UPDATED: Why I Won’t Ask Mayor Bill Peduto To Marry Me

If you were one part human, two parts something else — another animal, a plant, an inanimate object — what would the other two parts be?

I’ve always felt like a mutant, in part due to being ostracized as a poor kid with big eyes and huge glasses and in part due to being an adult queer woman. I even have multiple birth defects to reinforce this sense of being otherwordly or not-fully-human. And like any mutant, I just longed to either be normal or to be accepted as part of normal. One is assimilation or equality and the other is liberation. Both were acceptable to me for most of my life.

If part of me is human, which part?  The queer part? The survivor part? The smart-girl part? The smart-ass part? I have no idea, but some part of me is considered second-class, not deserving of rights and not supposed to call-out people who ignore that fact.

I was disappointed, but not surprised to read that Mayor Bill Peduto is conducting a mass wedding at PrideFest. That’s the completely predictable thing to do. And it isn’t inherently a bad thing except he hasn’t done anything for the rest of the LGBTQ community since he became Mayor. So it feels far from sincere or genuine that his team is going to organize a wedding for gay men and lesbians while simply ignoring everyone else. It also feels sort of unfair that he’s prioritizing gay men and lesbians at the expense of the rest of us.

I understand the appeal and I’m sure there will be a measure of satisfaction presiding over such joyful moments. I wouldn’t begrudge him that. I just wish he hadn’t selected this as his opening act toward municipal equality.

The Mayor is very aware of the myriad of issues – I’ve spoken with him and his former staff about it multiple times while he was in City Council. I honestly don’t know why he’s simply ignoring our community. He’s absolutely smart enough to understand that marriage equality is a complicated challenge for PA LGBTQ residents given that we are the only state without non-discrimination protections. I had hoped that he has a team on the ground working on what a positive marriage decision would mean for his employees, his residents, his neighbors and his friends. But he didn’t.  And even though I’ve repeatedly asked, they simply won’t tell me. Even though we are part of the Domestic Partner Registry. Even thought it is our actual lives.

Let me recap some of the issues.

  • Non-discrimination is the significant issue. Couples who wed but live or work or travel outside of Allegheny County (or PA) have to be aware of what their married status means for them. I’m sure many do, but the phone calls/emails I’ve been receiving indicate that many, many do not. I regret that the Mayor’s failure to more robustly support Tom Michalow may have cost us a strong ally in the General Assembly. You’ll note that the Pittsburgh protections for gender identity or expression did not meet the HRC standards for the Municipal Equality index. That’s very disturbing. I’ve pointed this out numerous times to numerous people and no one has taken action to my knowledge.
Pittsburgh Transgender
HRC 2014 Municipal Equality Index Score for Pittsburgh
  • Domestic Partner Registry. What little communication I do have with the Mayor’s office suggests that they are not up to speed on municipal equality. I immediately contacted them to find out what was going to happen with the registry and so forth. I was surprised that they didn’t seem to realize that the Domestic Partner Registry exists or has legal implications for marriage equality. One of the key staff members has family connections to the Registry so I’m actually shocked.  (PS – Mayor’s staff, please stop referring to it as “some registry” and learn about it.)
  • Domestic Partner Benefits. These have been available to City employees since 1995. It remains unclear to this day if every union has included them in their contracts. The unions won’t comment. The City won’t comment. And yet I have a friend employed by a local union that has City contracts. She was told to “go get married” so her employer could giver her partner benefits. And even when she explained that it wasn’t that easy based on these other issues I’ve laid out, her employer simply thought it was her responsibility to solve the problem not his. Is that what we thought would happen 20 years after these benefits were won?
  • Trans Issues. Pittsburgh has done a terrible job of supporting the trans community. Non-discrimination was only worked into the City Human Relations Ordinance using a backdoor approach that has never been redressed. There are no trans health benefits for City employees. There is no local ordinance on things like Gender Neutral Bathrooms and I’m not aware that City buildings actually attempt to have them. The City scored ZERO points in terms of trans indicators of municipal equality as an employer – those are issues over which Peduto has a lot of control. To be fair, this was before he took office as Mayor but he still had some input as a Councilor and he knew about these items.
Pittsburgh Transgender
HRC Municipal Equality Index on Pgh 2013

