Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE) is pleased to announce that, after a three-year grassroots campaign led by transgender and gender non-conforming Philadelphians and our allies, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) is ceasing the use of gender stickers from all monthly transit passes as of July 1, 2013. RAGE is celebrating with a social media blitz, inviting supporters to use the hashtag #nogenderstickers to share an image of themselves with their new fare cards or share an image of a destroyed fare card created by RAGE member and graphic designer Rachel K. Zall.
RAGE began organizing to remove the stickers in 2009. After collecting thousands of signatures on a petition, RAGE members met with SEPTA general manager Joe Casey. At that meeting, Mr. Casey agreed to remove the gender stickers when a new fare system was implemented. However, the project met with delays. RAGE continued to press SEPTA, holding a drag show action at City Hall Station station, collecting stories of discrimination, and disrupting a SEPTA public hearing in order to read their Rider’s Bill of Rights and ask SEPTA officials to sign on to the document.
“Because of our collective efforts, SEPTA has agreed to overturn this discriminatory policy. This decision by SEPTA is so important to transgender riders who daily faced discrimination and risked their own safety just to ride the bus to where they needed to go,” said Max Ray, a founding member of RAGE.
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. Unfortunately, this system has long made riding public transit difficult for riders whose gender expression does not match the sticker on their pass – for instance, transgender men and women who are not living in one gender full-time, and genderqueer people who do not present themselves as distinctly male or female. Such riders have been harassed by drivers, outed to other riders, putting their personal safety at risk, and have even had legitimate passes confiscated.
The removal of the stickers comes as a direct result of pressure from RAGE and activism from the local transgender community. In addition to public actions, RAGE members also met with local community leaders and City Council members to enlist their support. In 2012 City Council passed a unanimous resolution in support of the removal of the gender stickers. Soon after that SEPTA announced that they would discontinue the use of the stickers. The case for the removal of the gender stickers has also been highlighted by Charlene Arcila, a local trans woman and community advocate who first filed a formal complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations in 2007.
“We thank SEPTA for doing the right thing,” continued Max Ray, “this change will be a relief to many of us who have had our safety and dignity compromised. I’m proud of the tremendous work that the transgender community has put into this project and hope that this win will be a symbol of what we can accomplish together.”
Most recently, RAGE began a large membership drive. During this drive, RAGE’s official membership swelled to over 400 card-carrying members who committed to working to end the gender sticker policy, to reporting incidents of gender-based harassment and to be a visible allies to transgender riders.
“The oppression that transgender people face in our society can make us feel powerless, it can make us feel like victims. The lesson of this campaign is that we don’t have to wait for other people to change systems for us, we have the power to organize and create the changes ourselves,” said Nico Amador, founding member of RAGE.