City Councilman Jim Kenney last week reintroduced a sweeping LGBT-reform bill — this time with a wealth of new transgender-inclusive provisions.
Kenney submitted the legislation March 21, and it was referred to the Committee on Labor and Civil Service, which will hold a hearing on the bill next month. Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. is a cosponsor.
Kenney originally introduced similar legislation in September to enhance the scope of the city’s domestic-partner registry.
The new bill, however, also incorporates transgender protections. The legislation mandates that any new building constructed by the city must include gender-neutral bathrooms and that gender-neutral bathrooms be established at current city properties when bathroom renovations are undertaken.
One year from its passage, the legislation would require all new city forms to be gender-neutral, except under special circumstances, such as if the gender designations are required by state or federal law.
The city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, which enforces the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law, would be amended to specifically prohibit employers from failing to permit employees to dress in accordance with their gender identity. The public-accommodations section of the law would also be changed to ban entities from refusing or denying “any person access to any separate-gender bathroom where the person’s gender identity is consistent with the gender for which such bathroom is reserved.”
“Life is hard for everybody and it’s harder for some people than others because of crazy restrictions placed on people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, which makes people’s lives more difficult than they need to be,” Kenney told PGN this week. “It’s got to be difficult and you have to have a lot of courage to get through life in the transgender community, and the government shouldn’t be in people’s ways.”
Also included in the measure are two separate tax credits, both thought to be the first of their kind in the nation.
The Life Partner Health Benefits Tax, included in last year’s bill, would allow companies that provide health-insurance coverage to domestic partners of employees and their children that is equivalent to the coverage provided to heterosexual spouses to be eligible for a two-year, 6-percent (or up to $750) tax write-off.
New to the legislation is the Trans-Care Health Benefits Tax Credit, which would allow an equal credit for companies that provide coverage for transgender-related health care “to the same extent as the business makes health-insurance coverage available for other medically necessary treatment.” The bill defines trans care as “medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria and gender-identity disorder, including office visits, laboratory tests, prescription drugs, hormone treatments, counseling and transitional surgeries necessary for the treatment of either.”
A group of local activists has met with Kenney to press for provisions that would lift certain health-care exclusions trans city employees face in coverage.
Kathy Padilla, a member of the coalition, said Kenney has been open to their concerns.
“He was very receptive to looking to amend the bill to address the health-care discrimination issue and we’ll hopefully be meeting again on that,” Padilla said. “In order for the city of Philadelphia to move up to the top of the rankings , we need to address health-care discrimination for trans people, as other cities have already addressed that question.”
Kenney legislative aide Chris Goy said the councilman supports trans city employees having full access to health care, but noted the current legislation may not be the best vehicle to accomplish that.
“As much as the councilman believes that trans health benefits for city employees are just as important as they are for life partners of city employees, he’s not able to directly force the mayor to make that change. We know the mayor is very supportive of LGBT rights and we’ve begun to have that conversation but, at this point, we can’t promise that this bill will be able to mandate the care that trans city employees rightly deserve,” Goy said. “The councilman isn’t in the business of getting involved in what doctors believe is medically necessary for health-care plans, nor should the mayor be. If a doctor deems it medically necessary that someone get a particular treatment — whether it’s for gender dysphoria or something like annual mammograms or dialysis for kidney failure — we are in favor of letting doctors decide that.”
The life-partner provisions include equating partners with spouses throughout city laws — ensuring equal access to retirement and pension plans, hospital-visitation rights, medical decision-making and other areas. It would also instruct the Human Relations Commission to advise life-partner applicants on the differences between the partnership and marriage and to furnish information and forms related to health-care directives, living wills, adoption, end-of-life decisions and other issues.
Goy said the legislation would ensure that residents have all the protections possible, without state or federal support.
“No other city has gone as far as we have in a state that is as unfriendly to LGBTs as ours,” Goy said. “We talked to LGBT legal experts at the local, state and federal levels and basically asked how far we can push our LGBT rights as a city without violating state law or state Supreme Court rulings and that’s what we’ve done with this bill, and we’re really proud of that. Are we going to be the most LGBT-friendly city in America? No, we can’t be until Pennsylvania and Washington allow us to be. But with so little help from Harrisburg and from the federal government, this is a really big step.”
Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesperson, said his office couldn’t comment on whether the mayor supports the legislation.
“We don’t comment on proposed legislation until it is under discussion at public hearings,” McDonald said. “At that point, a representative from the administration will offer testimony. When and if this bill comes to that point, we will have something to say.”
The legislation is scheduled for a hearing from 2:30-5 p.m. April 11 in Room 400 of City Hall. The session is open to the public.
From our media partners the Philadelphia Gay News.Jen Colletta