Some of you may have heard about the discriminatory policies employed by SEPTA when it comes to the use of gender markers on some of SEPTA’s transit passes. The gender markers, in SEPTA’s eyes, are used to keep passengers from giving the passes to someone of the opposite gender to use, which they feel will somehow be so prevalent they would lose a substantial amount of money to deviants who want to get over on the system.
The issue with the gender markers — and why the LGBT community and our allies should fight for the removal of these gender markers — is several-fold. First, there have been one too many instances of gender non-conforming or transgender passengers who have been denied the use of their SEPTA passes by drivers because the driver perceives their gender to be opposite what is on the gender marker. For example, a male-to-female transgender can be denied the use of her legally obtained transit pass at a driver’s discretion. She may be forced to make the decision to either pay an extra fare or exit the bus or train. There is currently a court case against SEPTA because of this very issue. Many of us know that SEPTA has one of the most expensive transportation rates in the country and in this time of economic hardship, having to pay an extra $2 (multiplied by however many times you use SEPTA in a week) on top of the pass you already purchased, is not only an economic hardship but an insult. It should also be noted that someone at SEPTA sold this person the transit pass, but now another worker in the system is denying them the use of it.
Another issue is one of human dignity. Let’s consider how one must feel: If I am a transgender woman who purchased my transit pass with a female gender marker on it with my own hard-earned money, how would I feel to be denied the use of my pass because the driver isn’t respecting my gender identity? Furthermore, how humiliating it is to have everyone in earshot hear the driver tell you the reason you can’t use the pass. I think anyone would feel denigrated by an experience such as this. In addition to the human denigration is the possibility of inciting increased hate crimes against an already-marginalized and silenced community.
When one weighs the costs (emotional and financial) against the benefits of removing the gender markers, it seems evident that removing the gender markers from transit passes is the best decision. SEPTA will not lose any substantial amount of money by removing these stickers. If you think about it, if I have a same-gender friend, we could share the use of a transit pass. This may be happening on a marginal level, but certainly not to the degree that it has caused SEPTA major economic hardship. Furthermore, once a transit pass is used, there is a certain amount of time that must elapse before it can be used again, so they already have some checks and balances in place to minimize scamming.
Why should you be concerned as an LGBT person or an ally? It’s simple: We need to protect all of our rights and eliminate discrimination in public services. On any given day, a passenger’s gender could be misperceived by a SEPTA employee, leading to discrimination. Lastly, we should not and cannot turn our backs on our transgender and non-gender-conforming brothers and sisters on this issue. In this month of June, 40 years ago, it was transgender and non-gender-conforming persons who fought for the freedoms in the Stonewall Riots that we benefit from today with our gay-pride celebrations and certain civil rights we have been able to accumulate over the years.
What can you do? On June 30, at 5:45 p.m., there will be a public SEPTA Citizens Advisory Committee meeting at 1234 Market St., seventh floor, room 718. Please come out and show your support for the removal of the gender markers from SETPA’s transit passes, and be part of eliminating one more discriminatory policy in public accommodations.
The People of Color Coalition is comprised of organizations representing black, Latino and Asian persons across the LGBT spectrum, including gender identity and gender expression. For more information about the coalition, e-mail L[email protected].