Securing LGBT employment rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Barack Obama took a strong step today to end discrimination against the nation’s LGBTQ workforce – and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was among those in the room at the White House to witness it.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment, an inspiring moment for equality for all,” Landau said. “This sets an important standard, because too often, people can still lose their jobs simply because of whom they love or how they identify themselves. By affirming these as fundamental human expressions, the president has helped to define what ‘equality for all’ truly means.”

President Obama signs executive orders to protect federal LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.

President Obama signs executive orders to protect federal LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination.

President Obama issued an update to both Executive Order 11246 and Executive Order 11478, bolstering the rights of federal LGBTQ employees.

The first order originally was issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin and now, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Religiously-affiliated contractors are allowed certain exemptions.

The update covers federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors doing more than $10,000 in government business annually. The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs will oversee and enforce the law.

The second order, initially issued by President Nixon, bans discrimination against federal employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age. President Clinton updated the order to include sexual orientation, and now President Obama has added gender identity.

The executive orders fill a legislative gap. There are no current federal laws that clearly protect LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination.

While Philadelphia has some of the best LGBTQ protection laws in the nation, Pennsylvania does not.

Just 18 states and the District of Columbia explicit have laws that protect LGBTQ workers from losing their jobs due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is in spite of the fact that some 9 in 10 Forbes 500 companies ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and 6 in 10 prohibit gender identity discrimination.

A simple photograph on a desk can be enough to cost someone a job in some cases.

“Our economy grows best not from the top-down, but from the middle-out.  We do better when the middle class does better,” President Obama said during his most recent weekly address to the nation. “We have to make sure our economy works for every working American. Across lots of areas – energy, manufacturing, technology – our businesses and workers are leading again.”

With his actions on Monday, he intends for those ranks to include LGBTQ workers as well.

Celebrating diversity: Ramadan 2014 in Philadelphia

PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Garner juggles a lot as a civic-minded entrepreneur, and has been particularly busy on another front as of late – helping to strengthen ties between the city’s Muslim population and the broader public.

Councilman Jones and Saadiq Garner

City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr. shares a word with PCHR Commissioner Saadiq Garner during the 2nd Annual Philadelphia City Hall Iftar.

This week, he did so by participating in a public Iftar – or, breaking of fast – hosted by City Council Majority Leader Curtis Jones Jr.  This is the midway point of Ramadan, the annual time of prayer, fasting, and personal reflection observed by Muslims throughout the world.

The Iftar usually occurs privately among family and friends in homes, but this public event helped to offer yet another example of the city’s commitment to its roots of religious and cultural tolerance, Garner said.

“Philadelphia is a place where building community means encompassing everybody, and the engagement of Muslims at such an event in City Hall shows that the presence is strong and respected,” he said.

At Tuesday’s Iftar, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown were among the many elected officials in attendance, where dozens of people of all faiths gathered. Meanwhile, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society hosted an interfaith Iftar, featuring Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders — with plenty of discussion about world affairs, such as events in Syria and Gaza, and a lot of good food.

The Greater Philadelphia area is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Americans who practice Islam, with Philadelphia ranking fourth among the top 10 U.S. cities with highest Muslim populations.

During Ramadan, Muslims are called to engage in acts of charity, and many heeded that call last Saturday as the Council on American-Islamic Relations powered a produce drive in conjunction with Philabundance and the Masjidullah Center for Human Excellence. Organizers wanted to encourage participants to be more thoughtful than just grabbing a dented can or an old bag of beans from the pantry, asking instead for cabbage, carrots, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes and oranges.

Masjids — houses of worship — across the city responded, donating some 3,850 pounds of fruits and vegetables.

Amatullah Brown (l.), a 15-year-old Central High School student, joins her friend Noor Borwman (r.), a 13-year-old PA Cyber Charter School student, in hoisting some of the produce donations amassed by area Muslims as part of Ramadan.

Amatullah Brown (l.), a 15-year-old Central High School student, joins her friend Noor Borwman (r.), a 13-year-old PA Cyber Charter School student, in hoisting some of the produce donations amassed by area Muslims as part of Ramadan.

The donations went to Upper Room Mission in the Ogontz section of town. Hundreds of people received meals made from the food as well as others who took bags of produce home.

