and I invite all stakeholders to seriously consider these issues, for our society is judged by how we treat the least of us.
— Jordan Gwendolyn Davis Philadelphia