In May 2008, the Boy Scouts of America Cradle of Liberty Council filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming it was being wrongfully evicted from a city-owned facility, in part because it wouldn’t sign a lease with comprehensive antibias language.
The case remains pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and Cradle continues to occupy the facility, located on 22nd Street near the Ben Franklin Parkway.
During the course of the protracted litigation, Cradle repeatedly pointed out that the city has leases with other tenants that don’t contain comprehensive antibias language.
Those tenants include St. Joseph’s University, Colonial Dames of America, Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club, Women for Greater Philadelphia, Royal Heritage Society and the Roman Catholic Church of the BVM.
A recent review of the leases revealed that St. Joseph’s University’s lease has protections for race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, ancestry and disability.
But St. Joe’s lease doesn’t have protections for ethnicity, gender identity, age, marital status, familial status, genetic information and domestic or sexual-violence status.
Those categories also are covered in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance.
The leases for the Royal Heritage Society, Women for Greater Philadelphia and the Roman Catholic Church of the BVM have protections for race, color, religion, national origin and sex.
The leases for the Colonial Dames of America and the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club have no antibias protections.
R. Duane Perry, an LGBT advocate, expressed disappointment that the city hasn’t updated all of its leases.
“It shouldn’t be that difficult to upgrade a lease,” Perry told PGN. “It’s not rocket science. The city could have an intern do it.”
He added that there has been ample time for the city to update its leases.
“The city has known for five years that this is an Achilles’ heel,” he said. “They’re not enforcing their antibias regulations across the board. They seem to be sticking their head in the sand and ignoring a problem.”
Implementation of the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance doesn’t appear to be a priority of the Nutter administration, Perry contended.
“Mayor Nutter needs to take some leadership here,” he said. “The city is not protecting the rights of its LGBT citizens and others.
“On some level, it’s a symbolic gesture. But it’s also an essential part of what the government is supposed to do. The government has a legitimate interest in preventing discrimination and protecting the rights of all citizens,” Perry added.
Mark McDonald, a spokesperson for Nutter, had no comment for this story.
Palma M. Rasmussen, a disability-rights expert, said the leases should be updated immediately.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Rasmussen told PGN. “And it would put the city in a better legal position, should a new trial be ordered in the Cradle-eviction case. Additionally, it would send a message to the larger community that Philadelphia values equality. Right now, the message seems to be: ‘We don’t give a hoot.’”
She said the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance should be treated with more deference by the Nutter administration.
“People worked very hard to get that law in place,” she continued. “It should never be taken so lightly.”
She also expressed dismay with the job performance of city officials.
“I just feel like they aren’t doing their job. Women and minorities pay taxes in the city. But their rights aren’t being protected. Instead, the city seems to be on the side of the discriminators. Otherwise, these leases would have been updated years ago.”
Last year, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter chided the city for trying to evict Cradle from the Parkway building without also trying to evict a local Boy Scout troop from a city-owned facility in Roxborough.
The judge said the apparent contradiction indicated that the city was “selectively enforcing its nondiscrimination laws in a manner that lacked any rational basis.”
At presstime, the city hadn’t initiated an eviction proceeding against the BSA troop in Roxborough nor had it supplied PGN with a copy of the troop’s current lease.