Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed into law three bills that protect transgender and nonbinary children on Oct. 31.
Passed by Philadelphia City Council on Oct. 3, the three bills, known as the “inclusivity package” introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym, include required training on non-discrimination policies for any staff working with children, Philadelphia Gay News reported.
One of the three bills enforces policies already established through School District Policy 252, which provides protections, like using inclusive language, keeping trans identities confidential, referring to students by their correct pronouns, among others, Philadelphia Gay News reported.
Another bill revised the definitions of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in The Philadelphia Code, and requires gender-inclusive bathrooms on each floor of City Hall, Philadelphia Gay News reported.
Kieran McIntire, a sophomore at George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science on 16th Street near Norris, reported on Policy 252 for the school’s student newspaper, the Carver Times, when it was introduced. She and her fellow members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance started a campaign to bring awareness to the policy like its gender-inclusive language.
GSA member and a Carver High School junior Zach Jackson, who worked on the awareness campaign, said the new bills make life easier for someone like themself, who is nonbinary.
“When it was brought to my attention, immediately, I was extremely happy because I don’t have to go to every teacher and say my name is Zach anymore,” Jackson said. “Yay, simplicity. No more anxiety.”
With this kind of legislation, Jackson feels respected by the school district because, in other districts, there are no policies like this.
“There, trans people and people that are gender non-conforming are just out of the question entirely,” Jackson added. “With the bills that the school district and our school has, it shows that we’re very inclusive, that we do care and that you’re not alone.”
Jackson Burke, a freshman fine arts major at Temple, said that laws like these would have helped him growing up. He attended a Catholic school for his freshman and sophomore years of high school, where he faced discrimination.
The community Burke has found in his journey as a trans individual is what helped him through these challenges.
“In this community, a lot of us really see each other as a family, and being able to help each other and empower each other, it’s really been my favorite part of the journey so far,” he said.
Burke was happy to hear about the passage of the new bills, both for himself and for future generations, he said.
“It’s really nice to be able to see protections for people like me in the city that we live [in] that makes us safer,” he added.
Carver High School’s GSA adviser and journalism teacher Kit Bradley said creating inclusive spaces in schools is the job of teachers and administrators.
“Historically, within places like schools, trans and gender non-conforming students have been left out of conversations,” Bradley said. “They’re left out of curriculums and often discouraged to express who they really are.
Carver High School Principal Ted Domers said it is a priority for his students to feel comfortable at school.
“It’s essential,” he said. “If students don’t feel safe and welcome and can’t learn, they can’t grow.”
Only 26 percent of LGBTQ children have reported they feel safe in school, and only five percent reported that all of their school staff supported their identities, according to a 2018 LGBTQ Children Report by the Human Rights Campaign.
Buck Baker, a sophomore public health major and president of Students for Trans Awareness and Rights, said he hopes the new laws will give trans and gender non-conforming children a sense of “freedom,” like he felt when discovering his family at STAR.
“We want this to be normalized, so we don’t feel like outsiders,” he added. “We are here, and we are not going anywhere.”