 

  • Family Leave. The City does not offer employees family leave benefits beyond those required by the Family Medical Leave Act, so domestic partners are not recognized. This is particularly worrisome to me because I just learned I might have a serious health issue. So Ledcat will not be able to take FMLA type leave if that were necessary. She could lose her job. Requiring us to get married to avoid creating a policy is not a solution, especially given the lack of non-discrimination protections.
  • No Openly LGBTQ persons hired to leadership roles or appointed to commissions or boards. This gets me in hot water every time I bring it up because there are A LOT of semi-closeted people who feel like I am bringing undue attention to their lives. Semi-closeted people do not count to this criteria. The reasons that lead to their decision to remain closeted are tied to the injustices that keep so many people closeted or in second-class place. But that doesn’t mean there is a lack of qualified, openly queer folks to fill these roles. It just means it takes more effort and investment. I’ll save my opinions for people who don’t want to be known as “the first openly gay anything” for another post. Suffice to say, that still doesn’t help anyone, but you.  The Emperor is not wearing clothes. Period. Shocking.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and you can see how it blends together – even marriage equality. That’s why I had proposed establishing a Task Force to look at best practices and tackle the larger issue of how the City can become a better place for LGBTQ residents to live.

I’m completely exasperated that the only significant issue to be resolved this year is the probability that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will allow LGBTQ entrants in 2015. I’m happy about Marriage Equality, I really am. But I’ve been working on these issues for many years and I’m well-versed in the fact that Pennsylvania is now on unfamiliar ground. It is almost too late to look at Best Practices because no other state has marriage equality and lacks some degree of non-discrimination (some have it just for sexual orientation, not gender identity.)

But it is NOT too late. There’s a plan, there’s money available and there’s a clear need. All that is lacking is …?  I almost hope there is a secret plan to announce a Task Force during Pride with the best and brightest minds and I simply was dumped from the loop. That would be better than nothing. Even for me. I’m not an insider and I never was. I’m just a resident.

The two parts of me that are not treated as human?

  • Being queer and disabled.
  • Talking about things that make people uncomfortable or unhappy.

When national LGBTQ media outlets ask for my opinion on local issues, I’m flummoxed. Bill Peduto is the best ally Pittsburgh has ever elected – but I have absolutely nothing to which I can point to back up that claim. It was easy to find nuggets from Ravenstahl even if they were incredibly superficial – like flying a flag. Great. That generated a lot of PR so good for him. But other than awareness, how are we better off for it? Clearly, we are better off with Peduto – it just hurts that he seems to feel he’s better off without a stronger LGBTQ community.

So I guess if I had to pick some part of me to be something other than human, I’d like to be an inanimate object inside the Mayor’s office so I could figure out what the heck is going on or what is not going on. Because asking isn’t getting me anywhere.

Being a mutant would be a high price to pay for equality. But it better than simply standing by while the months role by, hoping someone will acknowledge I’m a normal Pittsburgh resident. Clearly, no one is going to simply hand us our rights. I remember when my colleague Lane Hudson received a ton of negative crap locally for standing up to confront former President Bill Clinton at Netroots Nation in 2009. In Pittsburgh! At the Convention Center! Yet on the very day President Obama openly supported Marriage Equality, Lane was the first to launch a crowdfundraiser among his friends telling us we needed to walk our talk right back with donations to his reelection campaign.

I’m fairly certain I’d get the negative fallout if I ever confronted the Mayor publicly. And I see no reason to do that – I picked up the phone in the past when it rang from “Peduto for Pittsburgh” and I would do it now. It just doesn’t ring.

I hope the couples who marry at PrideFest have a terrific experience and I wish them well. I just hope the other tens of thousands of us who are there can count on a similar degree of investment from our Mayor in our lives, too, that same day.

UPDATE: the medical crisis I face is possible lung cancer. I’m already caught in the UPMC/Highmark war in a very short period of time. But realizing how much time Ledcat needs to take off work to deal with diagnostics much less potential treatment makes issues like Family Leave more urgent. If I do have cancer, we’ll have to marry for that reason alone – to access FMLA. And that’s heartbreaking. Because I brought this up years ago. I shouldn’t have to worry about it. We deserve better. All City employees do.

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

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