City Hall: Council Committee Approves Anti-Discrimination, Transparency Bills

The Committee on Law and Goverernment approved three anti-discrimination measures and another aimed at creating a system to report the city’s settlements of civil actions on Sept. 25, 2019. 

The bills, introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym, provide for greater discrimination protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, require gender-neutral bathrooms be installed in City Hall and revise the definition of gender identification and sexual orientation. The fourth bill requires the quarterly reporting of civil actions settled by the City.

In her opening remarks, Gym said three of the four bills were part of an inclusivity package, while the fourth was designed to increase disclosure and accountability.

“(The bills) are part of the critical work there we’re trying to do to envision the kind of city we want to live in,” Gym said. “It means thinking proactively about how we stand up for one another and what’s right.”

Gym said the bills arise out of the lived experiences of Philadelphians and that members of the LGBT community have been attacked, silenced, and robbed of the dignity many others take for granted.

“This year, 18 trans women have been murdered across our country,” Gym said. “In Philadelphia, we lost Tameka Robinson, a 40-year-old trans woman who was murdered. Today’s inclusivity package of three bills that expand the recognition of, and responsibility toward, our trans community are about honoring Tameka Washington’s legacy, her right to exist, because trans rights are human rights.”

During his testimony in support of the gender-neutral bathroom bill, Christopher Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, said gender neutral bathrooms are a civil rights issue of accessibility, as well as a public health issue of safety.

“By creating gender-neutral bathrooms on each floor of City Hall, city government will join William Way and many other organizations that have made gender-neutral bathrooms available to their visitors and staff,” Bartlett said.

Evan Thornburg, the deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, testified that according to a study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law study, the United States has about 1.4 million transgender adults, with about 43,800 living in Pennsylvania.

“Additionally, the Williams Institute reported that transgender people face significant levels of discrimination, harassment, both verbal and physical, and are denied access when trying to use public bathrooms,” Thornburg said.

The gender-neutral bathroom bill mandates full implementation 180 days after the passing of the bill. Councilmember Gym said that was enough time to ensure the bathrooms were fully operational.

“We’re working with Public Property,” Gym said. “If there are any glitches, we’ll figure it out then. We’ve been on track to do it, we just want to make sure that it’s on the timeline.”

In regards to cost, Gym said the City was already under obligation to have gender-neutral bathrooms, so it was more of an issue to make sure they are available in a timely manner.

“It’s usually happening through any major renovations,” Gym said. “But here at City Hall where we have such a high usage with courtrooms and city agencies, city council, and other chambers that serve the broader public, we’ve got to move a lot faster than a whole-scale renovation of this building. That’s not likely to happen.”

Currently, the only gender-neutral bathroom in City Hall is located on the seventh floor.

“I dare you to find it,” Gym said.

Currently, the only gender-neutral bathroom in City Hall is on the 7th floor.

Regarding Bill 190651, which updates the City’s definitions of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation,” Gym’s office said there is no explicit affirmative protection for transgender people and those who identify as gender-nonconforming, so it is possible someone could be fired from their job and not be protected under current anti-discrimination legislation. The bill aims to update the definitions and make them explicit.

The civil action settlement bill was proposed after an April meeting in which Councilmember Gym requested a list of all the legal settlements pertaining to the City, broken down by department, which showed the City’s total payout for the previous year was over $48 million, according to Gym’s office.

The bill will also establish an interagency group within the City to examine these quarterly reports. The hope is to develop policies to avoid the problems that lead to settlements.

Bills Referenced:

Bill No. 190651 amends the Fair Practices Ordinance by revising and updating the definitions of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Bill No. 190558 amends the Fair Practices Ordinance by adding a new section to require that all institutions serving youth in the city adopt policy guidelines providing for nondiscriminatory treatment of transgender and nonconforming youth.

Bill No. 190559 imposes additional requirements regarding the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms in city buildings.

Bill No. 190608 establishes a system of quarterly reporting and evaluation of means to reduce future liability.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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