Councilmember Helen Gym introduces two bills expanding LGBTQ protections

Councilmember-at-Large Helen Gym introduced two bills aimed at protecting and expanding the rights of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ-plus community. 

One mandates the city’s youth organizations to implement policies protecting young trans and gender-nonconforming people. The other requires Philadelphia City Hall to install at least one gender-neutral bathroom on each of its floors.

“Trans rights are human rights and trans existence is not up for debate,” Gym said in a statement last week. “While we have a federal government hellbent on erasing transpeople, we in Philadelphia have an obligation to raise the bar for inclusive and supporting spaces. That means everyone should have the basic dignity of using a bathroom that feels safe and affirming. It means every young person in our city should be able to trust in and be protected by the institutions serving them.”

The youth-related bill would ensure that organizations serving transgender and gender-nonconforming youth have policies compliant with the School District of Philadelphia’s Policy 252, which outlines “safety, equity and justice for all students regardless of gender identity or gender expression.”

The institutions’ policies would have to meet or exceed the district’s policy standards on gender-segregated activities, culturally sensitive language choices, discrimination and harassment and more. Gym’s bill would apply to facilities including charter schools, after-school programs and residential treatment facilities.

The Trevor Project’s newly released National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39 percent of LGBTQ youth — including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth — seriously considered suicide in the last year. Two-thirds of the LGBTQ youth surveyed reported that someone tried to convince them to change their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We need to support youth in there now, and this bill is a strong step forward to ensure that youth-serving organizations are truly serving and supporting all young people,” said Hazel Edwards, interim director of the Bryson Institute at The Attic Youth Center. “If we believe that youth are the future, then we need to let them live in their authentic true selves, or unfortunately we could lose them to an oppressive system and never experience the power from our future leaders.”

Under the policy, staff also would undergo regular training on interacting with LGBTQ youth.

Gym said the city needs to “be bolder” about transgender and gender-nonconforming residents.

“I still think we have a long way to go to ensure that they feel like they can participate fully and are fully welcomed,” she added.

The councilmember’s second bill would vastly increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms in City Hall, which currently offers only one, on the seventh floor. The mandate would build on 2012 legislation introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney, then a councilmember, that required new and renovated public buildings to have gender-neutral bathrooms.

“City Hall is the central gathering place for the public and it’s the most welcoming building in the entire city of Philadelphia,” said Gym. “We have one gender-neutral bathroom, which I guarantee nobody at all can really find.”

She proposed the bill so “everybody can feel welcome,” adding City Hall needs to “practice what we preach.”

Organizations like William Way LGBT Community Center and The Attic Youth Center helped shape the bills.

“In a time of increasing violence directed toward transpeople, it’s important that we continue Philadelphia’s historic leadership in advocating for and centering them,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way.

Julien Terrell, executive director of Philadelphia Student Union, said the proposed legislation goes beyond providing a welcoming space for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.

“It’s also about challenging and shifting culture away from an oppressive and unnecessary binary to one that is truly honoring the realities of all young people,” he said.

City Council will address the bills in the fall, Gym said. 

6/13/19 5:00 p.m.

Updated 6/20/19 1:09 p.m.