SEPTA’s policy of using the M/F gender stickers on passes, as we understand it, is about 30 years old. We don’t know the full history of how this has impacted trans, genderqueer, or androgynous riders but we do know that one of the first people to take a public stand on the issue was Charlene Arcila, a local trans woman and community advocate. In 2007, after trying to board a bus and being told she couldn’t use the transpass she had purchased because of her gender, Charlene worked with Equality Advocates to file a formal complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. The Human Relations Commission is currently conducting an investigation on the treatment Charlene received during this incident. You can read more on Charlene in this article by the Philadelphia Weekly.
In response to this incident, the TransHealth Information Project, also did education and awareness raising on this issue by printing fake transpasses with “M2F” and “F2M” stickers on them.
RAGE was formed in 2009 by a few SEPTA riders who shared the feeling that this policy was pointless, caused harm to trans people and could be changed through a grassroots campaign. In May of 2009 RAGE launched a Facebook group and was surprised to acquire over 500 members within a week.
Encouraged by the response, RAGE took the next step of meeting with the Community Advisory Committee (CAC), an official SEPTA body meant to represent community concerns and make non-binding recommendations to SEPTA. At that meeting, RAGE received a positive reception and the CAC voted unanimously to recommend that SEPTA stop the use of the gender stickers.
SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey refused to take action to comply with this request. As a next step, RAGE collected numerous testimonies from riders who experienced harassment, fear, or humiliation because of the gender sticker policies. RAGE also launched a petition drive and in four months, collected 1,500 signatures asking Joe Casey to remove the gender stickers from the transpasses.
In October, 2009 Joe Casey and other SEPTA officials agreed to meet with representatives from RAGE. At this meeting, RAGE presented the testimonies and petitions and asked SEPTA to take immediate action to terminate the use of the gender stickers. Casey said no, but he promised that SEPTA would no longer use the stickers once plans for a new fare-card system were implemented. Casey told RAGE that he expected that conversion to the new fare system would happen within a year.
At this meeting, SEPTA Casey and the other SEPTA officials present did agree to take steps to set up a contact for riders who experienced problems because of the gender stickers to report incidents and promised to follow up on any reported problems.
In the months that followed this meeting RAGE waited for communication or signs from SEPTA that they were creating a system for receiving and responding to complaints from riders who experienced any issues from the M/F gender stickers. It didn’t look like any steps had been taken so, on March 30th, 2010, RAGE organized “SEPTA is a Drag,” a well attended rally-style drag show inside City Hall Station to highlight SEPTA’s lack of follow-through on their promises. At this action, RAGE also launched our own complaint reporting system which can be accessed online or by phone or texting. (See pictures and read press coverage.)
Since that time, RAGE has been growing and gaining momentum. Please check out our blog or facebook page to see what’s currently happening, or just drop by a meeting! If you’re not local, there’s still ways to help out – look around our site or get in touch.