It was only two weeks ago that we were introduced to Councilman Jim Kenney’s LGBT Equality Bill — the ground-breaking legislation that would offer sweeping, first-of-its-kind protections for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. At the time, I thought its passage was a long shot, but boy was I wrong. Yesterday, the bill all but zipped through City Council with a winning 14-3 vote.
After the voting session I went to Kenney’s office to see how he felt after passing the historic legislation, which, thank you very much, makes Philadelphia the largest city in the nation to offer such broad protections to its LGBTQ community. “I’m surprised that it went as smoothly as it did,” he says. “And to see how far things have come since [the domestic-partnership run-around] in ’98.” In fact, he says, the only real dustups came the week before in the form of media outlets sensationalizing the bill’s requirement that new City construction provide gender-neutral bathrooms for transgender people. “It shocked me that the Daily News and other outlets were ‘bathroom, bathroom, bathroom,’ when that’s one-twentieth of the entire bill.”
Several representatives from Philly’s transgender community offered powerful testimonies at yesterday’s council session, including two trans men who showed up with their wives and kids who Kenney said made a huge impact. I think the two witnesses from the family — they knocked it out of the park,” he says. “I could see all the heads whip around and look at [them] and go, ‘Dad. Mother. Child. Health care. … A few people, like [Councilman] Curtis Jones, said, ‘yea, I get it.'”
But those testimonies didn’t inspire everyone to vote “yes.” The dissenting votes came from Republican Councilmen David Oh and Brian O’Neill, the latter of which told nbcphiladelphia.com, that he’s “not there yet” on the bill’s changes in medical insurance for transgender surgery.
The nay that really inspired a few gasps, however, was Democratic At-Large Councilman Bill Green, whose move Kenney calls “unprecedented.” “I’ve never seen such a dumb Democratic citywide vote, especially when you knew it was going to pass by a wide margin,” he says. “If you know it’s coming and you’re supposed to be a Democrat representing the entire city, I don’t know how you justify it.”
It’s no secret that the two councilman are exploring the possibility of running for mayor in 2015. So does Kenney think their potential rivalry was Green’s driving force for voting against him? “If he’s thinking about [running], I dont’ know what he was thinking about [yesterday]. He certainly couldn’t have been running in a Democratic primary in a citywide office. … ” For the record, I made several attempts to reach out to Councilman Green, but he has yet to return my calls. (See update below.)
With the drama aside, however, there is a lot of reason to celebrate. This pioneering bill makes Philadelphia one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the nation, and most of it will go into effect as soon as Mayor Nutter signs it — something that nbc10philadelphia.com says he has promised to do. Some components, however — like the Equality Tax Credit, which will extend a tax cut to private business that provide healthcare to the same-sex partners of its employees, and the measure that ends discriminatory exclusion of health benefits for transgender City employees — won’t become law until January 1, 2014.
UPDATED [3:46 p.m., 4/26/2013]: Councilman Bill Green responds to his decision to vote no on Kenney’s LGBT Equality Bill. Click here for his firstname.lastname@example.org.