Rep. Mark Cohen to Introduce Transgender Rights Bills in New Session


Cohen at a recent Capitol news conference.

Last spring, Philly Representative Mark Cohen announced that he would introduce Pennsylvania’s first transgender rights bill in the House. That, unfortunately, never came to be, because, as Philly trans activist Jordan Gwendolyn Davis tells me, of changes during the drafting process. But don’t fret, a new and more-specific series of bills are on their way.

In January, Cohen plans to introduce two bills:  The Transgender Health Benefits Act, which, as Cohen states in a memorandum, would “require coverage of transition-related care, including hormone therapy, mental health, and surgery in all private, public, and Medicaid plans.” It would make Pennsylvania one of four states that have transgender healthcare coverage.

A Transgender Student Rights Bill, legislation that’s inspired by California’s “Success For All Students Act,” seeks to eliminate gender-based bias on campuses across the state. It “clarifies that students may live as their true gender identity, regardless of the sex listed on student records. Under this legislation, students would be able to follow the dress code, use facilities such as locker rooms and restrooms, and participate in athletic programs based on a students’ self-attested gender.”

Davis, who helped Cohen put together the bills tells me that these pieces of legislation are “extremely real for the transgender community. … They confront many specific issues in a head-on manner, in a way that is meaningful for our community.”
Putting on a realist hat, however, she tells me that the bills are being introduced with the knowledge that they probably won’t go anywhere any time soon. “But, as difficult and recalcitrant as our legislature can be, I believe the only thing that can be done is make a good effort. We are at the beginning of the long arc, but it will bend toward justice. And who knows, maybe there is a Republican legislator who has a transgender relative or is struggling with their gender identity, and these issues could be real to them. And if issues become real to certain people, it sets it on the road to passage.”
Plus, she reminds me, we will soon have an outspoken trans supporter sitting in the governor’s chair. “Tom Wolf is one of the biggest allies to transgender people to ever win statewide in this purple state.”