CP on Big Queer Rally; More on Club Pittsburgh

The City Paper's Marty Levine does his usual excellent job with in-depth coverage of the recent Big Queer Rally. Levine focuses on how the crowd responded to the participation of so many local politicians that many interpreted as a strong show of support for the LGBT community.

But it was the number of elected officials speaking out for LGBT rights that most impressed the activists in attendance.

“City and county representatives are here — I actually wasn't expecting that at all,” said Ellie Gordon of Squirrel Hill. “We don't hear a lot about how the government here is [supportive].”

“When they come to seemingly small rallies it makes a world of difference,” added Tamar Toledano, of Oakland. “It brings your private struggle into the public sphere.”

Levine's story is a good reminder that we do have a lot support among local politicans on all three levels:  City, County and State.  I am sure the same holds true for many councilors elected throughout the 700 million municipalities throughout the County and the larger region.  I'm encouraged that they encourage advocates because mobolizing our allies among the voting public is the key to impacting the legislative process, indeed the larger political process. 

Now for a brief look at what's happening with the Club Pittsburgh story.  Last week, the Post-Gazette explored the much-lauded philanthropy of Club Pittsburgh owners' Peter Karlovich and Steven Hereforth.  Community leaders including Kathi Boyle of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) and City Councilman Bruce Kraus spoke very positively about the generous nature of both men, including the frequent opening of their home on Mt. Washington to fundraisers for a wide range of activities, both LGBT related and not.  Political campaigns of  including those of Hillary Clinton, Luke Ravenstahl, Jason Altmire and Chelsa Wagner have benefitted from fundraisers held at their home. 

For the most part, people acknowledge that these men have been generous with their good-fortune and acknowledge that their philanthropy has been a boon for Pittsburgh, particularly the LGBT community.  My understanding is that Hereforth is a board member for PATF while Karlovich sits on the board of Persad Center.  As I've said before, I have been to their home one time to attend a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, as a guest of local business owner Gary Van Horn.  It was a spectacular view; I did not see the entire home, but it was evidently well designed for a variety of events.

Despite this generosity, there remain lingering questions as to whether these gentleman “paid to play” with their personal donations (and those very same fundraisers) to prevent closer scrutiny of their business, Club Pittsburgh.  Both men and the Mayor vigorously deny these allegations.  The attention of the local media has swung to potential criminal activity related to the death of Cleophus Pettway over a week ago. 

KDKA's Marty Griffin broke the story on Tuesday evening with a live investigation of the removal of police removal of a significant quantity of containers of VCR inhalants, reportedly used to enhance sexual performance (try an Internet search on that topic and see what fun sites you bring up). What was unclear is whether the Club (illegally) sold the inhalants which may have contributed to Mr. Pettway's death.  Toxicology reports are pending. 

The Post-Gazette picks up the story in this morning's edition, using cashe website pages to allege that Club Pittsburgh did advertise the sale of these inhalants at one point.

cppleasures.com, a Web site affiliated with Club Pittsburgh, advertised the sale of Maximum Impact, a “premium head cleaning solvent” in an aerosol can, as recently as Dec. 29.

The product has since been removed from the site.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, video head cleaners — called “poppers” — often are used to enhance sex. Dozens of Web sites sell a range of brands.

A December posting at clubpittsburgh.blogspot.com recounted the story of a club-goer who inhaled the head cleaners: “We once had a customer who would purchase phenomenal amounts of Maximum Impact. (Available at cppleasures.com for only $18!) By 'phenomenal,' I do not mean 3 or 4 cans. I mean 30 or 40. If we recycled her [sic] popper cans, we'd have had enough metal to create the world's first all-aluminum bathhouse. He huffed & puffed & blew our sales through the roof.”

The posting came from a blog called “A Night at Club Pittsburgh,” which is also the name of a pornographic video filmed at the club.

A Web site advertising the video features explicit pictures of sexual acts and invites potential viewers to “spend an evening at Pittsburgh's ever popular Club Pittsburgh.”

Attorneys for the owners assure that the Club is cooperating fully with the investigation who have reportedly made a private contribution toward the funeral expenses for Mr. Pettway. 

Other bloggers have commented that this might be some sort of gay-sex witch hunt, feeding into the public's perception that anything associated with the sexual activity of gay men is seedy and sordid.  There is another line of thought that running a bathhouse with so many under the radar activities itself contributes to this perception. 

I still maintain that the stories are, first, the investigation into the cause of death for Mr. Pettway and, second, the allegations that the City turned a blind eye in exchange for political contributions.  If the Club activities, legal or not, contributed to his death then they need to be held accountable, but that is still very much open to investigation.  A man died and that should be investigated.  The issue of the “pay for play” are much less easier to investigate. 

Today is the final day for nominations to the Mayor's newly forming GLBT Advisory Committee.  Appointments are anticipated by mid-February; perhaps the composition of that committee might be a better indicator of whom the Mayor deems a voice for the community.  As you recall, I have repeatedly asked the Mayor's office which they have refused to provide in spite of Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski's promises to the contrary.  They are not returning my calls rgarding either the criteria or the campaign contributions and so I have no confidence in this process.  I might be proven wrong and the Mayor will cobble together a truly diverse group of voices with little to no political campaign contributions.  As is apparent, he has the ear of one segment – the white gay male business owners who are in a position to make significant contributions to his campaign.

Yes, I know I can get this information myself and yes, I believe gay people should participate in the political process, including supporting campaign.  And that link between those campaign donations and any payback has not been established. 

But it doesn't look good and I think it is reasonable to ask the Mayor to bring some other people to his table, particularly those who do not have the means to participate as significant donors.  Everyday folks, you might say.  Why can't an average citizen serve on an Advisory Council? 

Finally, there is the issue of whether a bathhouse and related sexual activities should be operating in the City of Pittsburgh.  Bram at The Pittsburgh Comet is calling for a zoning reevaluation, explaining that the proper zoning would legitimize adult entertainment, gay or straight, as long as they follow the rules.  There is some legitimacy to this perspective, if the issue is whether mainstream culture is ready to take strides toward accepting that consenting adults are able to engage in sexualized activities without judgement or condemnation.  One could question whether we need to operate under the radar in the modern era. 

After all, we have openly elected gay officials and to my knowledge, there was no attempt to smear Mr. Kraus for his association with the owner's of Club Pittsburgh.  US Congressman Barney Frank withstood a challenge to his seat based on his association with male prostitution vis a vis a lover.  Those who make headlines are those who engage in illicit activities or dupe their families (and their constituents) by trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

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Reminder:  Today is the public hearing on the County Ordinance to establish a Human Rights Commission in Allegheny County.  This is exactly where those who would seek to demonize us will make the argument that we are diseased, sex-crazed pedophiles out to destroy the fabric of society.  Show up and prove them wrong.