Philly’s SEPTA TransPass, now actually trans friendly

This week, after a long grassroots campaign, SEPTA (Greater Philadelphia’s public transit system) removed the gender marker from their transit pass. The accidentally ironic “TransPass” provides riders with unlimited access for a specified time period. SEPTA has required all TransPasses to have a male or female gender sticker on them since the 1980s, originally as an attempt to prevent heterosexual spouses from sharing passes with one another. But, of course, this has a disparate impact on transgender, gender non-conforming and genderqueer people. Fifty-three percent (53%) of transgender and gender non-conforming people have reported being discriminated against in public accommodations, including public transit.

SEPTA-victoryThe momentum for the campaign started in 2007, shortly after Charlene Arcila was denied access to the public transit system based on a “mismatched gender marker.”  Philly RAGE (Riders Against Gender Exclusion) formed in 2009 to combat the policy, which disparately impacts transgender and gender non-conforming Philadelphians.

RAGE mobilized and collected stories of discrimination, thousands of petition signatures, and over 400 card-carrying members who supported removing gender from the TransPass. At first, SEPTA officials seemed willing to work on the policy, but eventually became less responsive. RAGE fought onward and held a drag show protest, complete with SEPTA official impersonators, at a transit station and interrupted a SEPTA public hearing in order to read their Riders’ Bill of Rights and urge SEPTA officials to sign-on to the petition.

Policies like this one are not used as a way to regulate the transit system; the policies are used as a way to continue to marginalize the already-marginalized. At the arbitrary discretion of a bus driver or a subway supervisor, people can be denied the right to access public transit, potentially denying them the right to go to work or see the doctor. Denying people the autonomy to travel is to deny them a basic human dignity. Even more impacted are trans and gender non-conforming elders and people with disabilities.

All of the hard work of RAGE member have culminated this week and as of July 1, SEPTA is officially offering their TransPass free of gender markers. RAGE is celebrating with a social media campaign using #nogenderstickers, where riders are sharing images of themselves with a new gender-free fare card or destroyed old fare cards.