First Ever Trans Specific Civil Rights Bills Introduced in PA General Assembly

PA Representative Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) has introduced  the first ever transgender specific civil rights bills in Pennsylvania history.

The Transgender Health Benefits Act HB304 is based on a piece of Philadelphia legislation  that allows for transition related healthcare for government workers, but the state bill covers public, as well as private and Medicaid plans.

Despite this progress, this care has been elusive at the state level. There is no coverage for state employees, no protections in private insurance, and there are specific exclusions the state Medicaid program.

This bill would require coverage of transition related care, including hormone therapy, mental health, and surgery in all private, public, and Medicaid plans, the latter being critical to a group experiencing a high poverty rate.

Currently, only four states, plus the District of Columbia, have full transgender health coverage, and this legislation would insure that all healthcare plans in Pennsylvania recognize that transition related healthcare is necessary care.

What this means is that all insurance companies would be required to offer trans inclusive health insurance coverage. This does not mean that all employers must offer health insurance.

Currently, Philadelphia is the only municipal employer to offer trans inclusive health insurance to its employees – the City of Pittsburgh does not, Allegheny County does not. Among private employers, PNC Bank does offer this coverage.

This legislation comes at an interesting time in Pennsylvania history – a Republican controlled General Assembly has prevented any LGBTQ legislation from passing while our new Governor has appointed an openly transgender woman, Dr. Rachel Levine, as his Physician General.

Note, while I was in Harrisburg last weekend, the local media interviewed Dr. Levine in regard to the measles/vaccination issue and it was thrilling to see a trans woman talking about public health on the news. She was quite good and a reassuring voice.

HB303  is based on the Success For All Students Act in California and allows PA students to dress, participate in activities, and be in spaces consistent with their gender identity regardless of gender listed on school records. 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.”

This is particularly of interest in our region as the University of Pittsburgh has implemented a “bathroom policy” requiring people to use the restroom tied to their gender assigned at birth. Pitt is also in the midst of a lawsuit filed by a trans male student who was disciplined for using male locker rooms at Pitt-Johnstown.

We recently saw the foundation for “the bathroom wars” when the Pennsylvania Family Research Council sent out a vicious fearmongering mailer to residents of Pennsylvania’s 41st State House District (Washington, Allegheny counties.) The most significant outcome is people being afraid to pee for fear of being harassed, assaulted or worse. There’s no documented case of a situation where a man in a dress went into a dressing room to peep at middle-aged women trying on clothing. Or anything like that.

How can you help?

  • Contact your member of the PA House and ask them to cosponsor this legislation.
  • Share your story. How does this impact your life? Write a letter to the editor, submit a blog post (I’ll publish it.)
  • Track the legislation.
  • Lend your support to a trans led organization in your community. Go to meeting, attend a fundraiser, send them an email and offer your encouragement.
  • Ask if your employer offers trans inclusive health insurance coverage. You don’t have to be trans to ask or to encourage them to make the change if necessary.

It is true that both bills face an uphill battle, but it is important that we have these conversations. Our opponents will have no hesitation harassing and scapegoating our trans siblings to push their agenda forward.

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