Pittsburgh City Council passed a pair of bills this week that makes the city a sanctuary for those seeking and providing gender-affirming care. In concrete terms, bills 2023-1842 and 1843 amend the city's Code to shield transgender Pittsburghers from out-of-state prosecution and to deprioritize prosecution if gender-affirming care should become illegal in the Commonwealth or nationwide. Both bills passed with a unanimous vote by all eight councilors present (Council President Theresa Kail-Smith was absent).
However, some local activists say the bills are too clever by half. "This is a great step, but it is a performative half-step at best," Trans YOUniting founder Dena Stanley wrote on Instagram after the bills' passage.
Stanley cited a lack of trans input on the bills, which councilors Barb Warwick (District 5) and Bruce Kraus (District 3) modeled on similar legislation protecting the right to an abortion. "Our community deserves protection," Stanley continued, "but where is the support for the services that are needed day-to-day?" Stanley also told CBS Pittsburgh that the city isn't prepared for an influx of trans people when it comes to support with care and housing.
"The bills being passed have opened a door, but now is a time to show up and do the work," Stanley tells Pittsburgh City Paper.
Maria Montaño, communications director for Mayor Ed Gainey's office and the first trans woman to hold the position, agrees that housing and other services are a key piece of the puzzle — however, she says the city has less agency than the county's Department of Human Services to make housing and other resources available. "We have to build, and have been building, partnerships with [the county DHS] to provide those services," she tells City Paper.
Still, she says this legislation is an important milestone, in particular because of the safety it offers trans individuals, families with trans kids, and medical providers. "Right now, we're seeing hundreds of bills moving through state legislatures attacking the basic right to life-saving healthcare," she says. "We're hoping that this decision by the council will make the city more attractive for providers to move here." For doctors facing prosecution in states like Texas that have restricted care for minors, "this is legislation that can provide some peace of mind."
Gainey plans to sign the bills soon, and Montaño says trans Pittsburghers should see this as a clear message of support from local government, even if it is "reactive" rather than "proactive."
Beyond preempting efforts to prosecute others, she says the recently constituted Office of Equal Protection is working out further ways to strengthen protection for Pittsburghers holding LGBTQ identities. The city will be rolling out education efforts around this work soon. "It's an opportune time given that October is LGBT History Month," Montaño says. Also, the city is working with VisitPITTSBURGH on a ten-year master plan "that calls for marketing Pittsburgh as a welcoming city for LGBTQIA+ travelers."
In a nutshell, the Mayor's Office hopes the bills lay the groundwork for better care and legal protections for trans residents, more opportunities for doctors providing gender-affirming care services, and an overall better quality of life for LGBTQ Pittsburghers.
"I'm really excited to see this piece of legislation moving forward," Montaño says. "Trans folks — we want you to know that we'll support you."
Stanley of Trans YOUniting is hopeful the legislation will lead to concrete, tangible changes for trans Pittsburghers. "The community needs to see action and what it really means to be a safe haven and sanctuary city," she says. "I see that as workforce development and access to affordable housing, and [working on] many of the other barriers that the trans, gender non-conforming and Black communities face every day."