Flushing away shame

Posted: April 22, 2013

A BILL SPONSORED by City Councilman Jim Kenney at the behest of the LGBT community would require newly constructed or renovated city-owned buildings to have gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to men's and women's rooms.

"It can be an awkward and embarrassing situation," said Kenney, for anyone who may "feel more like a woman, but can't use the women's room. These functions should be fair for everybody."

Speakers at a recent City Council committee hearing on the bill told stories of transgendered youth who faced discrimination in bathroom access.

"We're talking about people who want to be respected, who want their personal identification to be respected and just want to blend in," said state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay legislator who was involved with helping craft the bill, which the Council committee agreed to last week.

Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, said the bill's requirements would not cost the city extra money because it already requires nongender single-use, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms in all of its buildings.

Support for gender-neutral bathrooms is growing. The University of Pennsylvania is looking to expand its gender-neutral bathrooms and in 2006 the Washington, D.C., Office of Human Rights issued a regulation that prohibited public bathrooms from being gender-specific in an effort to end discrimination against the transgender community. Advocates say the transgendered community makes up 1 percent of Philly's population.

"This bill brings a first-class city into the 21st century," said Sims.

The number of gender-neutral bathrooms would depend on the building's size and use. Kenney's bill would also make online city websites and forms gender-neutral and establish transgender health benefits for city employees to cover psychotherapy, hormone treatments, laser hair removal and gender confirmation surgery.

Kathy Padilla, a transgendered woman and strong advocate for LGBT rights who also aided in crafting the legislation, said she was unable to get a mammogram for the last 16 years.

"I fail to see how not having mammogram coverage helps anyone in the future," she said. "How does that help keep costs down?"

Under the proposal, private companies that offer health care for life partners, their children and for transgender medical needs could also apply for a tax credit, the lesser of $4,000 or 25 percent of any cost increases. Philly would be the first city in the country to offer such a tax credit. The bill would require spouse-equivalent treatment in hospitals and prison visitation and bans discrimination in medical decision making. The bill could come up for a final vote as early as Thursday.

"Life is hard for everybody and certain obstacles the government puts in the way intentionally or unintentionally make life harder for some more than others," Kenney said, "and all we're trying to do is streamline that down."

On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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