Decade in review — 2000-2010

City bans trans discrimination

Following a campaign by LGBT activists, the city of Philadelphia moved to ban transgender discrimination in 2002.

In May of that year, City Council, in a 15-2 vote, approved a measure that amended the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance to include gender identity among the classes protected from discrimination in the city. Then-Mayor John Street signed the bill into law, making Philadelphia the sixth jurisdiction in the state to offer nondiscrimination protections based on gender identity. The ordinance was introduced by Councilman Frank DiCicco and garnered the support of all councilmembers except Brian O’Neill and Joan Krajewski.

The original law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation passed in 1982.

LGBT hate-crimes law approved,later overturned

The Pennsylvania legislature approved the extension of hate-crimes protections to LGBTs in 2002, but a court later overturned that measure on a technicality.

Lawmakers voted in 2002 to amend the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism Act to include protections for crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as other classifications, and then-Gov. Mark Schweiker signed the bill into law.

Antigay organization Repent America sued the state, arguing that the measure was passed unconstitutionally: The hate-crimes amendment was added to an agricultural bill, which Repent America argued violated the state constitutional provision that prevents legislation from being altered to change its original purpose.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled in favor of the group in 2007 and the state Supreme Court upheld the decision the following year.

The state legislature has since unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate LGBT protections in the law.

PA court OKs second-parent adoption

The state’s top court ruled in 2002 that children may be legally adopted by a parent’s unmarried partner, bolstering the legal rights of same-sex parents.

In a groundbreaking decision handed down in August that year, the court overturned a 2000 Superior Court ruling that found that gay and lesbians cannot adopt a same-sex partner’s child.

Same-sex parents could jointly adopt a child prior to the 2002 ruling, but one member of the couple could not be listed as a second parent if that individual was not the original birth or adoptive parent.

The Supreme Court decision enabled children of same-sex parents to more readily access health insurance, Social Security benefits and child support from the second parent, as well as ensure both parents had legal rights to the child.

The effort to overturn the 2000 ruling was backed by a broad coalition of LGBT, women’s rights and mainstream organizations.

Questions abound in Nizah Morris murder

The murder of transgender performer Nizah Morris has aggrieved the local LGBT community for eight years and still remains unsolved.

Morris was found unconscious with a head injury in the early-morning hours of Dec. 22, 2002, in Center City, after leaving the Key West bar intoxicated.

Morris had been offered a courtesy ride from police and, although she lived at 5000 Walnut St., the officer dropped her off at 15th and Walnut streets. Shortly afterward, a passerby found her lying in the street with a head wound, and she died at the hospital two days later from her injury.

The investigation into her murder has been fraught with allegations of police mishandling, as the original investigation files were twice deemed lost by the police.

No charges have ever been filed in the case, nor have the officers originally involved the night of Morris’ murder been charged with any wrongdoing.

The case remains under investigation by the Police Advisory Commission.

City challenges Boy Scouts

The local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America came to national attention when the city attempted to evict the agency from its headquarters due to the club’s policy of banning gays and atheists.

In 2003, then-Mayor John Street urged the local Cradle of Liberty Council to abandon the policy or face city action: Based on a longstanding deal with the city, the chapter was using city-owned property rent-free, which Street said the city could no longer subsidize because the agreement violated the city’s LGBT-inclusive Fair Practices Ordinance.

Although the chapter adopted a nondiscrimination policy, it was forced to rescind the statement at the urging of the national organization. In 2007, City Council voted 16-1 to authorize the eviction of the Scouts, unless the organization agreed to pay fair-market rent for the property. The chapter filed suit the following year, alleging the city was violating its rights.

In the summer of 2010, a federal jury handed down a mixed verdict that declared that the city didn’t discriminate against the organization but did violate constitutional rights in handing down the eviction ultimatum.

Last month, the city announced a settlement deal with the BSA council, which has yet to be approved by City Council.

State, city get gay officials

Although Pennsylvania does not yet have any out members of its state legislature, it did gain several out officials in the past several years.

Stephen Glassman became the highest-ranking openly gay public official in the state in 2003 when Gov. Ed Rendell appointed him as the chair of the state Human Relations Commission.

Locally, the Hon. Ann Butchart became the first openly LGBT elected official after her 2005 election to the Court of Common Pleas. In 2007, the Hon. Dan Anders became the first openly gay male to serve on the bench in the city, as he was nominated by Gov. Ed Rendell and later confirmed by the Senate to fill a Common Pleas vacancy. In 2009, Anders was elected to a full 10-year term.

