Sweeping legislation went into effect in Philadelphia on Thursday, October 24, 2013 as Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law a bill that has major positive implications for the city’s LGBT community. The bill mandates that new or newly renovated government buildings provide gender neutral bathrooms, in addition to existing female only and male only ones.
This bathroom initiative provides a welcome option for LGBT individuals, who by sex, gender expression, or orientation, might feel uncomfortable using female or male only bathrooms. “It can be an awkward and embarrassing situation” for anyone who may “feel more like a woman, but can’t use the women’s room,” said Councilman Jim Kenney, the bill’s sponsor. Transgender individuals in particular, will be able to avoid stigmatization attached to either female or male only bathrooms, by having a gender neutral option.
The bill’s tax credit program is the other major innovation to potentially benefit LGBT individuals and their families. Philadelphia will be the first city in America to offer a system of tax credits to businesses, which extend insurance and health benefits to their LGBT employees and their families. At a time when the Affordable Care Act is poised to require better and more affordable insurance plans, millions of Americans on their company’s insurance plans stand to gain great benefits like preventative care, free prescription coverage, and free immunizations. Businesses which choose to participate in the tax credit program would receive financial benefit for extending this improved health care to all their employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and numerous LGBT organizations have backed this tax credit legislation as a financial incentive for progressive and equal opportunity businesses. The bill also amends official city forms to have same-sex and transgender options, extends decision making on medical issues to same sex couples, and amends Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law to include transgender people.
Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay state representative in Pennsylvania, said of the bill “this is a city that is truly respecting all its citizens. It is because of that respect that we are indeed a first-class city and we will continue to shine.” Rep. Sims has been in the spotlight recently for sponsoring legislation proposing a statewide ban on conversion therapy; Sims’ bill would protect minors eighteen and younger from being exposed to traumatizing and painful Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, which have been condemned by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major medical organizations.
Mayor Nutter commented on the bill’s passage, stating that he hopes Philadelphia will become “the most LGBT friendly” city in the world. For LGBT citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, such support is crucial and significant at a time when state politicians are pulling out all the stops to halt legislation for equality.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast that does not currently allow same-sex marriage or civil unions. City and county ordinances offer some protections for LGBT citizens from discrimination. Philadelphia is taking a progressive step to ensure equal protection of the laws for its inhabitants. However, Pennsylvania continues to be one of the worst states for LGBT individuals in terms of equal protection and civil rights. Gov. Corbett (R) and the state legislature have worked to prevent marriage equality as well as anti-discrimination legislation, despite neighbors New Jersey and Maryland’s legalization of same-sex marriage earlier this year. No state law exists to prevent employment or housing discrimination for LGBT individuals, and sexual orientation is not considered under state hate crime statutes.
With the incredible example set by Mayor Nutter and Rep. Sims, one can only hope that Pennsylvania lawmakers will follow suit, and we will see more progressive legislation soon!