Protest turns spotlight on SEPTA
by Jen Colletta
Apr 01, 2010 | 1993 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Transit riders heading out of Center City Tuesday afternoon encountered more than the usual rush hour at the rails.

About 40 members and supporters of Riders Against Gender Exclusion rallied inside the SEPTA concourse at 15th and Market streets Tuesday to protest the use of gender markers on SEPTA transpasses, which demonstrators said discriminate against transgender and non-gender-conforming riders.

R.A.G.E. member Max Ray said the group was motivated to mobilize this week because of continued inaction on the part of SEPTA representatives on the issue.

R.A.G.E. met with SEPTA officials in October, at which time Ray said they agreed to institute a complaint system for trans individuals and other riders who felt they’d been discriminated against because of the stickers.

SEPTA chief press officer Jerri Williams said this week that the agency provided R.A.G.E. with the contact information for SEPTA’s government-affairs coordinator, to whom she said complaints can be issued. Williams said no complaints have been filed with that official.

Since that meeting — which followed the unanimous recommendation by the SEPTA Citizen Advisory Committee that the stickers be removed — R.A.G.E. said it has not seen any progress on the issue.

“We’ve been back and forth in e-mail with questions about how this complaint system is going to address things, like if you lost your pass or had it confiscated how you’d get it back, if you had to pay a token instead of using a pass if you’d be reimbursed or what would happen to drivers or other riders who discriminate, and they’ve just never gotten back to us,” Ray said. “It was always, ‘Oh, this person’s on vacation,’ or ‘We need to have internal meetings about that,’ and they’ve just continued to push us off.”

Williams said SEPTA has been working to heighten awareness among its employees about the real reason for the stickers.

“We want our operators and our cashiers to understand that the stickers are there for the purpose of reducing multiple use, and if they question someone about the sticker and that person indicates that they are transgender or are offended by the question, that it’s more than just that person using their sister’s pass or their roommate’s pass,” Williams said. “And they need to be sensitive to that. It is not our intention to embarrass anyone or make them have any discomfort because of who they are.”

Ray said that in the fall, SEPTA officials pledged that when the transit authority’s new computerized “smart card” fare system goes into effect, the devices will be free of gender stickers, but SEPTA general manager Joe Casey said last month that a lack of federal funding will delay the implementation of the system.

Williams confirmed that the new system will not include gender markers. She said a request was put out for vendors to design the new system and that SEPTA is currently reviewing the bids it has received.

“We’re going to be reviewing all of the bids and then making a determination as to what vendor we go with,” she said. “But then we still have to do the planning, designing and then of course the implementation of that new fare-instrument system, so I can’t give you any idea at all of how long that will take.”

Ray was dressed as Casey at Tuesday’s protest, along with several other impersonators who staged a mini-drag show and took part in spoken-word performances.

The format for the demonstration, during which about 1,200 fliers were distributed to riders, was selected for its attention-getting value, but also to educate mass-transit riders.

“It’s partly for the fun of it, but mostly to show that trans people don’t get a lot of opportunities to have their voices heard,” Ray said. “People don’t realize how many individuals are affected by this, and how some people may present as one gender in the morning and one gender in the evening.”

Ray said the passersby “almost universally” supported their efforts, as he heard a continuous stream of supportive comments such as, “Yeah, they’re dumb. Get them off.”

He said he hopes R.A.G.E. will see similar support when SEPTA begins its series of public hearings later this month on its proposed fare hikes — changes that are not expected to go hand-in-hand with the removal of gender markers.

Public hearings will take place at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. April 19 at 1234 Market St. in the boardroom on the mezzanine level. Additional hearings will be held in mid-April in the surrounding counties.

For more information on hearing times, visit www.septa.org/notice/.

Jen Colletta can be reached at jen@epgn.com.

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