City Councilman Ricky Burgess believes – nay, insists – that the next President of City Council be a person of color. And he’s willing to step up to the challenge.
Burgess notably the only member of that body who refuses to sign the Pridefest Proclamation because Pride is too “sexualized” has also historically ignored the LGBTQ community when it comes to any issue of diversity, especially poor queer families who never factor into his projects or his rhetoric. He also voted against the domestic partner registry. Per Bram Reichbaum via The City Paper:
I asked Burgess a short while ago why he doesn’t appear in the Pride guide. He answered basically, “Have you LOOKED at that magazine?” He described it as something too much like a celebration of sex, promiscuity and carnality (he’s used to appearing near the FRONT of your altweekly, for example) and that oh by the way, he is a Reverend. He also complained absently that nobody ever asks him these things.
I don’t think Councilman Burgess is an ally. He’s not even tolerant. In fact, I think he’s a homophobe and a transphobe whose mere presence on Council is a disservice to queer persons of color in this region. It’s my opinion and a reflection of my utter disgust with his casual disregard for the welfare of the LGBTQ community, all of us, as well as queer persons of color. It’s a stance that is not acceptable in 2013 Democrats and he should be called out for his bigotry.
I also think Mr. Burgess should spend some time at Pridefest because he clearly doesn’t understand the concept or the human beings who participate. After all, one might argue that his support of the Ravenstahl administration also promoted sex, promiscuity and carnality, right?
And here’s why he’s so dangerous (or simply ridiculous)
“If council decides to change its president, prioritizing diversity means the next council president should be an African-American,” he said. “This is something that myself and Mr. Lavelle both insist upon.”
Ms. Harris said last week that she would like to keep her seat, but given the shift of members on council, it’s unclear whether she’ll be able to get the five votes needed.
Councilman Bruce Kraus, who is openly gay, said he was offended that Mr. Burgess suggested that diversity meant inclusion of racial minorities and women, but not gays and lesbians.
“The fact that they are omitted from your remarks offends me,” he said.
Mr. Kraus, a longtime ally of mayor-elect Bill Peduto, said he’s interested in the job as well and has actively courted votes from other members.
Oh, so prioritizing diversity means one of the two black straight men should be named Council President. Kraus is absolutely correct to call him out on that narrow-minded and disrespectful point of view (I do wish Bruce would have mentioned the bi and trans community though. To be fair, that’s also excluding people from the larger conversation. And to be also fair, that could have been the Post-Gazette’s interpretation which is worth another entire post.)
When it comes to experience and demonstrated leadership, the only truly qualified candidates are Kraus and Rudiak. I think Harris has demonstrated she’s intractable which is not a good skill for President. O’Connor is far too new as are Gilman and Gross. I’m not impressed with Kail-Smith, I think she was too much of an apologist for the Mayor. Burgess is not remotely qualified to lead a City Council holiday parade much less the Chamber itself. And Lavelle is just too inconsistent – I think he has potential, but he waivers too often and the inconsistent staffing and district level response makes me think he needs more time in office before assuming that level of leadership. I also hope to see Lavelle distance himself from these comments, but I suspect he’ll simply do nothing.
I think Kraus is the man for the job, not because he’s gay. Being gay gives a unique dimension to his leadership just like being a woman or being a person of color or other unique diversity identifiers contribute to a person’s leadership. But when you look at experience and leadership, he has the right combination.
However, it is rare that a member of Council lays out their absolute lack of qualifications for a role as clearly as Councilman Burgess has done. His disregard for the LGBTQ Community, from his rudeness to Kraus to his refusal to support queer families accessing health insurance, indicates a lack of sophistication and nuance as well as the inability to set aside his personal bias to make decisions for the good of his community. His narrow-minded view of diversity is divisive and not a solid foundation to create the type of change necessary for Pittsburgh’s future.
But the people who truly suffer from his lack-of-leadership are queer people of color, whom he seems to simply ignore. The facts are more difficult to ignore:
- 73.1% of anti-LGBTQ homicides were people of color in 2012.
- Over 1/3 of youth under 21 who participate in the GLCC programming identify as black. Many of them are homeless.
- 14.1 percent of lesbian couples and 7.7 percent of gay male couples receive food stamps
- One in five LGB people who live alone report living at or below the poverty level, and many rely on public assistance, including food stamps. (This study did not include transgender individuals)
- Transgender people are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical person in the US.
- One-third of LGBT people are people of color. In a 2012 Gallup poll, one in three LGBT respondents (33%) identified themselves as people of color, compared to 27% of non-LGBT respondents. In all, there are an estimated 5.4 million LGBT workers in the United States, of which 1.8 million are people of color.
- The geographic distribution of LGBT workers of color mirrors that of people of color as a whole. Census Data show LGBT people of color are more likely to live in areas with significant numbers of other people of color.
- Large numbers of LGBT workers of color are raising children. Data from the 2010 Census show that LGBT people of color are more likely to be raising children than white LGBT people. MAP estimates that between 780,000 and 1.1 million children are being raised by LGBT people of color.
- LGBT youth of color are at high risk of becoming homeless. An estimated 20-40% of homeless youth in the U.S. identify as LGBT or believe they may be LGBT. Research also shows that African American and Native American young people are overrepresented among LGBT homeless youth, as well as the broader homeless population. One study found that among homeless youth who identify as gay or lesbian, 44% identified as black and 26% as Latino.
- LGBT workers of color are at significant risk of being unemployed. LGBT people of color have higher rates of unemployment compared to non-LGBT people of color. In addition, unemployment rates for transgender people of color have reached as high as four times the national unemployment rate.
- LGBT workers of color are at significant risk of poverty. Research shows that LGBT people of color, and particularly black LGBT people, are at a much higher risk of poverty than non-LGBT people. For example, black same-sex couples have poverty rates at least twice the rate of black opposite-sex married couples (18% vs. 8%).
Our community is poor and black and female and raising children without legal protections. To be clear, I am not dismissing the impact of racial privilege especially when compounded with being male and affluent, but that does not mitigate the need to embrace the diversity within the queer community. And it doesn’t absolve an elected official of his moral obligation to represent everyone in his community.
“Prioritizing diversity” should mean you work with Kraus to strengthen the safety net and public safety for everyone, represent everyone, not just the morally pure people. It means acknowledging that violence against LGBTQ community members based on our identities does happen and does deserve acknowledgement. It means acknowledging our humanity. You don’t have to support marriage equality to address the very real issues the LGBTQ community faces on a municipal level.
Queer people of color deserve better, Mr. Burgess. They shoudn’t turn to the “gay member of Council” for support – they should be able to turn to you. I can’t see that happening.
But it would be a good start to acknowledge that your constituents include queer people who deserve your leadership, not your callous dismissal.
The Williams Institute
The Movement Advancement Project
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs