City adopts groundbreaking LGBT-reform law
Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney pioneered legislation that put Philadelphia at the top of its game for LGBT equality.
On March 21, Kenney submitted legislation that, among its stipulations, provides tax credits for companies that offer transgender-related health-care coverage and for businesses that provide coverage to same-sex domestic partners, both of which are thought to be the first such programs of their kind in the nation.
City Council passed the legislation in a 14-3 vote April 25, and Mayor Michael Nutter signed it into law May 9 at City Hall.
Kenney said the legislation and its swift passage illustrated the progress Philadelphia has demonstrated on LGBT rights.
“It shows Philly to be a vanguard of civil rights in the country’s birthplace of democracy,” he said. “We have gone through an evolution on civil rights and have the most inclusion that we possibly can. It is all about life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
Morris activists call for federal probe
The city’s Police Advisory Committee called for a state and federal probe in an 11-year-old homicide case involving a Philadelphia transwoman.
Nizah Morris died in 2002 from blunt-force trauma to the head. Before her death, Morris accepted a courtesy ride from Philadelphia police but was later found in Center City with a head wound.
Her homicide remains unsolved.
In 2007, the PAC, a civilian-oversight committee, issued an opinion that police were not involved in a cover-up, but this year’s report marked a sharp reversal.
In the April report, PAC called the investigation “appalling,” urging state and federal officials to follow up.
“It’s certainly problematic that the police and/or D.A. were not forthcoming about giving official police documents to the Commission,” the opinion stated. “It certainly exemplifies the subterfuge concerning the Nizah Morris investigatory material and why we are compelled to forward our opinion to other criminal-investigation agencies.”
The report included a number of recommendations. This past summer, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey agreed to new policies regulating police courtesy rides, the cancellation of medics for people in need of hospital care and the use of cell phones during official police business.
The Justice for Nizah committee continues to call for further probes. The next J4N meeting will be held 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.
HB 300 sees record support
Pennsylvania’s LGBT nondiscrimination bill was reintroduced in both the state House and Senate amid new, record support from both sides of the aisle — and just recently from the state’s Republican governor.
Reps. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) and Chris Ross (R-158th Dist.) submitted HB 300 May 7 in the House, while state Sens. Larry Farnese (D-First Dist.) and Pat Browne (R-16th Dist.) submitted SB 300 the same day in the Senate.
The bill would amend the state’s already-existent nondiscrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity as classes protected from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
The House version, which was originally introduced with 77 cosponsors, now has 93 cosponsors, and the Senate has 25. Gov. Tom Corbett came out in favor of the legislation earlier this month.
The legislation was unveiled in a Harrisburg press conference that was attended by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Also that day, Equality Pennsylvania announced new poll numbers that found that 70 percent of the state’s residents support the measure.
“This is common sense and long, long overdue,” Farnese said at the conference. “We have an opportunity to do the right thing — to cast a vote, not because of special interests knocking at our door or because of who we know but because, damnit, it’s the right thing to do.”
HB 300 was referred to the House State Government Committee, which is chaired by antigay Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. This past summer, Metcalfe told news outlets he would block the measure from a hearing.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission held a public hearing Oct. 28 on the bill, with eight organizations — four that support the legislation and four that oppose — in advance of its decision about whether to back the measure.
LGBT-friendly senior apartments prepare to open
The John C. Anderson Apartments compex will open its doors next month, after a year of groundbreaking progress.
The facility is located at 249-257 S. 13th St. and will host 56 one-bedroom apartments for those 62 and over. The apartments, which are headed by the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and Pennrose Properties, include accommodations for residents of varying income levels.
The facility is a $19.5-million project that received city, state and federal funding and is the largest publicly funded LGBT building project in the nation.
Ground was broken last fall, and in the past year, up to 200 construction workers worked daily on the site. A topping-off ceremony took place June 5, officiated by Mayor Michael Nutter, to commemorate the final piece of the exterior being installed.
A rental office opened in late August at the William Way LGBT Community Center, and seniors — and community volunteers who offered to hold their places — lined up overnight Sept. 9 to turn in their pre-applications for residency.
Also this past summer, Pennrose hired Kecia Hilliard to be the facility’s building manager. Hilliard, 48, an out lesbian, has more than 20 years of experience in property management.
As of earlier this month, the building passed all city, state and federal inspections and regulations.
NJ bans conversion therapy
This past summer, New Jersey became only the second state in the nation to ban conversion therapy for youth.
The New Jersey Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee voted 7-1 in the spring to support the measure that would prohibit New Jersey service providers from performing gay-to-straight conversion therapy on individuals under age 18.
Sens. Raymond Lesniak and Loretta Weinberg lead the measure in the Senate, while out Assemblyman Tim Eustace sponsored the bill in his chamber.
The Assembly passed the measure June 24 in a 56-14 vote, and a Senate vote of 28-9 followed.
