Pgh Councilman Bruce Kraus on the Allegheny County Non-Discrimination ordinance

Public comment of Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus at the July 1, 2009 Allegheny County Council meeting.

 Years have passed since the Stonewall Riots gave birth to the fight to achieve social equality for GLBT people everywhere, and yet today, still 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.  Somehow government hasn’t gotten the message that GLBT people will not sit quietly by while being viewed as the last socially acceptable, some even argue justifiable, targets of discrimination with our society.

 

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 Bill 4201-08 has struggled for the full support of this council without a clear reason, other than what I see as being 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.

But 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.

Today is your call to courage; the courage to overcome fear and injustice; to leave behind moral cowardice.  Choosing the right thing to do is not always popular or easy, but standing for what is right and true and just, especially when it is unpopular, is the true test of moral character.

Let me be clear in what my message is to you today.  We are not here today asking you for our rights; they are already ours, granted to us by a much higher authority they earthly government. Today, we are here to tell you to “get out of the way of our rights; we are here to claim what is ours.”

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