“This is God’s work, showing what Islam is all about,” said Dr. Katera Y. Moore of CAIR-Philadelphia. “We’re Muslims, but we raised money for food that was donated to a church. Hunger is a social issue, a political issue, one that hits everybody – Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist, everybody.”

These kinds of acts, standard in observances of Ramadan, seldom get mainstream attention, allowing caricatures and stereotypes to pervade, Garner said. But this season, area Muslims made a concerted effort to increase the visibility of their contributions among their neighbors, to increase understanding.

“Sometimes you hear so many negative things about Islam, and people in areas where there isn’t as strong of a Muslim presence go by what they hear,” Garner said. “But an event like this kills off the negativity and highlights the diversity among Muslims and their way of life.

“It’s not about terrorists, or right-wing thinkers or left-wing thinkers. It’s about people who understand Islam properly and are benefiting from it and sharing that positivity.”

Global scholars learn from PCHR

On Monday, PCHR laid out how diversity and inclusion plays a significant, and legally protected, role in Philadelphia government for some two dozen visiting college students from the Middle East touring the United States.

PCHR represented one of three city agencies participating in the Dialogue Institute’s 2014 Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders on Religious Pluralism and Democracy in the United States. The attending students hailed from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey, among other nations. Philadelphia was among one of several stops in their program, which included checking in with policy makers in New York and Washington D.C.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Deputy Directors Reynelle Brown Staley and Randy Duque shared the mission and role of PCHR, while Patricia Coyne, veteran community relations representative, offered a review of past PCHR cases.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau chats with one of the two dozen visiting scholars participating in the Dialogue Institute's municipal education program.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau chats with one of the two dozen visiting scholars participating in the Dialogue Institute’s municipal education program.

The visit was coordinated by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs and also featured a presentation from the city’s Commerce Department.

Deputy Director Randy Duque leans in to share insights about PCHR's role in the city -- and the lives of immigrants living here.

Deputy Director Randy Duque leans in to share insights about PCHR’s role in the city — and the lives of immigrants living here.

Each agency offered insight into how they assist new Philadelphians get settled and integrated into the city, from the basics to the legal side of things – and personal reflections on life as an immigrant as well.

“I had worked for city government for a while, but when I saw the Mexican flag raised over City Hall,” said Fernando Treviño, MOIMA deputy executive director, “I was proud, proud, proud. And we’re looking for ways to share that feeling with other communities.”

In fact, a similar flag-raising for Liberia is in the works, a gesture of symbolic healing, considering the sizable population of Liberians here and recent tragedies that have beset it.

The fact that 12 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born and the outsized impact immigrants here have on founding flourishing enterprises piqued attention. Questions from students sought to glean opinions on the current immigration reform debate raging across the nation, as well as the steps needed to become U.S. citizens. Their majors ranged from medicine to business management.

“I didn’t know what we were going to find out when we came,” said Jad Saheb, a 19-year-old Lebonese business management major at American University. “ But I learned a lot. I am looking forward to learning more.”

PCHR closing its North Philadelphia branch

PHILADELPHIA, July 10, 2014 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will relocate its operations and staff from its North Philadelphia branch to its Center City headquarters, effective July 18.

The PCHR branch had operated in the basement of the Lillian Marrero branch library at 601 W. Lehigh Ave. The Free Library of Philadelphia has plans to renovate the branch in the future.
 
“This is a matter of effective streamlining and bringing all our resources under one roof, not abandoning our commitment or service to the community,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “We’ll be as present and available as ever, if not more so, as a result of this move.”
 
All PCHR operations will be consolidated at its offices at the Curtis Building, 601 Walnut St., Suite 300.
 
PCHR will continue to accept all intake and others seeking information and help as it relates to enforcement of and education about the city’s civil rights laws and resolving intergroup conflicts.

For more, call (215) 686-4670.

PCHR celebrates America, Philadelphia’s civil rights history

PCHR and the Farmer family joined Mayor Michael A. Nutter and dozens of dignitaries to celebrate and kick off the latest exhibit at the Philadelphia International Airport as part of the 2014 Wawa Welcome America! festivities.

Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened on July 2, the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this life-changing legislation.

