Wednesday, June 1
by Sue on Wed 01 Jun 2011 05:02 PM EDT
Once again, it is time to participate in the blogswarm for LGBT families sponsored by the blog Mombian.
I've given some thought to my topic this year and decided to write a response to the perception that not having children makes us less than a family. I think there is more than one person who perceives LGBTQ families without children as somehow a little lesser. It is particularly sad when people who claim to be pro-choice condemn those who choose not to have children outside of the context of abortion.
First, I have a lovely family even though I do not have children of my own. I have my partner of nearly 8 years with whom I've built a little nuclear family of our very own. We cannot legally wed, but we are a family. We also have extended family including two nephews and two nieces, all five and under. Then there are cousins, second cousins, recently found cousins missing for two generations because of a turn of the century adoption. Our family is complex and complicated, but never dull.
Second, we have a role in the lives of children who are not related to us and this is not unusual for LGBTQ people, especially those who do not have their own children. To some of these children we are aunts. To others, we are family friends who come bearing gifts and/or delicious snacks. To all, we are accepted, loved and valued as part of their own extended family circle. Yes, they sometimes ask about our relationship, but they are always satisfied with the answer b/c they have no agenda, just curiosity. I am humbled every time they run over to show me a work of art or ask me to play. Or confide a secret.
As for why we chose not to have children, well, that's really a private decision. But just because we joke about being mom to our kitties, please don't think we fail to honor and appreciate the children in our lives (and their parents). And we grew up in families so we do have some perspective as to what they need to be successful. Support from other adults is one important thing. I had someone in my life who was close to my family, but objective and he meant the world in the terms of providing me support and love.
Deciding not to parent is a valid choice. It is not better or worse than raising children. It is just a different path. I'm sure there are plenty of people who do it for selfish reasons, but be honest - there are plenty of people who have children for selfish reasons. We can't know what is in people's hearts or behind their decisions unless they share with us. But we judge families and parents each and every day, especially in the media. It is really heartbreaking to see the relentless scrutiny of a parent in the news as if a 60 second soundbyte could tell us the real story behind a poor decision, mistake or error in judgment.
I find it wonderful how the number of LGBTQ families with children has grown in the past few years here in Pittsburgh. Monthly potlucks, swim parties, trips to the zoo and so forth are spontaneously organized through a loosely organized group. Organizations like the Gay & Lesbian Community Center and Pridefest have greatly expanded their programming for children and youth. My church has several same sex parents in attendance and it is all good. I love it, in fact.
My friends opted for an open adoption and their son occasionally tells people he has three mommies which is hysterical and I'm sure raises a few eyebrows. But he's a pretty lucky kid to have three women who love him and he knows it in an age appropriate way kids have for absorbing information.
Supporting LGBTQ families is one reason I work so hard to advocate for legislation that supports the larger LGBTQ community. Domestic partner benefits are essential, especially if one parent opts to stay home with the children. Public accomodation protections are imperative as families access those places on a more regular basis, be it the local Wal-Mart or the public pool. Encouraging LGBTQ families to become foster parents builds stronger families for children in the system. The list goes on and on. I've also worked in my workplaces to create LGBTQ friendly policies and supports.
It is also why I pester my parent friends to make themselves aware in spite of daycare, basketball and laundry commitments. Their votes and involvement in advocacy puts a face to the concept of a LGBTQ family.
Happy Pride to ALL of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ families and our allies!
by Sue on Wed 01 Jun 2011 03:11 PM EDT
I'm a little behind the curve, but kudos to Easton, Pennsylvania for doing what Allegheny County leadership won't by extending domestic partner benefits to your employees. Yes, I mention Allegheny County because I was genuinely shocked to read that only 5 municipalities across Pennsylvania have addressed this equal rights issue, especially given how many private sector employers offer these as a matter of routine. Allegheny County is woefully behind the ball with regard to the economic development indicator.
We should note that the Commonwealth provides domestic partner benefits. Truth be told, this is only half the battle. If the climate isn't LGBTQ-friendly in the workplace, people aren't going to out themselves to access these benefits. Another somewhat shocking fact is that not every public employee union affiliated with the City of Pittsburgh has added domestic partner benefits to their contracts. More than fifteen years after the City first offered them. What the heck is going on in those labor halls that they either don't have LGBTQ members OR those who are there aren't being taken care of? That's a black mark on labor.
