Updated: This is Why It’s Okay to Ask Mayor Peduto Questions

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that I’ve been asking around to determine if the Peduto Administration has hired any openly LGBTQ people into a supervisory/leadership role or appointed to a commission/task force.

Radio silence. No one will comment on the record. I’ve had quite a few off the record conversations and it seems that people do not want to be perceived as critical of Mayor Peduto on LGBTQ issues (or anything.)

Asking a reasonable question about diversity in hiring is not being critical. It is simply holding the Mayor to his word to be transparent. I’m not condemning him, I’m seeking information.  Yes, to be fair, the question itself implies my expectation that he *should* be doing these things. But is that an unreasonable expectation? Given his very strong and long history as a LGBTQ ally, I say no.

Bill Peduto in 2013 Pride Parade with other members of Council.
Bill Peduto in 2013 Pride Parade with other members of Council.

Bill Peduto has been an ally from the get go. He is a founding member of Steel City Stonewall Democrats, before half the current board even lived in Pittsburgh. He has been at Pridefest forever. He has hired LGBTQ staff. He strongly supports LGBTQ candidates (like Bruce Kraus) and in no way, shape or form could anyone with credibility say Bill Peduto is not an ally.

To take it one step further, if any local elected official understands the importance of LGBTQ visibility – it’s Bill. He was at Pride long before other elected officials. He understands why visibility matters and he’s made it a priority to support it in the past.

Peduto LGBT
Peduto addressing a Steel City Stonewall meeting in 2009.

He promised transparency and I’m holding him to that. I can’t imagine how he could spin that as disloyalty or treason (or be surprised that I would ask.) I think you do him a grave disservice when you assign such motivation to him or his staff. I think you are underestimating him.

On the other hand, I do appreciate that you don’t want to discuss people’s orientation or gender identity. I’m sure you don’t want to out anyone or send a signal that you can “tell” if someone is gay. Of course not! But when I ask you if appointments include people of color or women, you don’t hesitate to rattle off a list.

Why is it different? Because of the lack of visibility itself? Because we can all name a half-dozen City employees (or employees anywhere) who are closeted or semi-out or quietly out or unwilling to “make a big deal about it” etc. And while their contributions to the City are important, the fact that they now work for Bill Peduto and remain”discreet” says something, doesn’t it?

It reinforces the reason I’m asking these questions – we need to be visible. We need openly LGBTQ folks to take leadership roles so our voices are part of Next Pittsburgh. We need young people to look into City Government and see people who look like them at the table. I’m not suggesting we push out the closeted employees or anything like that – I’m simply saying that if you can’t mention their identity in a press release to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, then you need to keep looking. Sure add them to the board, but it doesn’t count as visibility.

Someone suggested to me that LGBTQ candidates might be held back for human rights assignments (like the CPRB and the Human Relations Commission) which would be a travesty. We can certainly offer more to our City than civil rights work and support for the arts. Queer folks live in public housing and attend the schools. We are among the region’s poorest residents – imagine how powerful to see a transgender leader serving on the Housing Authority Board? Or one of our super smart lesbian sisters helping to tackle things at the Sewer Authority?

Someone else suggested that I should find out if LGBTQ people applied. Well, that’s unreasonable. I can certainly ask people but the Administration has the list of applicants – they can answer that question, too. If no one applied, again – that’s a concern in and of itself and hopefully, someone noticed that before they began selections.

Hopefully, the Administration will answer my questions. I may not like the answers, that’s true. But I detailed a lengthy proposal on how to address Municipal Equality (and found some tentative funding) so it is unfair to say that I’m not proposing solutions as well as asking questions. I don’t expect that to be addressed in the first 3 months, of course not. But as I told the Mayor’s Communications Director, this is a touchy time of year as we are paying our “gay tax” on City health insurance benefits. I brought that to the City’s attention several years ago with a proposal to provide relief to employees. That’s over $3,000 worth of patience so far ($9000 total.) Being patient doesn’t mean being silent.

(To be clear, I proposed a Task Force which is different from the Mayor’s Advisory Committee. They are very different creatures with different focuses.)