PCHR, Farmer family celebrate civil rights

PCHR Commissioners Saadiq Garner, Alfredo Calderon and Chairman Thomas Earle, with PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Mayor Michael A. Nutter and members of Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family, including great-grandson Christopher Woodard Jr., granddaughter Helen Farmer , niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, Christopher Woodard Sr., granddaughter Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, great-granddaughter Morgan Woodard, and Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman. Photo courtesy of Jim McWilliams Photography.

The exhibit pays homage to Philadelphia’s extensive and historic role in the struggle for civil and human rights, as well as highlights its continued legacy. From pushing for the rights of people of color and women to ensuring dignity and fair treatment for LGBT people, Philadelphia has been on the forefront since the nation’s founding,

PCHR celebrates Philly LGBT history

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Philadelphia Gay News publisher and legendary LGBT advocate Mark Segal, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s LGBT history at the latest Philadelphia Airport photo exhibit, Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Members of the late Clarence Farmer Sr.’s family – niece, the Hon. Carolyn Nichols, granddaughter, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard, holding great-granddaughter, Morgan, and granddaughter, Helen Farmer, pose by his photo, one of those featured in Civil Rights in Philadelphia: 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the Philadelphia International Airport.

That story is documented in a series of archival and contemporary photographs in Terminal A in the airport. One of the featured shots is of iconic former PCHR Chair Clarence Farmer Sr., who died earlier this year.

His niece, the Hon. Carolyn H. Nichols, granddaughters, Dr. Nicole Farmer Woodard and Helen Farmer, and great-grandchildren, Chris Woodard Jr. and Morgan, helped commemorate his contributions to the continued effort of making Philadelphia a city welcome for all.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall Freeman, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, youth organizer Wei Chen, PCHR Chair Thomas Earle and Commissioners Alfredo Calderon and Saadiq Garner celebrate the city’s role in securing and maintaining rights for all. Chen was a student leader when Asian-American students protested bullying and brutality at the hands of their classmates at South Philadelphia High School in 2009.

Others recognized for their contributions to advancing the work of civil and human rights include Mark Segal, longtime LGBT activist and publisher of the decorated Philadelphia Gay News; Wei Chen, a youth organizer who was instrumental in the South Philadelphia High School student response to bullying of Asian students; and Sister Mary Scullion and Joan Dawson McConnon, founders of Project HOME.

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Another view on independence: Reflections on the Underground Railroad

In time for the Fourth of July holiday, PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks drew attention to the Underground Railroad — that storied 19th century interstate passage to freedom for countless African Americans held in bondage whose “trains” included stops in Philadelphia. Residents here — from the formerly enslaved to abolitionists — played a vital role in “conducting” this human-powered network of conscience and freedom, masterminding escape routes and raising money for the cause.

For Ricks, it was fitting at this time of year to focus on our responsibility to preserving and advancing the history and legacy of these heroes as the nation prepares to celebrate its Independence Day. She elaborated on this in a letter to the Chestnut Hill Local in its July 2 edition:

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

PCHR Commissioner Sarah E. Ricks, Esq.

Underground Railroad history deserves better

Philadelphia’s anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history is just as fascinating as the events celebrated on 4th of July. This American history should be more accessible to tourists.

Philadelphia’s African-American leaders had significant roles in the abolitionist movement. Former slave Richard Allen founded the Mother Bethel Church and, with his wife Sarah, was involved in hiding, retraining, and educating freedom-seeking slaves, sometimes using the church as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Wealthy Robert Purvis devoted most of his time to the largely African-American “vigilance” organizations founded to aid fugitive slaves. James Forten, a wealthy sail maker, supported abolition by buying the freedom of slaves, financing William Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper and operating an Underground Railroad station.

An interracial group – including Forten’s wife and three daughters and Lucretia Mott – founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. William Still recorded interviews with hundreds of escaping slaves and published those accounts in his book “The Underground Railroad” . . ..

Read the entire letter here.

