Wednesday, December 31
by Sue on Wed 31 Dec 2008 02:47 PM EST
Today's Post-Gazette features a strong statement from State Senator Jim Ferlo on plans to expand Pennsylvania's Hate Crimes law to include additional protected classes, including ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. These were part of a 2002 amendment which was recently overturned on procedural grounds.
A hate crime makes certain crimes more serious when their motivation is based on .. well, hate toward a class of people. In Pennsylvania, those crimes include harassment, assault, murder, trespass, criminal mischief and arson.
If you burn down someone's house because they are Latino or Jewish, there is an understanding that the violence is much deeper than the arson itself.
Being targeted because you fit into a certain class of people sucks, period. It sucks whether it is being the target of verbal taunts or assault. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of said motivated attacks can attest to what I'm saying.
There has been opposition to expanding the protected classes because of the inclusion of the LGBTQ community as a protected class. I guess some folks think its okay to kill a woman because she is a lesbian, but not because she is Jewish. Hmmm. OK, I'm exaggerating for the sake of my argument because there really are some people who fail to see that the underlying motivation of a crime can increase their impact on society. Any murder is an assault on the entire community. A murder motivated by group hate sends an especially chilling message to that particular strata in the community, but please don't forget that it has an impact on all of us.
Let's be clear. The wing-nuts in Pennsylvania don't want to acknowledge the LGBTQ community in any way, shape or form. They want unfettered access to pray away the gay even when their freedom to express their religious beliefs interferes with my freedom to, well, exist. Hence, their cries of foul over the 2002 legislation drag out every possible tired excuse about impinging on their religious and speech freedoms. They have been working overtime to spread misleading messages about this legislation, including claims that it will create "thought" crimes. The mislogic goes that hate is a thought, not an action. Punishing someone for a thought is unconstitutional.
Well, that's bullshit. The violence perpetrated under Jim Crow could not be reduced to the loss of the individual life of the man hanging from the tree. Lynching was an intentional act, intentional in the sense of sending a very clear message to others in that class of people about the societal expectations of the dominant culture. The psychological damage was deliberative and reverberated far beyond the lives of the family members who lost their loved one.
That's hate. Pure, unadulterated hate. It doesn't make it any less so when other groups that are outside of the dominant culture are targeted simply for the "crime" of existing. Expanding the law to include more groups goes a long way to countering that message, reminding the entire community that we are all valued and should not be singled out based on some characteristic. The claim that the current law is good enough is patently untrue for we already factor in motivation when measuring charges ... the law recognizes that murder committed by accident is different than a deliberately planned out murder, even if both actions result in the loss of life.
Still, I am very conscious that there is an important distinction between expressing your opinions a la Diane Gramley in a lawful manner and deliberately harassing people. This is a distinction that we count upon our law enforcement officers and the courts to uphold. Frankly, I have some expectation that Ms. Gramley will uphold that distinction, too. I despise her message and her tactics. I do believe that she is culpable for sowing the seeds of intolerance toward gay people that leads to acts of hatred ... see thoughts do lead to actions ...yet, I am still willing to acknowledge her right to devote her entire life to her twisted little mission. Just don't infringe on my rights. She sends her minions into Allegheny County to stir up opposition to gay rights. That's not a crime. And it is an action we can resist, fighting fire with fire so to speak, by rallying our own troops.
Members of our LGBTQ community are the targets of hate crimes here in Pennsylvania. They are beaten up because they are gay - it happens in high schools every single day. They are harassed in public. They are accosted when trying to participate in a lawful activity such as festival or celebration. These things happen and kudos to Senator Ferlo for putting this legislation on the front burner instead of behind the scenes as an attachment to some other bill. A message against hate requires a public airing, not a furtive nod.
So what can you do? Well, for starters, you can "join the impact" by attending the rally on January 10 and the County Council hearing on January 15. We have strength in numbers. Make no mistake, my friends and allies, if we turn out many hundred folks for both events, our state elected officials will take note even though it is a County issue. Your attendance at both events will give Senator Ferlo, Representative Frankel and their allies the statistics they need to persuade their colleagues to vote in favor of the hate crimes legislation.
The more often you come out, the bigger the difference you can make.
