Updated: Friday, February 9, 2018, 6:58 AM
The national obsession with where Amazon will plant itself reached new absurdity last week when numerous media outlets published a report that a group of gay activists were going to run ads suggesting that many of the 20 finalist cities should be disqualified based on LGBT equality criteria. One of those 20 was my own Philadelphia.
As an LGBT activist for almost 50 years and a proud Philadelphian, the misrepresentation of facts can’t be ignored, and while I’m sure the 19 other cities are scratching their heads as well, I’ll take the privilege of using my own city as an example to point out the ridiculousness of these criteria.
The basis of the ad is simple: Any state that does not have a nondiscrimination law protecting the rights of its LGBT citizens should not be in the game for Amazon. Simple research would make clear that not all nondiscrimination laws are the same in whom they protect and how they protect them. This reasoning also penalizes cities that have traditionally been on the forefront of equality.
Philadelphia, for example, has a Home Rule Charter that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and also includes “gender identity and expression,” which protects our transgender citizens. Many of those states that the ad found acceptable ignore our transgender community. So the ad itself is more like LGB, than LGBT, inclusive.
The ad also ignores basic facts. Philadelphia was among the first cities to debate and pass LGBT nondiscrimination legislation. It has one of the strongest transgender rights laws in the nation. Statewide, Pennsylvania had marriage equality a full year before the Supreme Court gave it to the majority of the nation. Pennsylvania was the first state to issue an executive order outlawing discrimination in state government, the first state to issue an official designation of Gay Pride, and the first state to create an official government body looking into issues facing the LGBT community way back in 1975. The first public demonstrations for LGBT equality were organized here by Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings in 1965. The crossroads of the public battle for LGBT rights started in Philadelphia and it continues in Philadelphia today.
Philadelphia is the home of the yearly National Trans Health Conference. You’ll find murals and statues celebrating our LGBT pioneers. Our museums have LGBT history on full display. The campaign to change network TV censorship of our community was led from this city, so now you can watch Will & Grace, Ellen, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Modern Family. And it was activists in Philadelphia who prompted the American Psychiatric Association to stop designating LGBT people as mentally ill. The first national LGBT surveys of city and state governments, police departments as well as insurance, health, police recruiting, and even prison reform all started here. Did I mention that Pennsylvania has a trans physician general?
When our national leaders and activists debate today’s issues of social justice and economic fairness they do so here in Philadelphia. Don’t take my word for it; take that of the National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and national LGBT medical and legal associations, among others, who all picked Philadelphia for their national conventions and conferences.
If Amazon cuts cities due to the geographic rule suggested, they’ll have to eliminate the District of Columbia and Maryland, since someone working there could choose to live in Virginia, a state that does not have an LGBT nondiscrimination law. That holds true for most cities on the list the ad created, since most big cities are close to state borders.
Using only that geographic nondiscrimination rule the ad set as its benchmark, only one city on the Amazon finalist list can be approved — Toronto — since Canada has a national LGBT nondiscrimination law and the United States does not.
If you really care about this issue, don’t minimize the blood, sweat, and tears of LGBT activists and pioneers in those 20 cities. Instead, try working toward a national nondiscrimination law and voting to elect people who support it. Oh, by the way, the United States had one introduced in Congress as far back as 1974 and one of its earliest sponsors was Robert N.C. Nix, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. I’m proud to say he was a Philadelphian.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He recently published his memoir, “And Then I Danced.” @PhilaGayNews