There’s a lot of hard work to be done to build a more equal Pittsburgh and we need talented, smart people on board to make that happen. I hope you will join me in supporting the Mayor and not being afraid to ask questions to *help* him build the Next Pittsburgh.

Sue Kerr Bill Peduto
Bill posed with me for a photo in April 2013.

 

Update – While I appreciate your suggestions about who on the lists might be LGBTQ, I think it is best to wait for an official statement to protect their privacy and because that’s sort of my point about visibility. So I will not approve comments with names unless I am personally 100% certain that individual is out.  We are past the point in time when we should be speculating about who might or might not be LGBTQ among community leaders. Far too many members of our community don’t have the luxury of being out – we owe it to them to pave the way and tackle the barriers that they can’t.

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  • There has been self identified LGBTQ people hired at senior levels under this administration. I do not think that there is an inherit need to actively seek out representatives of any minority group/sub-population to fill these positions. Serving as an ally and hiring the person with the appropriate skills is enough. As for requesting information related to the sexual orientation/gender identity of candidates, or serving members, it is completely culturally incompetent and inappropriate to ask these questions; and furthermore violate an individual’s right to self-disclosure.

    • Matt,
      You can’t have it both ways. You don’t use your full name or state your affiliation with the City, but you assure me that people have been hired at senior levels. How could I find that remotely credible? Especially if you claim my asking is culturally incompetent? Can you name a single self-identified LGBTQ person at a senior level working for the City? I can name 2 white gay men who are not in senior positions and 1 white lesbian who works PT. My partner has been a City employee for over 12 years and she can’t name many more. Do you see how that seems a little disconcerting?

      What’s culturally incompetent is the current workplace environment at the City in regard to LGBTQ matters both for employees and residents. I’ve delved into this for years so please feel free to read back under the tag “municipal equality” for the data.

      But visibility matters, Matt. Whomever these senior level folks are would NOT be there if it weren’t for Harvey Milk and for Bruce Kraus and Barney Frank and even Mike Fleck. Please don’t conflate visibility with outing people.

      Mayor Peduto strove hard to have an incredibly diverse Transition and Leadership Team. There’s nothing wrong with the LGBTQ community saying “What about us?”

      Thanks for commenting.

  • The great thing about the new administration is: Bill Peduto. That seems obvious but I open with it because, in the whirl of change and establishing an administration, in the confusion and fog, I can fall back on: I don’t think Peduto has lost his mind, his soul, or his bearings and priorities.

    But I’m also sure that any administration is an organization of many human beings, who get caught up in urgency and passions and resource choices and crunches. And the mini-bosses, both real and self-imagined, who were on the outside and who are now on the inside, can possibly lose track of things in the midst of this change that they’re in. Not a character flaw; normal human behavior.

    That’s why it is so very essential to ask questions. I’m “almost” tempted to say that question-asking is more important than any one topic. It’s the thing that keeps progress on track, that keeps promises from being forgotten, that keeps essential priorities from being compromised away.

    Got to ask questions. And I don’t think that Bill Peduto minds questions.

    I do think that some of the newly positioned DoB (Defenders of Bill), even if they have that position only in their own mind, are way too fast to shame, shun, and suppress any questions and to defend Peduto. In doing that, they betray the spirit of NextPgh and I believe act inconsistently with the Mayor’s philosophy.

    We don’t need Peduto KoolAid Drinkers. It is good to ask questions and to challenge (effectively). It is wrong to shame / suppress questions.

    • “We don’t need Peduto KoolAid Drinkers.” I think rather we need all the Pittsburghers we happen to have got, and I think it reveals arrogance, assumption and dripping contempt to assume that different perspectives within our communities or counter-questioning equals shaming or “suppressing questions”.

      These aren’t conversations the community is having one-on-one with its Mayor, these are conversations a community has amongst itself, of which Bill is merely one part.

      I applaud Sue’s tenacity of advocacy despite all-too-frequent bashing of her viewpoint. And I don’t understand the un-personing of people with the temerity to agree with the new administration on any given issue or broadly in general.

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