I worked in City Council District 9 for nearly five years as a social worker, doing everything from financial literacy to recruiting foster parents. I worked on community projects, interacted with community leaders and watched East Liberty Station morph into The Village of Eastside. (Read that as metaphor for the slide of East Liberty into the gentrified made-up neighborhood of Eastside). While I'm by no means an expert, I do feel confident saying that there are gay people in District 9. There are people with gay folks in their extended families. And like many folks in this “disadvantaged” community, there are plenty of low and moderate income gay folks struggling along with their neighbors to be heard and empowered.
My take is that the LGBTQ residents have not been well represented by their current Councilman, Ricky Burgess. His voting record on LGBTQ issues is almost non-existant because he doesn't vote. He doesn't co-sponsor equality legislation. He doesn't support PrideFest. He uses subterfuge to discredit Councilor Bruce Kraus as just another rich white gay man (proving he's willing to toss down a stereotype to defend himself). He routinely postures as the voice of the disenfranchised and oppressed, except for those of us who happen to be oppressed because we are gay. There is no room in his vision of equality for people who are legally second class citizens because of whom we love. That's a sad fact.
The joyful news is that Councilor Burgess has a promising challenger in his upcoming reelection race. I had the chance to meet with her last week and let me assure our conversation was not at all limited to “gay” issues.
Lucille Prater-Holliday is a lifelong Pittsburgh native with real life experiences that resonate with the lives of the people she hopes to represent. Lucille was born into a family of 9 children and lived in foster care until the age of 12 when her siblings were reunited with her mother. She grew up in Beltzhoover and then Homewood after reunification where her family continued to struggle to meet basic needs. As she bluntly puts it, Lucille was “living the social problems so many poor people live.”
She attended local schools, graduating from Westinghouse High School and attending CCAC in Homewood. Lucille probably shouldn't have succeeded; she readily admits the card were stacked against her. She credits the intervention of two adults in the school system who nutured her with food when her stomach was empty and with emotional care she didn't receive at home.
At age 34, Lucille found herself a widow with two young sons. She continued to work in the social services field while she pursued a bachelor's degree from Geneva College.
Throughout these years, Lucille has lived in several East End communities including East Liberty, Shadyside and Homewood as well as the East Hills. She's been a community advocate with ACORN, Action United and social justice issues. Her mantra is “don't talk about it, be about it.”
I asked Lucille why she was running and she shared the story of me of her experiences of walking into “downtown” Homewood when she returned at the age of 12 . She was overcome with the vibrancy of the community, the lively business district, the sights and sounds that overwhelm a child with possibility even when she isn't sure there will be a meal on the table that night. She then described for me the destruction of the riots after Martin Luther King was assassinated, a wound from which she believes Homewood has never recovered. Her hope is for other children growing up in District 9 to have that same feeling of wonderment, that they “deserve to live in an environment that allows them to grow and succeed.”
Prater-Holliday's story is compelling, but her energy and focus on issues is equal parts compelling and sort of a “yes we can” energy that has brought so many fresh new voices to the City Council table.
She's passionate about public transportation, leaning across the table to emphasize the waste which cripples riders in the most vulnerable communities, then leaning back when she acknowledges that is a county issue. But her ardor to lead her neighbors out of second-class citizenship is fervent.
– Piloting a “Neighborhood Council” model used in California with community council members having a formal line of communication with their City Councilor.
– Housing blight. Prater-Holliday states there are over 1,000 abandoned buildings in Homewood alone. She'd like to partner with the Housing Authority to revitalize empty houses and utilize a shared equity home ownership model.
– Education. She's concerned about the shifting plans for Westinghouse and believes the City Councilor should be more proactive advocating for children in this district.
– Employment. She's eager to tap into green iniatives to create job opportunities in her district. She'll be contributing to a Women & Girls Foundation of Southwestern PA project to highlight the accomplishments in the “green community” in 2011.
– City Pension. She's glad City Council took a leadership role in crafting a solution.
Gay issues. Yeah, so I asked her about it. I told her about Burgess' record. She showed me a photograph of her now deceased sister who was a lesbian and very much part of the family. She told me about seeing Dreams of Hope perform at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater on Martin Luther King Day. I asked her if she would sign a resolution in honor of PrideFest or in support of gay rights legislation on the state level. She looked me right in the eye, put her hand on her sister's photo and said “I would be proud to sign anything to support the gay community.”
Prater-Holliday has a lot of questions for Councilor Burgess, mostly about where he's been. She claims she's been at dozens of community meetings and events without site of him. She claims he doesn't send staff in his absence. She exhorts that District 9 needs a public servant, not a politician.
“I've lived the life” of her neighbors is her hallmark along with dozens of years of grassroots work on social justice issues alongside her neighbors.
Prater-Holliday positions herself as a neighborhood girl with the community organizing skills that transfer into public service, rather than the family credentials that transfer into politician. She sees District 9 as a unique community of neighborhoods that have a long history of oppression and repression, but believes that the solutions lie within the district — within the strength of those who live there and know what they need. Prater-Holliday isn't asking anyone to save Homewood or Larimer or East Hills. She's asking for the resources so the communities can save themselves and she believes she is best suited to make that happen.
Lucille Prater-Holliday is clearly a better candidate for the District 9 LGBTQ community than Councilman Burgess. Her grassroots experiences could translate well into an enthusiastic, hard-working new Councilwoman. I think this is a race worth watching as we have the chance to learn more about this unique woman. I like that she admits what she needs to learn, but has confidence she can learn it. That's the sort of moxy we need … her grasp of how public transportation issues — even the bus renovations — impact her neighbors demonstrates a quick mind able to grasp the micro and macro level of systemic challenges.
Prater-Holliday's campaign kickoff event is Thursday, February 10, 2011, 6 PM at her campaign HQ 712 N. Homewood Avenue, across from CCAC.
You can reach her campaign manager quadirah (at) lucilleholliday (dot) com
Let's see what happens.