Out Assemblyman Reed Gusciora said this year’s closure of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that was dedicated to opposing same-sex attraction and relationships, helped bring more lawmakers forward in support of the bill. Garden State Equality also helped lead the effort to ban conversion therapy.
Despite uncertainty from lawmakers about Gov. Chris Christie’s plan of action for the legislation, the Republican governor signed the measure into law in August, stating he believes that “exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.”
California became the first state in the nation to ban conversion therapy in 2012 with a law that ultimately was enacted this year following legal wrangling.
In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Eighth Dist.) introduced similar legislation in the spring, and out Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) followed suit in the fall.
SCOTUS makes historic ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a seminal ruling this summer that drastically changed the marriage-equality movement.
In a 5-4 ruling June 26, the nation’s top court found that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, violates the equal-protection clause in the U.S. Constitution. The decision came in the case of Edie Windsor, a Philadelphia native and New York resident who sued the federal government after being hit with a hefty inheritance tax following the death of her same-sex spouse.
Also that day, SCOTUS overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Reaction to the rulings was swift, with impromptu rallies and celebrations across the nation, including one outside of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia that evening. Social media took on a new role in the movement, as scores of LGBT supporters changed their Facebook profile pictures to a red-hued equal sign, and the site was bombarded by more than 4-million posts about the DOMA ruling within hours.
The practical implications of the decision were immediately felt by agencies like the immigration department, which recognizes marriages according to their place of celebration. President Obama ordered all federal units to evaluate how they would incorporate the decision into their operations and, within months, agencies such as the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service found they would provide federal marriage benefits to all legally married same-sex couples. The Social Security Administration followed suit earlier this month.
Marriage comes to the Garden State
New Jersey joined the marriage-equality ranks this fall.
The Garden State became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage after the momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled in September that New Jersey’s civil-union law was unconstitutional and that the state must offer full marriage equality, taking into account the Supreme Court order. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie immediately appealed the ruling, but once the state Supreme Court denied his request to delay the implementation of the ruling, Christie dropped the appeal.
Marriages began at midnight Oct. 21, and several municipalities waived the usual waiting period following license applications so couples could get married in the early-morning hours that day. Couples married on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, at Lambertville City Hall and at Newark City Hall, where newly elected U.S. Sen. Cory Booker performed his first-ever marriage ceremonies; the former Newark mayor had declined to officiate any weddings until New Jersey adopted marriage equality.
New Jersey was the 14th state, at the time, to adopt marriage equality. The development left Pennsylvania the only state in the Northeast without legalized same-sex marriage.
PA joins marriage fray
Within days of the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Pennsylvania same-sex couples threw their hat into the ring to press for relationship recognition in the Keystone State.
On July 9, the local and national American Civil Liberties Union, along with firm Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, filed a suit in federal court on behalf of a group of same-sex couples, their children and a widow, arguing that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
In the following months, at least four more lawsuits were filed in both state and federal court. Each of the suits takes a different approach: One attacks the state law’s impact on the inheritance-tax law; another contends the ban violates couples’ rights to sovereign immunity; one argues couples issued marriage licenses in Montgomery County should have their unions recognized; and still another looks at the federal DOMA’s provision allowing states to refuse to recognize legal marriages performed elsewhere.
The first major court proceeding — the ACLU suit — begins in June.
MontCo takes center stage in marriage fight
The register of wills in Montgomery County threw down the gauntlet in his own challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
On July 24, D. Bruce Hanes became the first person in Pennsylvania to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. He said he took the step after a lesbian couple inquired about receiving a license and, after consultation with county attorneys, he determined the state’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, relying largely on the previous month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi, Pottstown residents who have been together for 17 years, were the first couple to be granted a license. And in the ensuing days, another 173 same-sex couples were granted licenses.
The state Department of Health filed suit July 30, requesting a writ of mandamus to halt Hanes’ action, arguing he was in “direct defiance” of state law. After oral arguments in early September, Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini ordered Hanes to stop issuing the licenses, although the judge did not rule on the actual constitutionality of the law, or the validity of the completed licenses.
Hanes appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the Health Department did not have standing to bring the suit and requesting a determination as to the constitutionality of the law. Oral arguments are expected early in 2014.
Kane, Corbett weigh in on marriage
The quick pace of the marriage-equality movement in Pennsylvania put several top politicos on the spot.
After the ACLU filed a lawsuit against state officials, including Gov. Tom Corbett and Attorney General Kathleen Kane, challenging Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage, Kane announced that she would not defend the law in court. In a July 11 press conference at the National Constitution Center, two days after the ACLU suit was filed, Kane announced the state law was “wholly unconstitutional” and, thus, she would decline to defend it.
Her decision was met by sharp criticism from Republican leaders, yet she was released as a defendant from that suit and has pending requests to be released from other suits challenging the law.
But Corbett took a different tactic.
His administration has sought dismissals of all suits challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage, and filed suit against Hanes for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the governor’s words went even further.