 

Changing neighborhoods: 20th and Diamond streets edition

cc_logoOne in an occasional series examining how Philadelphia residents handle change

Since its inception, PCHR has helped residents manage change when neighborhoods undergo cyclical change. New people come in, older neighbors move out – or sometimes stay. Friction – born of differing cultures, attitudes or plain fear – at times arises. Tempering hard feelings before they escalate to negative actions is central to the PCHR mission – and why commissioners gladly accepted an invitation from longtime residents within the 32nd Ward to get their take on the rate and quality of change in their community.

Stretching from 33rd Street on the west and Broad Street to the east, Susquehanna Avenue to the north, Oxford Street to the south, the ward is a swath of North Philadelphia that serves as a gateway to both Fairmount Park and Temple University.

On Tuesday night, an assortment of neighbors spent two hours sharing their thoughts and frustrations about standing in Temple’s growing shadow and amid renewal prompted by outside developers. Listening to those concerns were PCHR Commissioners Marshall Freeman and Sarah Ricks, joined by PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque.

Changing North Philly

Longtime resident Jane Swinney Wilson describes life in her changing North Central Philadelphia neighborhood as Commissioner Freeman, PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque and Commissioner Ricks listen and jot notes.

“Everybody has the same situation, every black neighborhood does,” said Basir Fulmore, a South Philadelphia transplant. “We’re misinformed and getting locked out of our neighborhoods and out of the loop.”

The results, Fulmore and others said, wreck quality of life. Skyrocketing taxes. Declining public services. Exclusion from construction jobs. Police harassment. Disrespectful neighbors. School closures. Displacement. Illegal rooming houses. Wayward and inconsiderate parking. Mounting trash.

“I just want my neighborhood to be clean, to be able to sit on my steps without smelling trash, to look like anybody else’s neighborhood,” said Jane Swinney Wilson, a longtime resident. “I’m old. I’m retired. I’m tired. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting people in the streets about this and that.”

Judith Robinson, an area committeewoman and realtor, organized the meeting at Jones Memorial AME Church at 20th and Diamond streets. As whirring fans cooled the 50 or so gathered, several took their turn at the mic to share their testimonies.

Many statements echoed each other, and by the nodding heads, summed up nearly universal feelings. They were reflective of similar concerns voiced elsewhere in the city and heard by PCHR commissioners and staff as cranes, bulldozers and other signs of renewal have become commonplace fixtures in communities in transition, from Point Breeze to Yorktown, Fishtown to Cobbs Creek.

The pace and unintended outcomes of that neighborhood change has reenergized PCHR in intensifying its role as mediator and information hub for communities in need of that guidance.

For the past year, commissioners and staff have dedicated time to listening to concerns, extracting similarities and producing new tools to help people navigate any disruptions to their way of life, newcomers and old-timers alike. PCHR now is working on assembling a set of resources for people seeking to create and maintain community, even in the face of rapid change.

The people assembled at Jones Memorial said they’d be grateful for whatever partners they can get.

Earl Lively, a neighborhood activist, spoke about the health and security hazards stemming from blocks of illegal dumping taking place under the city’s nose, with little support to stop it to date. He implored PCHR to “help us do something.”

And then there are the Temple students.

Nearly every speaker had a horror story of inconsiderate, entitled students invading or disrupting communities already teetering. Efforts so far – from complaints to landlords and city agencies to calls to the university – have yielded little.

“I work at 5 in the morning, and their party is just getting started sometimes,” said Michelle Jones. “I’ve seen them take their trash and dump it over a fence. It’s disrespectful. It’s wrong.”

Changing North Philly

Michelle Jones describes frustration in dealing with her student neighbors.

But not every neighborhood ill could be blamed on outsiders, one woman reminded the crowd.

Michelle Bailey said she took on the mantle of block captain in her neighborhood because she could no longer bear the filth rising. But all the culprits aren’t sporting the cherry-and-white.

“Let’s be real, some of our neighbors make it hard for us to live next door to,” Bailey said. “And I’m tired of the noise, and excuses.”

For their part, the neighbors assembled pledged to start, with community planning sessions and renewed efforts to connect with Temple officials.

Freeman and Ricks took notes to share with their fellow commissioners. Duque told the audience that PCHR would share its new community-building tools once they’re developed – to further aid their empowerment effort.

“At times it’s the worst of the worst. But it can also be the best of the best,” Robinson said. “We know the problems. Now we need to find solutions, and that’s the real tough part.”