Tuesday, December 30
by Sue on Tue 30 Dec 2008 10:24 AM EST
Wow. Big 24 hours. My story about Diane Gramley and the Allegheny County Anti-Discrimination Legislation was picked up by several national sites and my domain expires! Can you believe that luck? My "guy" is on it, though. And thanks to all of my wonderful blogging friends in Pittsburgh who sent me assorted "creative" messages informing me of the situation? Next time a sex shop appears on my website -- text me please! :-)
So, happy 3rd anniversary to us here at Lesbian Central. I'm a fairly fickle person so it is peronally interesting to me that I've been doing this with fair consistency for three years (with the occasional much needed break). We've had a lot of fun with all of the creative directions this project has generated, including opportunities to participate in Pam's House Blend, DailyKOS and LezGetReal even if we are very far down on the page. LOL. And PageOneQ has been great about picking up our local stories.
Highlights, you ask? In no particular order.
- Doug Shields' letter to Sally Kerns. I love it when the calvary arrives and he did it with vigor and style.
- The conclusion of the trial of Reverend Janet Edwards. I don't think we've heard the last of this incredible woman and leader in the community.
- Participating in the Bloggers Summit in DC. What an energizing weekend. I was agog with groupieness.
- The election of Bruce Kraus to Pittsburgh City Council. Bruce is the first openly gay member of this body and the second openly gay elected person in Western Pennsylvania. (A regret is being unable to track down the first, a council member from tiny Wilkinsburg)
- The first ever Blog for Equality in Western Pennsylvania. This brainchild of local straight blogger Bram Reichbaum, this brought together nearly 2 dozen local bloggers around one topic: equality for everyone.
- Celebrating 25 years of our own Lambda Foundation, the cornerstone of Pittsburgh's philanthropic community. They've generated nearly $1 million in grants and been a part of every major and minor initiative in the community, sometimes as a catalyst and sometimes to keep vital services flowing smoothly.
I'm sure there's much more, but I have to turn my attention to other things. Our little story about intolerance v equality in Allegheny County is getting big play in the gay media. Did you call you Councilperson yet?
Monday, December 29
by Sue on Mon 29 Dec 2008 09:11 AM EST
c/p at Pam's House Blend
Surprise! Diane Gramley, self-proclaimed spokesperson of the Pennsylvania hatefest known as the AFA and resident of Venango County, is bringing her show on the road to Allegheny County in Southwestern Pennsylvania to challenge legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of classes including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Allegheny County is home to the City of Pittsburgh which already has such protections in place. Statewide, legislation has been introduced and proponents hope to see movement in late winter/early spring.
The Allegheny County legislation originally garnered 13 co-sponsors (out of 16 councilpersons), but Gramley's agitation efforts have been successful in driving three co-sponsors to jump ship. Conventional wisdom is that the three conservative-leaning districits have been targeted by Gramley, but there is still reason to believe that the erstwhile sponsors may in fact vote for the legislation.
The legislation establishes (and funds) a county Human Relations Commission with a goal to educate business owners, landlords and employers about the legislation and provide recourse and investigation to those who believe they have experienced discrimination.
Gramley is using the typical weapons of hate: misinformation and fear. Her arsenal includes false claims that companies will be "required" to hire gay people (at the expense of good Christians). She also purports that this threatens this could prevent the Boy Scouts from using government parks and buildings, building on the anger over a situation in Philadelphia wherein the Boy Scouts lost their government-subsidized rental property because of their ongoing discrimination against gay scouts and scout leaders, neatly ignoring all the efforts the Philadelphia elected officials made to minimize the fallout of this on the children themselves. And, you won't be surprised to read, she brings out the tiresome threats of men invading women's bathrooms to lounge about in women's clothes and terrify the poor hapless Christian women who enter unknowingly.
In short, Gramley's message is based on ignorance and fear. But she's effective and not to be underestimated. She uses email and a daily radio program to drive attention to this very specific issue. She testifies as an "expert" with no identifiable source material, trying to deflect questions with vague references to health encyclopedias that don't exist to defend her demonization of LGBT people as disease ridden hedonists. She follows Pennsylvania's Human Relations Commission Chair, Stephen Glassman, like a mutant "fag hag" tramping all over the Commonwealth to challenge him at every turn.
The best response? Truth. During a planning meeting last night focusing on how to connect this ordinance (the public hearing is set for January 15, 2009) with the upcoming national DOMA/Join the Impact rally, I kept flashing back to the film "Milk" and Milk's pleas for gay people to come out and be real and present to everyone in their lives. Allegheny County is not some backwater movie set filled with unfeeling human beings. Quite the opposite. I have found that most people are caring and encouraging and, even when they aren't 100% comfortable with homosexuality, still agree that homosexual people deserve to keep their jobs and live in decent apartments and get a table at Applebees. These aren't special privileges and when folks know real life people suffering the indignity and dehumanizing impact of these discriminations, they care.
