I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I sat down to chat with Dok Harris in his DIY-themed campaign office in Oakland, hipply located under the former home of Phantom in the Attic comic store, but it sure wasn't a gentle reproof that I was slurping a Starbucks frappucino in lieu of a home-brewed beverage from a nearby locally-owned, neighborhood coffee shop.


It was a fitting beginning to a conversation I wanted to have about the LGBTQ community's contributions to Pittsburgh economic revitalization.  I'm no Mike Madison so I hope I get this right -- Dok's economic vision is about balancing the strengthening of the small business sector of Pittsburgh with increasing the intellectual capital.  That's pretty apt for gays concerned about economics because we have this inner balance between our small businesses, such as A Pleasant Present and The Square Cafe, and the emerging pink within corporate America.  Our community needs the VPs and the high-powered execs to come out and contribute as much as we do the owners of the businesses to display their rainbow merchandise.  Visibility in the economy isn't just about being a market sector; it is about measuring our contributions, defining how we create as much as how we consume. 

Dok envisions small business liaison to create dialogues with his Administration and acknowledged that an LGBT small business owner should be at the table.  Why not?

Why not? seems to be a recurrent theme when it comes to Harris and equality.  A social progressive, he approaches equal rights from an (very well) informed historical perspective, noting that America has a pattern of finding ways to exclude someone - anyone - from "us," be it because of how many drops of blood in their racial identity or their gender or their sexual orientation. 

"Respect is a better term" than tolerance or acceptance, according to Harris who openly acknowledges that his parents' interracial marriage (and his birth) should be compared to current battles over equality.  Harris isn't interested in merely being tolerated himself and holds those around him to the same high standard.  With regard to marriage equality, he believes that society and government should extend "full faith & credit" to citizens' choice of partnerships.  Yes "choice" is a bit troubling, but here's his answer to Steel City on marriage equality:

I believe that in the eyes of the state that every partnership between two consenting adults should have equal rights and full protection of the law.  I will fight to guarantee those rights and that protection while in office. 

Focusing locally, Harris is adamant. "Get rid of pay to play politics and everyone benefits."  The current Administration plays up their youthful mentality, but plays the same old games.  Transparency is the solution.

Given how opaque the current Administration has been with regard to LGBTQ issues, that's a refreshing perspective.  I agree that the politics of exclusion are not putting the best & brightest that the LGBTQ community has to offer at the forefront of our community.  The best way for that to happen is to create a fair playing ground where City of Pittsburgh residents who are LGBTQ are at the table and not in the closet. 

So how would Harris create a culture of inclusion specific to the LGBTQ community within the City?  He sees that the City overall has a lot of respect for the gay community, but acknowledges that changing the internal culture has to start with the Mayor sending a clear message that disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.  It was invigorating to talk with someone who understands that "institutional knowledge" translates into "it can change, but it takes effort" rather than "that's just Pittsburgh" particularly when it comes to institutional discrimination. 

Many conservative groups believe that this issue should not be legislated, but should remain a matter for the private sphere to resolve on their own.  I disagree - where law has created disparate treatments of people, the law must then work to solve that discrepancy.  Equal protection under our laws means equal protection no matter who you are. 

Interesting again to note that discrimination is not just about individual personal beliefs, but is rooted in the systemic, intentional opppression and exclusiong of certain groups of individuals and that the institutional, state-sanctioned oppression contributes to the ongoing "personal beliefs."

Clearly, this is not a man who would bring a body guard to a gay Democrats meeting.

We talked about the Mayor's plans for a LGBT Advisory Committee.  Harris would keep that in place and ensure that multiple perspectives from the community had a voice.  When it come to the Domestic Partner Registry as a tool to encourage more companies to provides domestic partner benefits, he acknowledges that he doesn't want to meddle in company policies but model leadership.  As a business owner, he understands that domestic partner benefits are good business and that is a leadership message he can promote. 

I also asked about preserving the rights and benefits of City employees in any talks of City-County mergers, reminding him that it is the clerical worker making $27,000 in the back office who is most vulnerable, he agreed that people should not lose rights and benefits.  However, he believes that the current talks are complex, but poorly thought out even while acknowleding that it is the future. 

Harris peppers his enthusiastic responses with terms such as "thought leader" and "best & brightest" and it is clear to me that he absolutely sees our community as part of that dynamic. 

His Steel City Stonewall survey is attached as a Word document.  He's good on the issues.  Read it for yourself. 

Any last thoughts?  Dok brought up Richard Caliguri more often than he did Franco Harris.  :-)   

I had to miss the Campaign Kick Off party tonight, but I hope to be at the next event later in the week. 

With a refreshing beverage from a locally owned company in hand.