It is imperative that we continue to work for employees paid with our tax dollars to access health insurance and other benefits for their families. That's a given in my book. However, we must also continue to push for LGBTQ-friendly ordinances -- and the statewide ordinance -- to provide workplace protections. The two go hand in hand.
I don't have a link, so I'll publish the press release in its entirety courtesy of the PA Diversity Network. One thing I did find on their website is a running list of LGBTQ municipal legislation. That's worth a read.
Tuesday, May 24
by Sue on Tue 24 May 2011 01:48 PM EDT
Bethlehem gave preliminary approval to the establishment of a local Human Relations Commission and the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as protected classes. A final vote is set for June.
Not so fast.
Steadfast sponsors of the bill voted against it as amended because it would have no investigatory powers (???) and allow for very sweeping exemptions based on religion.
This is why we need to work dilgently to amend the statewide HRC to include these classes and close up these idiotic loopholes for bigotry. Loopholes for bigotry sounds like a comedy sketch band name, doesn't it?
by Sue on Tue 24 May 2011 12:04 PM EDT
Yesterday, Tenneessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law a bill that prohibits TN municipalities from having stronger anti-discrimination laws than are in place statewide. This means Nashville's provisions including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as protected classes are invalid. No new laws can be passed unless on a statewide level.
Controversy has erupted in the corporate community as LGBTQ organizations respond to the TN Chamber of Commerce decision to support the legislation. Well, to be fair, when it was too late to actually stop the legislation, the Chamber changed its mind. Many of the coporations represented on the Chamber Board have been commended for their inclusive and anti-discriminination policies. Garden State Equality has rescinded planned honors for AT&T, Pfizer and KPMG which would have been awarded at their upcoming June 25 Legends dinner.
This is serious stuff. Imagine if this where to take hold of some Pennsylvania minds? Rolling back hard fought anti-discrimination ordinances across Pennsylvania would be devastating. We have 20 municipalities that have addressed discrimination in their communities; Tennessee had one (Nashville). I'm not sure how viable it would be to undo the work of 20 municipalities. But it bears a moment's pause.
It has been intriuguing, though, how the LGBTQ community has been working within the corporate community to hold them accountable for walking the walk. You can still chime in on this issue. Americablog Gay has a list of Facebook and Twitter accounts of corporations involved in this decision where you can share your thoughts. It is interesting to see people diligently post comments in unrelated threads as the corporations try to tighten up controls on their FB walls.
Here's another post on how the companies responded after their complicity was exposed to the light of day (not necessarily when they were first made aware of the legislation, mind you). Blue Cross didn't do such a stellar job of responding. ALCOA stepped up.
When you think about a little story about Chick-Fil-A donating a few sandwiches and a few months later, corporate honors are being rescinded because of social advocacy failures ... you might wonder where the future of corporate accountability might take us.
Thursday, May 19
by Sue on Thu 19 May 2011 02:15 PM EDT
For 13 years or so, I took pads and tampons for granted. My family had more than its fair share of economic struggles, but my Mom always made sure I had these feminine hygeine products when needed. When I was on my own, it never occured to me that they weren't a necessity. Yes, I'd use coupons or buy generic when necessary, but accessibility was just not an issue.
When I was 25 years old, I was working in social service ministry for an interfaith group of churches in a rural Western Kentucky town. Think no red lights, no restaurants open on Sundays and no social service programs to speak of. No buses, lots of decrepit rental housing and poverty of near two-thirds world dimensions.
Part of my work was to run a small community center, including a thrift store. I had developed a volunteer program to allow local women to help sort the clothing in exchange for credits to purchase what they needed. No one took things for free in this community.
One day, I joined the sorters and noticed they had two piles of "rags" -- so I asked about it, thinking in my 25 year old naive way that they might be for cleaning. There was some unease among the women sorting so I let it drop. Later, a volunteer in her 40s took me aside to explain. She was blunt. Feminine hygeine products were expensive and not covered by food stamps. When faced with spending precious cash, the needs of the children alway took precedence. I got that, but still didn't see where she was going. What did this have to do with cleaning rags? I assured her it was fine with the organization for the women to do what they wanted with anything we couldn't sell.
So she was even more blunt. She explained that she and other local women used literal rags for their periods. They also used rags for toilet paper when things were really tight. I was stunned into silence. Actual rags? Such a thing had never occured to me, even when I was in my feminist-moon-goddess phase of using reusable pads that had been pretty damn expensive and came with a "moon jar" which shows how oblivious I was back then.
