In 2012, legislation was introduced in two sister cities that would affect the LGBT community — in entirely different ways.
Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney introduced the LGBT Equality bill, the first in the nation to provide tax credits to companies that provide health coverage for transgender people, as well as for same-sex partners. And, Philadelphia’s Russian sister city, Nizhny Novgorod, passed a law banning LGBT “propaganda”; earlier this summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a similar bill into law, sparking international outcry.
Locally, activists are urging the city to sever its ties with Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s fifth-largest city. No decision had been announced as of presstime.
Sister cities, conceived of in the second half of the 20th century, are meant to promote cultural awareness. Philadelphia operates Sister Cities Plaza at 18th and the Parkway to honor its seven sister cities.
Progress Now and Keystone Progress launched a MoveOn petition last week urging Philadelphia City Council to suspend Nizhny Novgorod’s sister-city title in protest of Russia’s anti-LGBT climate.
Similar efforts are underway in several-dozen other cities.
“It was something that was generating response from people and something other cities were encouraged to do,” said Keystone Progress executive director Michael Morrill. “We looked into it and unfortunately found that our sister city had actually set the stage for this kind of law. The gay-propaganda bill didn’t start at the national level but in the municipalities, and our sister city was one of those that started the ball rolling.”
The petition says Philadelphia should sever its ties with the city due to both its own and country-wide anti-LGBT laws.
Although Morrill has not received a response from City Council, he is confident the members are cognizant of the petition, as MoveOn notifies each councilmember each time someone signs the petition.
As of presstime, 1,319 people signed.
“Every one of them is well aware of this,” Morrill said.
Jim Engler, director of legislation for Councilman James Kenney, said the issue should be addressed by Mayor Nutter.
“There have been conversations about it, but it is something that is in the mayor’s control,” Engler said. “There is a possibility that a council member will introduce a resolution for that legislation. We are still working on it, but it could be introduced in the fall.”
Councilman Mark Squilla, whose First District includes the Gayborhood, was not available for comment.
Mark McDonald, the mayor’s spokesperson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A representative of the city’s Sister City program did not respond to a request for comment by presstime.
The new national law forbids discussion of LGBT issues among minors and mandates a fine or jail time for individuals who are expressing pro-LGBT messages. Fines are as high as 1 million rubles, or $30,000.
Morrill encouraged LGBTs and allies to sign the petition, especially in light of Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“It’s not only foreign government we are dealing with but the 2014 Olympics will take place in Russia and Russian authorities will arrest those who are openly gay or do any demonstration for LGBT rights,” Morrill said. “This is not just another country acting badly. We need to protect our citizens who will be attending the games.”