Philadelphia City Council passed a first-of-its-kind LGBT-equality bill last week that is poised to make the city home to the most LGBT-friendly laws in the nation.
Bill 130224, which passed April 25 in a 14-3 vote, would offer a tax-credit incentive to businesses that add same-sex partners to their insurance plans, as well as a substantial number of landmark benefits for the transgender community.
Mayor Michael Nutter will sign the legislation into law May 7.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Jim Kenney, would revamp the city’s health-care plan to ban discrimination against non-union transgender city employees, and would instate a Transgender Health Tax Credit that would encourage companies to offer transgender-specific health-insurance coverage to the transgender community.
City buildings would also be required to provide gender-neutral bathrooms, and the measure would clarify what constitutes employment discrimination in the city’s nondiscrimination law.
The bill won with a near-sweeping victory, with Councilman-at-Large Bill Green being the only Democrat to vote against it. Republican Councilmen-at-Large David Oh and Brian O’Neill voted against the bill.
In a statement to PGN this week, Green said he was opposed for fiscal reasons.
“The LGBT community has always said they want equal rights under the law and I have an established record of support for equal rights for the LGBT community and for all Americans,” he said. “But rights are different than tax credits and we didn’t need to address them in one bill. We can — and I do — support equal rights for all without needing to extend $2 million in tax credits to do it.”
Green added that he supports tax credits that “create jobs, expand economic opportunity and bring business to Philadelphia — all things which ultimately increase revenue for the city or promote employment.” He said Kenney’s bill, however, would “do none of those things. What it does do is cost the city up to $2 million when we are stretching our scarce resources to find funds for schools, the fire department, the district attorney and others — the basic structure of government. That’s why I voted like I did.”
Kenney emphasized that the tax credit would not go to companies that currently offer benefits to same-sex partners, but would act as an incentive to those that do not.
“The bill does not permit tax credit for companies who offer same-sex benefits now, but this is for companies who need to get there but don’t offer them now. It is an incentive,” Kenney explained.
A number of LGBT community members testified to the benefits of the bill prior to the vote.
Transgender advocate Jordan Gwendolyn Davis said the bill would address many of the issues the transgender and gender-non-conforming communities experience day to day. Davis said she moved to Philadelphia after she experienced transphobic attitudes in Pittsburgh regarding bathroom usage and within the homeless-shelter system.
“While cisgender women have nothing to fear by transwomen being in women’s spaces, transwomen have a lot to fear by being forced in men’s spaces, due to an endemic rape culture within,” she said. “Although I wish that the protections in this bill in gender-segregated spaces went beyond bathrooms, I believe it is a good start.”
State Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) said he hoped Council would make it a historical day for Philadelphia, which he said has long celebrated diversity.
“We are a city that doesn’t hide from its diversity, but instead celebrates and proudly displays our cultural, ethnic, sexual and gender diversity every day for the world to see. It is the Philadelphia way,” he said.
Sims said the city has supported and protected its lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens for 30 years and began making moves to protect the transgender community more than a decade ago.
“Quite literally, we are at our best when we are celebrating and embracing our diversity, and it’s no surprise that pioneers of the LGBT civil-rights movement chose Philadelphia to proudly proclaim that we are here, we are equal and we deserve the same rights afforded to all of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
Sims said there is frequent debate on whether the community should be labeled “LGBT” or “GLBT,” but he noted the importance of all community members.
“If we were actually listing the members of the LGBT community in order of importance, in order of how hard they worked and of how much farther they have to go, we would be the TLGB community,” he said.
Kenney thanked those who worked hard for the bill, including his staff and LGBT community leaders, and said he looked forward to providing equality for all citizens.
“We are continuing on the American road to full equality and civil rights for all our citizens,” he said.
Joining Kenney in voting for the measure were Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson, Jannie Blackwell, Curtis Jones, Darrell Clarke, Bobby Henon, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Cindy Bass, Marian Tasco, W. Wilson Goode, William Greenlee, Dennis O’Brien and Blondell Reynolds Brown.