So the best response is a response laced with truth and honesty. Let your friends and family and neighbors and coworkers know what is going on and ask them to contact their County Councilmembers with your story and theirs as someone who loves and respects you. Start talking about those discriminations we've all endured -- I have a 'good story" that was surprise, surprise resolved by a former employer in a positive way, but the resulting cultural shift was minimal. Still, I was lucky because even though I had to implicate my immediate supervisors for failing to take action, I had a lot of support from my (lawyer) partner and friends. And there was fallout and I carried some worry with me for the next three years about my job security given that I was now a troublemaker and could be let go at any point because there was no legal protection for me. It weighed me down and I was really angry for a long time for being the object of a stupid degrading joke.
So, all you who read this, if you have family and friends in Alllegheny County, Pennsylvania (Go Steelers!), contact them and ask them to make this call today. Remind Councilman Finnerty, Drozd and Ellenbogen that LGBT people live in their districts, along with people who love them, and ask them to vote for the legislation. Share your stories. I have information up here on how to make those contacts and which neighborhoods are part of these council districts. It doesn't hurt to ask those who live in other districts to call, too, and shore up support by reminding our elected officials that this legislation is about equality of opportunity to employment, housing and public accomodations and fairness for their LGBT voters.
Diane Gramley is not from Allegheny County. She doesn't vote here. She represents some shadow members who can't be bothered to show up to testify themselves. We need to turn out a good sized contingent of LGBT folks and allies at the public hearing on January 15, 2009 to demonstrate that there are thousands of us living in the County and we won't be silenced by her fear mongering ways.
This is your "recruitment" moment, folks. Sure, County Chambers are a long way away especially during rush hour and with all of the parking and what about the kids? But does the tally for parking, gas and a babysitter (or a favor from a family member to watch them) = the peace of mind of not worrying about someone at work finding out you are a lesbian or being able to get a table at Eat 'n Park regardless of your gender identity? Bring the kids! Show the County Council that your family is part of their voting base. Show them in an up close and personal way the real impact of discrimination on your life.
Equally important, my friends, is that you show them the positive impact YOU have in their district. The you work, pay taxes, shop, dine, coach soccer, shovel snow for elderly neighbors, attend worship services, and ... vote.
Sunday, December 28
by Sue on Sun 28 Dec 2008 01:23 PM EST
I received word that three members of Allegheny County Council have withdrawn their support of the legislation that would extend anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender presentation.
You can bet the rightwing and the AFA of PA are getting people to make calls and had something to do with this change in support of the legislation.
If you, your parents, siblings, friends or family live in these neighborhoods, please take a moment to send an email or pick up the phone and urge these three individuals to vote in favor of this legislation. Remind them that is it not fair or just for someone to lose their job or be denied a place to live because they are gay. It really is that simple and it shouldn't be controversial. Be polite and ask them to vote for the legislation.
If you need any motivation to make the call, check out what the AFA of PA is saying about all of this ...they are spreading lies and misinformation about the impact of this legislation. Go read the distortions for yourself.
More on this later after I attend the Steel City meeting this afternoon.
District 1 includes:
District 4 includes:
District 12 includes:
Tuesday, December 23
by Sue on Tue 23 Dec 2008 06:56 PM EST
Harrisburgians may soon be on their way to another notch in the belt of pointless LGBT legislative efforts.
You might recall that Pittsburgh passed similar legislation, signed amidst much fanfare when Luke Ravenstahl came to PrideFest. Fast forward six months. Exactly six couples have registered. There has been no promotion of this resource, either to City employees (60 registered domestic partners in Personnel) or the general public. There has been no publicized effort to increase the number of employers offering domestic partner benefits.
With all due respect to Jake Kaskey, this legislation hasn't done one single "concrete" thing for Pittsburgh except reinforce the misperception that Luke Ravenstahl supports gay rights. I have been informed that this is what actually propelled County Councilwoman Amanda Greene to go underground with the gay advocates and come up with the anti-discrimination legislation on the County level. Certainly, that's a win for County residents. But what about us here in Pittsburgh who are going to be saddled once again with a Mayor who publicly opposes civil unions, but is willing to allow people to think otherwise so he can court the "pink" voters and donors? Too bad for us? Screw us?
I am poking around for information on how this registry is working in Philadelphia. Perhaps there is something to be learned from how this rolled out in the Liberty City and I would be ecstatic if this could be salvaged to make a meaningful difference, especially for low and moderate income families who can really utilize the benefits. And maybe the folks in H-burg have an actual implementation plan to make this a useful resource.