In August, his administration, in a legal filing, compared marriage licenses for same-sex couples to licenses issued to children. While Corbett acknowledged the wording was inappropriate, in an October interview about the filing, he went on to liken same-sex marriage to incest.
Corbett will run for reelection in 2014.
Sisters shuts down
The city’s oldest and longest-running lesbian bar abruptly closed shop in the summer.
Sisters management announced through social media the iconic club was closed Aug. 12, effective immediately. The closing was reportedly due to financial difficulties.
The closing of Sisters, which operated at 1320 Chancellor St. since 1996, marks the first time in Philadelphia’s history that the city is without a lesbian bar since the 1940s.
“Every city has a girls’ bar. Every gay community has one. Sisters was ours,” Philly Pride Presents executive director Franny Price told PGN.
Sisters’ 17-year tenure surpassed the duration of any other lesbian bar in the city.
The building in which Sisters was housed is owned by Mel Heifetz, who also owned the adjacent and also-defunct Key West. Heifetz sold that property last year to a company headquartered at Northern Liberties’ Silk City. This fall, the Silk City owner, Mark Bee, filed a request for the transfer of Sisters’ liquor license to his Justaplumber, Inc., founded in September and headquartered at Sisters’ address.
Heifetz and Bee did not respond to repeated requests for more information.
Giovanni’s Room to sell business, building
Ed Hermance, owner of Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the nation, announced in September that he would sell both the business and the building in which it is housed after 37 years at the helm.
Hermance, 73, has owned the independent LGBT bookstore since 1976 and plans to retire this winter. Hermance and Arleen Olshan took over Giovanni’s Room three years after it opened its doors, and Olshan departed in 1986.
Hermance said there are several buying options for a new owner including the purchase of both the business and building, at 345 S. 12th St.; the purchase of the business but not the building; or the rental of the business from Hermance and the opening of the store in a different location.
Hermance is handling the sale himself and has been exploring options for keeping the business running as is with a new owner. If no such prospects come through, however, Hermance said he will be forced to sell to a different buyer.
Hermance said he would give profits from the sale or rental of the business to Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, an LGBT grantmaking organization.
“The community loves this store. It is unbelievable the attachment people have to it,” Hermance told PGN. “There is an emotional bond to this store, and that is why we are here and so many other bookstores are not.”
Since his announcement, Hermance said he has received many inquiries but no firm offer yet.
SEPTA ends gender markers
After years of debate, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ended its gender-marker system on its monthly and weekly trans and trailpasses.
In April, SEPTA hosted public hearings on its proposed 2014 budget, which included a plan to eliminate the markers. City Council last year adopted a resolution calling for an end to the system, long criticized by LGBT and ally activists as discriminatory against transgender and gender-nonconforming riders.
Earlier this year, the SEPTA board voted to eliminate the markers, but because the system was part of the fare tariff, the change also required inclusion in the public hearings.
SEPTA officially discontinued the gender-marker stickers, in place since the 1980s, July 1.
“It took years of waiting even after they said they would phase out the stickers with the new fare- card system to get to this day,” city director of LGBT affairs Gloria Casarez told PGN. “We’ll take it as a victory, but it was a fight that shouldn’t have taken SEPTA this long to resolve. All riders should have equal access to public transportation. I’m glad we will now.”
Boy Scouts finally out
The years-long Boy Scouts saga over the agency’s occupation of a city-owned property despite its antigay policy finally came to an end this year.
The city and the local Cradle of Liberty Council announced a settlement May 3 that required the agency to vacate the property, at 22nd and Winter streets, by June 30. In return, the city gave the Scouts $825,000 for improvements the organization reportedly made to the facility.
The city attempted to evict the Scouts several years ago, contending the organization’s policy of barring membership to openly gay or atheist Scouts violated the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, but the organization filed a suit claiming the eviction violated its civil rights. In 2010, a federal jury handed down a mixed ruling, which the city appealed. The appeal was still pending when the settlement was announced.
“We felt it was time to put an end to the litigation and turn our attention back to our core mission of serving Philadelphia’s youth,” Cradle said in a statement.
Plans for the building’s sale have yet to be announced.
Later in May, the national BSA voted to allow openly gay Scouts, although it maintains its ban on openly gay adult leaders.
The organization that provided HIV/AIDS services to local Asian and Pacific-Islander communities for almost two decades closed its doors this year.
Citing financial reasons, the board of ASIAC, formerly known as AIDS Services in Asian Communities, voted to shutter the organization at its March 13 meeting and rolled out a strategic closing over the subsequent weeks, ending operations June 30.
ASIAC was founded in 1995 by Richard Liu to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate HIV/AIDS services, including prevention and education, testing and counseling and case management.
“Although a chapter will end for Philadelphia’s Asian and Pacific-Islander community, much has been accomplished by ASIAC with the help of our program partners, collaborators, funders and volunteers,” board chair Luis Lim said in April.
ASIAC worked to transition many of its programmatic activities to the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium.
In July, about 30 supporters of the organization came together for a closing celebration at Tabu.