Gays rally against Santorum

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum mobilized the LGBT community when, in 2003, he took his strongest stance yet against gay rights.

Santorum declared in an interview that he didn’t think sexual privacy was an inherent right and said homosexuality should be prohibited by law. Santorum likened same-sex relationships to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. While Santorum argued that some of his comments were misconstrued, he stood by his assertion that Americans did not have a right to privacy in the bedroom.

The LGBT and ally community began to organize against the senator with initiatives like Philadelphians Against Santorum, led by openly gay director Ray Murphy.

Santorum was eventually defeated by current Sen. Bob Casey, by a 19-point margin.

Community center sees advances

The William Way LGBT Community Center experienced several important gains in the past decade.

In 2003, the city’s west wall was adorned with a 7,500-square-foot mural, “Pride and Progress,” that pays tribute to the city’s rich LGBT history and community. The center’s infrastructure also received a huge boost in 2005 when philanthropist Mel Heifetz paid off the building’s nearly $275,000 mortgage. Because of Heifetz’s gift, the center board was able to allocate the rest of the agency’s annual savings to expand its programming and launch its Way Gay U classes the following year.

In 2009, a years-long effort to make the center handicap-accessible came to fruition, as an elevator was installed, with the support of state and city funding and community donations, and unveiled during the organization’s annual Building Bash in June.

Philly promotes gay tourism

The city began its first-ever LGBT-focused tourism campaign in November 2003, with the launch of the “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” campaign.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation in collaboration with the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, made Philadelphia the first destination in the world to utilize a television advertisement to reach out to LGBT travelers.

Since that time, the campaign has gone on to become the most award-winning LGBT-tourism campaign in history, garnering top prizes in contests like the Hospitality Sales and Marketing International Awards, and largely being credited for keeping Philadelphia rapidly climbing LGBT travel lists.

NJ governor comes out

Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey sent shockwaves throughout the nation when he announced that he was a “gay American.”

McGreevey declared in an August 2004 press conference that he was resigning from his post as governor, with two years still left in his term, and admitted to an extramarital affair with a man. Following his coming out, reports surfaced that McGreevey was being threatened with a sexual-harassment suit by the man, Golan Cipel, whom he had hired as a homeland-security adviser.

Since his announcement, McGreevey and wife Dina Matos have divorced, and have joint custody of their daughter. The former governor went on to attend theological school. He has been with partner Mike O’Donnell since 2004.

Antigay protesters sue over OutFest arrests

Protesters associated with antigay group Repent America were arrested during a demonstration at the 2004 OutFest in the city’s Gayborhood.

Philadelphia police arrested 11 protesters at the Oct. 10 event when they refused to move from their location after being ordered to do so several times to prevent violence. They were charged with criminal conspiracy, obstructing a highway, disorderly conduct and a hate-crimes violation.

In 2005, a state court dismissed the charges, and the group filed a suit against the city and Philly Pride Presents, arguing their First Amendment rights were infringed upon.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the protesters’ suit in January 2007, finding that Philly Pride had the right to exclude the antigay group and their “contrary message” from the event, a ruling the Third Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld.

Civil unions legalized in NJ

Following a lawsuit by a group of same-sex couples in New Jersey, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights and benefits as married heterosexuals. The ruling led to the state legislature passing a civil-union bill in December 2006, which was signed into law by then-Gov. Jon Corzine.

The law created the Civil Union Review Commission, which released a wide-reaching report on the law in 2008, finding that many same-sex couples were still being treated unfairly. The commission recommended that full marriage equality was the only way to uphold the court’s ruling.

Although a marriage-equality bill was introduced in both chambers of the legislature in 2009, it failed to advance past a Senate vote in early 2010.

Nondiscrimination bill stalls in PA legislature

Pennsylvania continues to lack protections for LGBT residents as numerous efforts to pass an inclusive nondiscrimination law have been met with resistance.

The bill was originally introduced in October 2006 in the House by Rep. Chris Ross (R-158th Dist.) and in the Senate by Sen. Joe Conti (R-10th Dist.), but eventually died in the House State Government Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee with no action.

Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) reintroduced the measure in June 2007, and it was eventually tabled by the State Government Committee in September 2008; the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to move on Sen. Pat Browne’s (R-16th Dist.) companion bill.

Frankel again spearheaded the measure in March 2009 and it successfully passed out of the Appropriations Committee, marking the first time the bill garnered committee approval. However, Republicans mired the bill with amendments, and it died without seeing a full House vote.