Philadelphia enacts non-discrimination law for schools and youth groups

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Philadelphia schools and organizations that serve children and teens must make accommodations for transgender youth or face penalties under new non-discrimination regulations the city enacted this month.

After nearly three years of legal review and pandemic-related delays, rules that flow from legislation passed in 2019 apply to charter schools, recreation centers, daycares, after-school programs and sports leagues serving those under 18.

The city code change comes as transgender youth have increasingly become a political issue, with lawmakers in a handful of states — including Pennsylvania — championing legislation aimed at restricting the rights of trans children.

Under new Philadelphia regulations, organizations must allow transgender and gender-nonconforming youth to use names, pronouns, clothing, and grooming that matches their gender identity. The rules also require employees of youth-serving organizations to undergo training and state that they cannot disclose a child’s transgender status to staff, peers or parents “unless the young person authorized such disclosure”.

Kia Ghee, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, said the city would conduct training upon request and weigh penalties for violations “on a case-by-case basis.” She described the regulations as reinforcing the city’s existing non-discrimination ordinances, which already protect people on the basis of gender identity and expression.

“When you’re dealing with young people, it’s a completely different kind of person you want to protect,” she said. “They are often speechless and in the care of adults.”

Enforcement is the responsibility of the commission, which can receive complaints of violations, initiate investigations and impose fines. The commission will also assess applications from organizations that face complaints and seek an exemption on religious grounds – but groups cannot preemptively apply to be exempted.

City General Council member Helen Gym, who introduced the legislation, said in an interview that the regulations come into effect at a “crucial” time, citing state and national bills to limit certain care options health for transgender youth. or ban transgender girls from participating in girl’s sports.

“Recent bills attacking student athletes and national bills to criminalize access to health care have become more extreme,” she said. “We want the young people here to know that they are seen and belong.”

» READ MORE: 5 trans women in Pennsylvania on issues facing their community | Opinion

The law outlining the new bylaws was passed unanimously by city council and was signed by Mayor Jim Kenney. The legislation was intended to make the relatively progressive guidelines of the Philadelphia School District regarding transgender students, a uniform city-wide non-discrimination policy.

Anne Clark, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said many charters already have policies to protect transgender and non-binary students. She said she “can’t imagine” the operators having a problem with city regulations.

“We want all children to thrive in our communities, be healthy, happy and feel accepted,” Clark said.

Local advocates for the transgender community have applauded the necessary regulations at a time of growing political attention on transgender children.

Chloe Harris, manager of a recreation center in Southwest Philadelphia and transgender, helped shape the legislation — and now, as a worker at a youth-serving organization, she will put it implemented.

“Young trans people have kind of become this political football, and that’s very unfortunate because they’re kids,” she said. “It’s important that we keep these kids safe and out of this fight, and I couldn’t be prouder as a born and raised Philadelphian than I am today.”

Erin Ellis, whose two elementary-age children are enrolled in Philadelphia public schools, said she is grateful for the new protections that will apply to her children – one is transgender; the other is non-binary.

She said her daughter had had a “traumatic and awful experience” at daycare where she was regularly abused. So she transferred her to a public school, where she knew the non-discrimination policy would apply.

Ellis said she’s proud that the regulations require training and education for adults who work with children and teens.

“I see it as a protection for the children and a service for the adults who work with them,” she said. “This education does not only serve gender non-conforming children. Many parts of these regulations will benefit all children who participate in youth programs.

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