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Here’s the role Philly can play in getting the federal Equality Act passed

The City of Philadelphia's 2013 Rainbow Flag Raising Ceremony. August 15, 2016 Category: FeaturedMediumMethod
According to the federal government, in 2016, it’s still legal to deny a person a job because they’re gay.

That’s probably surprising to many Americans, especially city dwellers — over 200 cities have LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws on the books, including Philadelphia.

The Equality Act of 2015 would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to extend class protection to gender identity and sexual orientation in cases of housing, education, employment and other types of discrimination. The bill was introduced by state Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3185) and state Sen. Jeff Markley (D-OR) in the Senate (S. 1858) in July 2015.

The bill has 117 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate, and Cicilline is pressing the Speaker for a hearing, he said recently.

The existing law “violates the basic principles of what America stands for,” whereas the passage of the Equality Act would say “once and for all, discrimination against our community is illegal,” said Cicilline, who is gay.

The representative spoke during a forum held during the DNC by Mayors Against Discrimination when members of the national coalition, including Jim Kenney, D.C’s Muriel Bowser and Phoenix’s Greg Stanton, discussed what effect local LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies might have on the passage of the Equality Act.

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“I think that we [Philadelphians] need to remain steadfast in our advocacy that LGBT rights overall are human rights,” said Office of LGBT Affairs Director Nellie Fitzpatrick, who introduced each of the mayors. The Equality Act “is essentially making it the law of the land that LGBT rights are civil rights are human rights. We’re going to maintain our work going forward to make sure that people know that.”

Philadelphia is one of just a handful of cities with an Office of LGBT Affairs — an office that became permanent this past November, when almost 86,000 people voted to add it to the city’s charter.

The act was a staunch contrast to one that took place on the same day in Houston, where residents voted to repeal an anti-discrimination ordinance following conservative outcry against transgender people using public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

“To me, it’s terrifying to see people not understand that folks in our country have used bathrooms in our country without problems,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got to step back and understand that transgender and gender nonconforming people have been here forever, and it’s time that we do everything that we can to protect and empower them.”

Though Philadelphia has been long known for its embracing of the gay community, it has some ways to go before becoming a truly welcoming, inclusive city. Most pressing, Fitzpatrick said, is eliminating LGBTQ youth homelessness — about half of the city’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

“That clearly is a top, top priority and is something that we’ll be working very hard on,” she said, “as well as continuing to break down barriers and make places safe, inclusive and affirming all throughout city government.”

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