By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council has approved a resolution sponsored by City Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to oppose a Republican-authored bill now before the state House prohibiting transgender athletes in Pennsylvania from participating in high school and college sports that correspond to their gender.
At-large Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym, Allan Domb, Derek Green and Isaiah Thomas, as well as District Councilmembers Mark Squilla and Cherelle Parker co-sponsored the resolution, which cleared the council during a vote on Thursday, a spokesperson confirmed.
The resolution is non-binding, which means it does not have the force of law. But, as a symbolic gesture, it comes freighted with great meaning, a senior council aide told the Capital-Star on Friday
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Barbara Gleim, R-Cumberland, argues that “The opportunity for girls to compete on a level playing field must be protected. Title IX was created to stop discrimination and create equal athletic opportunities for women. However, allowing biological males to compete in girls’ sports reverses nearly 50 years of advancement for women.”
Gleim’s bill is one of dozens of other anti-transgender bills making their way through state legislatures across the country. Most of them aimed at preventing transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare and barring them from taking part in school sports.
Gilmore Richardson initially learned about the bill via an email from the Einstein Medical Center.
“To ban young people from participating in sports just because of how they identify I thought was mean and very cruel,” she told the Philadelphia Gay News. “Particularly as a mother of young people, just thinking about the challenges that children go through as they’re going through their adolescence and growing up.”
“We cannot send a message that discrimination in any form is acceptable, and that is what H.B. 972 seeks to accomplish,” Parker said in an email. “Discrimination, based solely on gender identity, would deny these students access to the same opportunities as their peers. Such a ban would create an additional burden on students who are likely to already feel left out and stigmatized because of their identity. These students are being involuntarily thrust into a political argument about an essential part of their growth and development.”
Gilmore Richardson pointed out that engaging in activities like school sports can help mitigate mental health issues that many LGBTQ+ youth experience at disproportionately high rates due to societal and familial rejection.
“I recognize as a former teacher that LGBTQ youth, and trans youth in particular, are at significantly higher risk for depression and suicide and other mental health challenges,” Gilmore Richardson said. “Sports is a way for young people to improve their mental health. I just thought it was cruel to bully young people in that way when we should be supporting them and helping them in their lives.”
In the midst of this outpouring of transphobic legislation, some good news for the queer and trans community came on May 10 when the Biden administration restored federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in healthcare settings, essentially reinstating Obama-era protections that the Trump administration diminished.
Although resolutions do not technically pull weight in terms of influencing the state legislative process, Gilmore Richardson believes it important to communicate her voice and those of her colleagues when it comes to trans students being able to engage in athletics.
“I think silence means agreeing, and when you don’t agree with something, I think it’s our duty to speak out against what we see or hear happening, particularly in Harrisburg,” she said. “We need to let them know that discrimination, harassment or bullying, particularly against young people, is just not acceptable.”
Throughout her City Council career, Gilmore Richardson has worked to bolster minority rights, including those of LGBTQ communities.
While working as legislative aide to former Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, Gilmore Richardson worked on the Equal Benefits Bill, which provided benefits for all city employees and their partners.
“I hope to continue to join with others, particularly here in our city to stand against [HB 972] and collaborate with partners like Einstein Health to provide solid data and information that’s counter to the information that’s included in the bill,” Gilmore Richardson said.”
She plans to stay informed of other issues that affect young people in Philadelphia and in the whole of Pennsylvania, “to make sure that the communities we represent, particularly young people, are safe, healthy and equitable, and that means in every way.”
City Council members were set to vote on the resolution on Thursday, May 13. In addition to the resolution’s co-sponsors, Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, Kenyatta Johnson and Cindy Bass also plan to vote favorably.
“This bill is not about finding ways to add any equity or equality to women sports,” Bass said via email. “It’s not about trying to find ways to uplift, enhance, further, support, or in any way be of assistance to women and girls when it comes to athletics. This bill is a mean-spirited attack, and the intent behind it is clear: this is an anti-LGBTQ attack as part of a hateful Republican agenda.”
In the spirit of speaking up in the face of what many councilmembers believe to be a discriminatory bill, Gilmore Richardson added, “I just felt like we had to say something. To our other colleagues we say, ‘we are listening to what you say, but we are watching what you do.’”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared. Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed additional reporting.