But I'm not exactly "consoled" by the fact that the County Council stepped on my back to achieve equality for gay people. No one asked me to make that tradeoff and I'd like a recount if they did. Especially since Amanda Greene is my County Councilwoman and I haven't seen her in Manchester at all (but she's in good company in that regard). You can bet I'll be contacting her for more discussion on that tradeoff.
Thursday, December 11
by Sue on Thu 11 Dec 2008 08:51 PM EST
FURTHER UPDATE: If you wonder why campaign contributions matter, check out this PG article on the connection between contributions and City contracts. Transparency, my friends. Michael Lamb gets transparency.
UPDATE: In response to some community outrage (after 10 minutes), let me be clear that I am not suggesting any specific improprieties on the part of any individuals. I'm merely pointing out that the formation of this Council has been unexamined by the larger community and calling for transparency in the current stages of the process precisely to avoid any allegations of impropriety.
c/p Pam's House Blend and DailyKOS
As I reported yesterday, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, is launching a LGBT Advisory Council to provide an open line of communication between his office and Pittsburgh's LGBT community. The planning meeting held on December 10 was chaired by Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski and the Mayor's personal liaison to the LGBT community, Gary Van Horn, a local businessman and President of the Delta Foundation. 25 people were in attendance, along with two members of the media. The room was fairly even between men and women, but almost entirely Caucasian and middle to upper middle class. It was a pretty elite group and that didn't surprise me for a 5 PM meeting held downtown.
Represented were PFLAG, Persad, PATF, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Gertrude Stein Club, the Steel City Softball League, TransPitt, and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center among others. Several private citizens attended on their own behalf.
During the meeting, Van Horn and Baginski indicated that City residency would be preferred for Council members and described the nomination process. Nominees must submit a resume and a cover letter outlining their interest in serving. Everything is due by January 15, 2009.
The conversation was fairly cordial if vague. Attendees were interested in details on the Council's mission and structure, but the Mayor's representatives indicated that the Council would self-define these aspects along with the term of service, the meeting schedule and other details.
I have asked the Mayor's office to clarify how they will make public any campaign donations made by the appointees to this committtee. I've also asked whether individuals who serve on the nominations review committee will be able to serve on the council. The Mayor's spokeswoman has declined comment. The Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff who is staffing this project has declined comment.
We've been following this story for months. I had a tip from Van Horn's co-organizer and former Steel City Stonewall co-chair, Tara Reynolds, that this was on the horizon. Unfortunately, there was no further information forthcoming from Reynolds or the local advocacy community until Van Horn announced the meeting a few weeks ago.
Let us not forget how far we need to bring the Mayor along. It was only a year ago that he publicly stated that he is opposed to "gay unions" during a public debate. In spite of a follow up meeting with his advisors, he held steadfast to that position based on his Catholic beliefs. The Mayor's only public appearances has been at social events such as OUTrageous Bingo and Pridefest, choosing not to attend public forums where he would be required to personally engage informed (and outspoken) members of the community. The Mayor did sign the Domestic Registry into law, but has not been proactive in implementing this resource -- only six couples have signed up and there is no indication that any company has added domestic partner benefits to their benefits. My partner and I are registered with the City Department of Personnel and have never been contacted about the Registry. There are no openly gay members of the Mayor's Administration. His Deputy Chief of Staff did not know the title (Equal Employment Opportunity manager) or name (Tamiko Stanley) of the staff member responsible for cultivating a diverse base of employees.
There's a lot of room for improvement.
Other questions remain unanswered. Will the entire list of nominees be made public? Will the Mayor reach out to Councilman Bruce Kraus to recruit nominees from his network within the LGBT community? Will the proceedings of the Council, including the nomination review process, be made available to the public?
The way you can best contribute to the process is to be proactive in nominating individuals from the LGBT community to serve on this Advisory Board. The more diverse and more qualified the nominees, the better chance we have as a community to make this a meaningful resource for our community. We need to take action to build a voice that represents the entire community and not just those who already have relationships with the Mayor because of their involvement in his campaign.
Wednesday, December 10
by Sue on Wed 10 Dec 2008 08:17 PM EST
I left tonight's meeting with some unanswered questions that I have submitted to his staff, so I'm going to give you a brief overview of the proceedings and save my analysis for a later date.
There 25 people in attendance, plus two folks from the media (City Paper and Rustbelt Radio). They are accepting nominations through January 15, 2009. Nominees should submit a cover letter and a resume. City residency seems to be very important, but they might allow for exceptions in the case of significant GLBT organizations.
