Pittsburgh City Council took preliminary steps Wednesday to add gender identity and expression as an explicitly protected class with regard to housing, employment and public accommodation.
Council President Bruce Kraus sponsored the legislation and said the issue was brought to his attention by Jason Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, or PSEC.
“I was very surprised to learn that while the spirit of our code always referenced protection for gender identity and expression, it was exactly that, it was spirit … not actual verbiage,” Kraus said.
Kraus’s chief of staff, Kevin Kerr, said transgender people and others who do not adhere to the gender binary are technically protected under current municipal code, but that the protection was buried in the definition of ‘sex’ used in the non-discrimination policy.
“When you see the non-discrimination act publicized in the workplace, gender identity and expression is not clearly stated on that,” Kerr said. “With this legislation, it would be stated clearly … because they are listed as a directly protected class.”
Kraus said Pittsburgh is not the only city that PSEC has set its sights on.The LGBT activist group has pushed for similar changes to municipal codes in Harrisburg, York, Lancaster and Erie.
Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said the initiative is an instance of the public sector leading by example.
“Hopefully in five, 10, 20 years, this will be considered perfectly normal across all jurisdictions … and private companies,” Rudiak said.
Kraus said council’s action is part of a national debate around transgender issues. He pointed to Monday’s executive order from President Obama which provides non-discrimination protection to gay and transgender people who work for the federal government and agencies that contract with the government. According to NPR, the order applies to one-fifth of the national workforce, or about 28 million workers.
Council gave preliminary approval to the bill on Wednesday, and will take a final vote next week.