The 2014 HRC Municipal Equality Index has been released. Pittsburgh residents have gained significant benefit from the 2014 court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, but has only made slight actual gains in terms of municipal initiated efforts to address equality. Pittsburgh’s most noticeable ongoing weakness is evident in the “gender identity” indicators.
The scoring in 2014 was modified per the HRC so a straight comparison isn’t perfect, but it is troubling to see that allowing for the 12 points that come with statewide marriage and the adjustments in ratings – most of Pennsylvania municipalities made little to no progress in terms of these indicators with the exception of Allentown.
Seven Pennsylvania municipalities were measured for an average score of 79 out of a possible 100. Philadelphia once again achieved a perfect score – actually 116 with all bonus points included. 2013 scores are in parentheses. The HRC measured 353 total municipalities with a national average score of 82.
Allentown – 85 (50)
Erie – 57 (no 2013 score)
Harrisburg – 70 (76)
New Hope – 89 (89)
Philadelphia – 100 (100)
Pittsburgh – 90 (72)
University Park (State College) – 66
The MEI clusters indicators into six categories
- Non-Discrimination Laws (18 out of 18)
- Marriage Equality (12 out of 12)
- Municipality as Employer (16 out of 29)
- Municipal Services (12 out of 15)
- Law Enforcement (10 out of 18)
- Relationship with the LGBT Community (8 out of 8)
I think it is fair to say that the Peduto Administration and the current City Council bring a commitment to build a relationship with the LGBTQ community even while dealing with institutions that could take decades to change.
But the lack of attention to the transgender community is rather striking. Out of 23 possible gender identity points, Pittsburgh received 9 all of which were about non-discrimination. No trans health benefits for employees, no gender identity protections in school bullying policies, and something that has deeply troubled me – no non-discrimination in City employment. I was horrified to realize that not a single openly LGBTQ person was among those appointed or hired into leadership roles by the Peduto Administration. The City employs 3500 people and I’ve yet to identify a single openly trans person or genderqueer person or queer identified person working at any level, much less in a leadership role.
Perhaps the lack of municipal equality is why no one applied for any of the Talent City positions, especially given the fiscal crisis which constrains salaries. But it is absurd to suggest that there aren’t talented and qualified trans people to hire or appoint. It is absurd to shift the burden for creating an inclusive and welcoming environment off the employer and onto the prospective employees.
If the LGBTQ voices at the table are mostly white lesbians and gay men, many of whom are “quietly out” – how on earth can we tackle the ways in which the City fails the transgender and the LGBTQ community?
Again, Mayor Peduto has only been in office for under a year. He can’t change cultures magically – he’s working to implement systemic fixes that will be tools for cultural shifts and improvements in cultural competency. He needs our support, but also needs access to a diverse array of LGBTQ voices.
Here’s a little anecdote to show why this matters.
The very week after the City Council voted to update non-discrimination protections based on gender identity and gender expression, a trans friend of mine patronized a local business that receives all sorts of subsidies and has licenses and lots of employees. She was confronted when she went to use the ladies room. She is a woman. It became a “thing” with the housekeeper and another customer. She left. She complained to the business which just brushed it off as a cultural difference (the housekeeper is Nepali which is apparently their excuse) so she tried to file a report with the City’s Human Relations Commission. They wouldn’t even take her report until the Women’s Law Project got involved.
So the system is pretty broken. The business responded to the situation by blaming their employees cultural values which is racist and a failure to properly train their staff (on multiple levels.) The City HRC failed to respond to a concern – the intake person didn’t even know that the municipal code had changed. And with no trans voices at the table to lobby for their community, I have little confidence that things will change with any of this soon.
I still maintain that the precedent of hiring quietly gay white men and lesbians is damaging at any level of government. Rather than ask if people have the right to privacy, we should ask why the work culture reinforces the need to be discreet or quiet or closeted? They aren’t bad people, but clearly – they aren’t having an impact advocating for the trans community, right? Then we should ask how those in charge of the work culture can change the culture?
I’ll delve into this more deeply in the coming weeks. I’m genuinely glad we’ve made progress as a municipality and think we are on the right path to build a more just and fair Pittsburgh. The important thing is for all of us to keep up the pressure for more change on the municipal level.