The advisory council will determine its own agenda, timeframe, term limits and other issues. The nomination review committee will include Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski, local businessman Gary Van Horn and other yet to be identified individuals.
Start combing your networks for nominees. Stay tuned for analysis.
Thursday, December 4
by Sue on Thu 04 Dec 2008 07:36 AM EST
Here's an important upcoming meeting. Note that this is one day prior to the Mayor's mtg and an excellent opportunity to discuss nominations for the Advisory Council as well as any process issues. A planned agenda item is recruitment for Steel City. As I've said before, I think this is one of the most important opportunities to leverage gay momentum into some sort of impactful action for our community. Join!
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008, 7:00 PM - 8:45 PM
831 Boggs AvePittsburgh, PA, 15211
Steel City Stonewall Democrats will be holding a Membership Meeting on December 9th at 7 PM. The major goal of the meeting will be to vote on the adoption of new by-laws for Steel-City Stonewall Democrats.
In addition, we will also discuss the important upcoming 2009 elections for City /County Council, Mayor, & the Judiciary. We also would like to get your input on the future direction of the chapter as well as suggestions for recruitment.
Light food & drink will be served at the gathering.
Please RSVP Lance Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-728-5262
Membership dues for 2009 are due in January. The 2009 Pennsylvania Primary will be April 22nd and our 2009 Endorsement Meeting is tentatively scheduled to be in late February. Dues must be paid in advance of the 2009 Endorsement Meeting in order to vote on who SCSD will endorse in the 2009 Democratic Primary. You can pay dues by paypal at www.steel-city.org or feel free to bring a check to the Membership Meeting. Ten dollars of your dues go directly to National Stonewall Democrats in Washington D.C.
Wednesday, December 3
by Sue on Wed 03 Dec 2008 10:22 PM EST
A representative from the Mayor's office will be meeting with representatives from various LGBT organizations and entities to discuss the composition of the new Advisory Council. While the Mayor's planning team has reached out to Leadership Pittsburgh, LP will not be playing any part in the formation of the council. That's regrettable as the process for establishing a brand new advisory entity would be strengthened by more transparency and some unbiased perspective. LP will work on structural and procedural issues. Still, I think that first step would make this seem more legitimate.
There are whispers (and snickers) from multiple corners that this advisory council is just a empty gesture or an attempt for Luke to appear more progressive as he faces reelection and lays the groundwork for his next political steps. My personal concern is that this board is going to be packed with Luke supporters (mostly gay white male business owners who need a good relationship with the sitting Mayor) and a few handpicked token Ls Bs and Ts.
Call me cynical if you will, but I'm willing to be wrong on this. I hope I'm wrong on this and certain individuals don't sit on the Advisory Council, creating real opportunity for fresh new voices to engage the Mayor's team on these issues. It isn't as if he is going to stop paying attention to his donors.
What could we reasonably expect from the Administation? Well, we can expect that LGBT civil protections and domestic partner benefits are integral to any City-County merger discussion.
We can expect that the Mayor take a better look at the internal climate of his employees and determine how LGBT friendly it is. Really is. Do a survey. Look at DP benefit applications. Figure it out. At least try.
We can expect the Equal Employment Opportunities manager, Tamiko Stanley, will work to recruit LGBT employees, a task that goes hand in hand with creating a more gay-sustainable work climate.
We can expect more appointments of LGBT city residents to boards and commissions and not just the art related ones.
We can talk about increasing sensitivity training for First Responders, but also receptionists and other front line staff with whom one's gay status might come up in conversation while seeking services or information.
We can expect the Mayor to hire an openly queer person in his office. Not someone that everyone "knows" is gay. A person who claims his or her gay identity with pride and dignity.
We can expect the Mayor to pay attention to the plight of the GLCC and step up to ensure this vital institution finds a new home.
I can expect that other bloggers will stop having stories to share about Mayoral staff making gay-bashing comments and/or being completely threatened by the slightest hint that they aren't 100% virile manly women-loving men.
We can expect that at the next ACDC gay meeting, Luke will show up and answer tough questions. Not send a surrogate.
We can expect access to the Mayor at events and meetings where this is opportunity for real contact, not just social events and parades.
We can expect something meaningful. A change in the City culture. Perhaps that's a tall order, but City Council has done the work on civil protections and domestic benefits. Now it is up to Luke to execute all of that into a City that truly integrates the LGBTQ community across the board.
So, we need to all turn up and submit names for this board that aren't the usual round of folks. I have two in mind. Who are you going to nominate?