The 19 journalists met with community leaders June 7 at City Hall, in a roundtable discussion hosted by Gloria Casarez, city director of LGBT affairs.
The journalists came from Africa (Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda), Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore), Europe (Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkey) and Central and South America (Chile, Dominica, Guyana, Mexico).
Local participants included Casarez; David Rosenblum and Elisabeth Flynn, Mazzoni Center legal director and senior communications manager, respectively; William Way LGBT Community Center executive director Chris Bartlett; Police Advisory Committee members Jaci Adams and Rick Lombardo; Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations executive director Rue Landau; LGBT liaison and assistant district attorney Helen Fitzpatrick and LGBT liaison deputy police commissioner Steven Johnson.
The visiting journalists posed questions about Pennsylvania and U.S. policies and practices on reporting crimes, responding to abuse of LGBT people by police and family members, employment antidiscrimination law and hate-crime enhancements, as well as what challenges LGBT people still face in the States.
Fitzpatrick explained how hate-crime enhancements work — adding time to a prison sentence — and noted that hate-crime statistics are not well tracked and underreported. She also explained that prosecution for sexual assaults takes approximately two years in Philadelphia, and it isn’t feasible or fair to fast-track such cases.
Landau discussed the city’s antidiscrimination protections, passed for sexual orientation in 1982 and gender identity in 2002 as a result of community and political pressure, as contributing to a reduction in police harassment complaints, as well as how her organization handles employment and housing discrimination complaints.
In response to a question about proving discrimination in employment and housing, Rosenblum noted that the burden of proof is on the employee to give a compelling story, while Landau added that her agency investigates allegations, sends out testers and facilitates settlements.
In response to a question from a journalist from Guyana about police abusing transgender individuals, Johnson said the Philadelphia police department trains officers not to pass judgment and to treat people with dignity and respect.
Bartlett noted that such treatment was a result of LGBT people insisting on that respect and pushing for visibility starting in the 1960s and ’70s, adding that the AIDS epidemic galvanized activists in the 1980s.
As to issues the LGBT community still faces, Casarez said that, at the state level, “we are often trying to block people trying to roll back our rights,” citing relationship recognition as an example.
Another challenge Casarez noted was providing appropriate health-care benefits for transgender individuals, with Fortune 500 companies actually leading the way on this issue.
During their stay in Philadelphia, the journalists also met with representatives of the local chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays.
Chapter president Myra Taksa said four PFLAG members — past regional director Melina Waldo, past chapter president Fran Kirschner, chapter treasurer John Otto and herself — met with the group for about an hour and a half, adding she wished they had more time together.
“This was the best experience I’ve had with PFLAG,” the 10-year member said. “That they would come here, despite what may have been at great risk for themselves — heartwarming isn’t strong enough. My heart breaks to think of the challenges to their safety, just for being who they are.
“They hung on every word, wrote down and recorded everything we said. They asked about parents, about fathers vs. mothers when their children came out to them. We talked about our own children’s coming out, and their experiences in school and in life.”
Taksa said one particularly moving moment for her was when one of the journalists shared his own coming-out story, saying it was the first time that he’d ever been able to tell anyone about it.
“That Sec. Clinton organized this [trip] shows how important this is — that’s remarkable,” she said.
During their weeklong stay in the States, the journalists also visited Washington, D.C., and New York City to meet with government officials and members of LGBT media.
Sarah Blazucki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.