Remarks before Allegheny County Council by
PittsburghCity Councilman Bruce A. Kraus
regarding Bill 4201-08
Good afternoon and thank you for providing me this platform to address you on this most critical issue of equal rights for all, and special rights for none.
I would like to begin my testimony by thanking my Councilwoman, and the main sponsor of this bill, Amanda Green, for her courage, her sensitivity and her clear understanding of the issue in putting this bill forward.
I would also like to thank those members standing with her today:
Council President Rich Fitzgerald, Councilman Jim Burn, Councilman John Defazio, Councilwoman Joan Cleary, Councilman Nick Futules, Councilman Chuck Martoni and Councilman William Robinson.
I intentionally prepared my remarks today so that they could easily be entered into the record.
I have chosen my words with great care.
On the morning of November 27th, 1978, city of San Francisco Board Supervisor Dan White walked into the office of fellow Board Supervisor Harvey Milk, and fired three shots; the first pierced his chest as he rose from behind his desk, hands outstretched in his attempt to fend off the attack. Having fallen to the floor, Dan White stood over Harvey Milk, and placing the barrel of the gun to his head he fired two more shots, at point blank range, into his brain.
And what possible justification could there be in the mind of a Dan White to think he could murder his colleague in cold blood?
Because Harvey Milk was the first openly gay candidate to be elected to public office in the United States, who successfully passed San Francisco’s anti-discrimination law protecting gays and lesbians with regard to housing, employment and public accommodations.
Thirty years have passed since Harvey Milk sacrificed his life in the fight to achieve social equality for GLBT people everywhere, and yet the struggle continues. We struggle against the modern day Anita Bryant’s of the world, against the stereotypes and myths, against the lies and distortions, against governments determined to deny us our rightful place in society.
And now today, expressed through resistance of almost half of the members of Allegheny County Council to support the formation of a county wide Human Relations Commission, again I am reminded that the last socially acceptable, some even argue justifiable, targets of discrimination within our society are gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.
Often times the city of Pittsburgh is perceived as being “behind the times” or “backward” in its’ thinking; but in regards to issues of human rights, diversity, tolerance and promoting social equality this is anything but the case.
Our record speaks for itself.
Visionary Pittsburgh leader, Mayor David Lawrence, fully understanding the value of ensuring a “seat at table” for all people, was instrumental in the establishment of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Relations as far back as 1954; some fifty five years ago.
In 1976, via the City Charter, the Commission was established as an independent agency of City government, renamed the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission and charged with protecting the rights of every Pittsburgher to equal treatment under the law in issues of employment, housing and public accommodations.
Nineteen Ninety saw the first City Council election by district, assembling for the first time in our history, a governing body truly representative of Pittsburgh, in all its complexity and diversity. It was this council that amended the city charter to include sexual orientation, as a protected class.
A future Council would add gender identity and transgendered people to protected class status.
And in the years that have passed since the implementation of Pittsburgh’s Human Relations Commission can anyone here speak to me of the negative impact it has had? Has one company refused to locate here because we respect the rights of an individual to employment without discrimination? One family refused to live here because we respect the rights of people to fair housing without discrimination? One handicapped person refused to come here because we respect his right to navigate an unobstructed world?
And yet, support for Bill 4201-08 is faltering without a clear reason, other than misinformation and myth, spread by ill-informed and narrow minded people, claiming religiosity as a shield for prejudice.
And some members of the council worry about the political repercussions of their support.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with, now Magisterial District Judge, Gene Ricciardi, regarding his election to the first city council elected by district in nineteen ninety, and his support of adding sexual orientation as a protected class to the city charter. A freshman councilman with this whole career before him, faced with this daunting decision, and truly believing it would cost him reelection, Councilman Ricciardi had the moral character to stand for all that is right and cast his vote in the affirmative.
He won reelection with 88% of the vote.
So how will we dispel the rumors and innuendo, the myths and the stereotypes that protect peoples’ thinking that it is somehow acceptable to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression?
I can only think of one way, and it is how I have chosen to live my life: truthfully and honestly as an openly gay man. It will only be then, when all GLBT people are truly free to live open and honest lives, free of the worry of being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or refused public accommodations that people will see the truth. That we are your son’s and daughters, your mothers and fathers, your teachers, attorneys, doctors and yes, even your elected officials.
I’ll end my remarks with a passage from a speech Harvey Milk gave before a crowd of 300,000 plus assembled just weeks before the passage of San Francisco’s Gay Rights Ordinance and Harvey’s eminent assassination:
“And to the “Anita Bryant’s” of the world… let me remind you what America is… Listen carefully:
On the Statue of Liberty it says: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…’
In the Declaration of Independence it is written: ‘All men are created equal and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights…’
…That’s what America is. No matter how hard you try, you cannot erase those words from the Declaration of Independence. No matter how hard you try, you cannot chip away those words from the base of the Statue of Liberty.
It is what America is.”