LGBTQ&A: Doug Shields, Ally and Advocate

When I “met” Doug Shields, it was via the telephone – I answered call from unfamiliar number and heard “Susan, this is Douglas. I understand you want to march!”  I was driving home from work so I had to pull over (near the Civic Arena) and scribble notes on a crumpled receipt. His 2008 response to hate-mongerer Sally Kern (Oklahoma State Assembly) went viral. He helped to create Pittsburgh’s Domestic Partner Registry. But what really comes to mind is that Doug always seemed *happy* to be at Pridefest – and it wasn’t just a gladhanded sort of politician moment, no a genuine delight that Pridefest was happenening and he was there! And he continues to advocate while refusing to be put into a box.

Photo: PghCityPaper
Photo: PghCityPaper

Name: Douglas Shields

Affiliation: Former Member, Pittsburgh City Council, Adjunct Instructor, Duquesne University.

Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you. That would have been in the early 1970’s. I would have been about 17 years old. I had a number of friends who attended Edinboro State College (now University) who were enrolled in the Arts program there. It was through them that I met a number of their their friends who were openly Gay men.

I never thought much of it. We were all pretty much free spirits at the time and my circle of friends were quite accepting and open to “different.” The sexuality of our new friends was not really much of an issue. I have remained friends with several of them to this day.

While I was certainly aware of the cultural bigotry and bias towards the GLBTQ community, I regarded it as part of the overall bigotry and bias displayed towards half the citizens of this country – African-Americans, women and the emerging feminist movement, Latinos and, anyone else who wasn’t a part of the, white, male dominated, Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture.

I, like many of my generation, was a part of the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. What it meant to me in practical terms is that I made some new friends.

I suppose in a larger sense, I was one of many who were part of an American culture of “acceptance of different.” In the context of that time I never saw it as revolutionary. It had more to do with “judging people on the content of their character” as opposed to their race, creed, gender or sexual identity.

No one in my immediate family was LGBTQ but, my parents, lower middle class working people, never subscribed to any ideology centered on chauvinism, bigotry or hate. That laid the foundation, for me, for acceptance long before I even knew what a homosexual was.

 How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? Like everyone else, I read the papers. I also drop in on LGBTQ news formats on and off-line for more specific issue information. As a progressive politician, I was also close to LGBTQ organizations and derived a good deal of news and perspective via my interactions there as well.

What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? Full enfranchisement of Constitutional Civil Rights and to be treated equally before the law in all respects of our civil society.

If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? A few decades ago I might be waving that magic wand all over the place. Today, not so much. We have witnessed the evolution of LGBT political organizations which, back in the day, was largely centered in the LGBTQ bar scene. I give a great deal of credit to the LGBTQ bar/club owners for being the incubators to the growth and strength of high profile LGBT political and public service organizations we see here today. They are highly organized, effective, professionally staffed, mission-specific advocacy organizations. Those organizations range from political to public service. 

There is still a of of work to do but the organizational structure is strong, effective and continues to grow. I recall a few years ago, Pittsburgh was ranked the No. 2 Gay Friendly city in the U.S. 

I think that LGBT organizations here have done outstanding work in growing their presence and having their issues being addressed in the City. Perhaps it would be better to wave the magic wand over the PA State Assembly where discriminatory practices are still, in some quarters, fashionable.

 Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literatureWell, Ellen Degeneres is a favorite. I watch her regularly.

What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? No matter your sexual orientation, supporting LGBTQ community is supporting your larger community. That support can come in the forms; time, money, or talent.

The simplest thing to do is come out to Pride Fest. It’s fun for the whole family. Just showing up counts for much.

You can find Doug on Facebook where he continues to advocate for environmental issues (and more.)

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