I remember staring at her and hearing an almost click on my own emotional maturity as I realized how important my next words would be. I thanked her for explaining it to me and told her that I wanted to help with as much dignity as possible. I asked her to take the lead on this special project since I assumed the other women would feel more comfortable. She agreed. So we began a little pile of menstruation appropriate rags that quietly helped local women.
Then, she apologized to me for exposing me to something uncomfortable as if I was somehow tainted by this glimpse into the real world of rural poverty (and urban poverty I learned later). Admittedly, I was shaken. I kept thinking of how awkward and uncomfortable it would be, as well as messy. I was young enough to feel especially bad for their daughters. I wanted to run out and buy scores of pads, but I knew somehow it was better to go with the plan the women themselves created.
But I was upset. I tried to play cool (I'm sure she saw through me), but it was the sort of systemic eye-opening moment that radically transformed me into a real social worker. How could this happen? What about the rest of the world? What about my high school friends -- did any of them have these experiences? Mind you, I'm an 80's baby which meant much more poverty and financial struggle than neon hair scrunchies and mall rat experiences.
The women who worked with me identified a need and crafted a solution. They weren't embroiled in existential angst because they had bigger issues to face. But I wrestled with this for years. When I returned to Pittsburgh, I learned about similar experiences at food pantries and among women experiencing homelessness. I can say with ease that the initial conversation was a defining moment for me as a social worker and a woman.
I was thrilled when I learned about On The Spot which raises funds to provide feminine hygeine products for high school students in partnership with Planned Parenthood. They have awesomely fun fundraisers featuring homebaked cookies and have done a great job of bringing this conversation into progressive circles.
So, yeah, when I learned about this project, I went right back to that 1996 conversation and still my jaw dropped to think about young girls in the same situation.
The next event is Tuesday, May 24, 2011 from 6-9 PM at Hough's in Greenfield. The event features cookies, 50/50, raffle prizes and much more. Attendees are asked to bring a box of pads (preferred) or tampons along with a financial donation ($5-10).
If you can't attend, you can still help. Donations are accepted at these spots. You can contribute these items to a food pantry drive in your area. You can talk with the Administration at your local middle and high schools to see how prepared they are to help young girls.
And you can help reduce the stigma of asking by making sure the men and boy in your lives can buy a box of tampons without flinching.
On The Spot's website is here. Click to learn more and hope to see you at Hough's on Tuesday.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that inevitably some good hearted person suggests providing reusable supplies for women and girls in these situations. That's a healthy sentiment, but impractical even dangerous when sanitation is an issue. I think those folks should donate those supplies to food pantries so women can choose them if they want them. That's fine. But I do not think we should impose on anyone, especially young women who probably already feel pretty awful about this aspect of their female identity. Allowing them a "typical" teen girl experience in the midst of whatever chaos created the lack of resources is pretty damn important. There's no one right way to experience our menstrual cycles, but we have to recognize that our choices expand as our privileges expand and craft solutions based on the reality of the girls and women we aspire to help.
Monday, May 16
by Sue on Mon 16 May 2011 11:45 AM EDT
Pittsburgh's 2011 Dyke March is set for Saturday, June 18 from 2-5 PM in Bloomfield. The March first relocated to Bloomfield in 2010 and enjoyed a successful march with a lot of community visibility. 2010 also marked the first year the Pittsburgh Police provided appropriate protections which enhanced the experience of all marchers. What an awkward sentence! It took a lot of prodding of public officials to get the safety of these marchers on the radar and even more prodding to provide the actual police protection. I'm hopeful the prodding becomes less necessary, particularly given the prodding of City Councilman Patrick Dowd to challenge perceptions of police homophobia. One might say this is a litmus test ... can the police pull this off without being prompted?
To be fair and accurate, last year's police detail were respectful and fine. One officer had an "a ha" feminist moment. They addressed some unruly teens and everything was pretty lowkey. Here's my take on the 2010 March.
The march kicks off with a rally at Morrow Triangle Park at 2 PM. The march commences at 3 PM up Liberty and over to Friendship Park. Dykes and dyke supporters are encouraged to bring picnics to enjoy at the park after the March.
Belvedere's is hosting the post-Dyke March party from 9 PM - 2 AM.
My understanding (my opinion, not that of the organizers) is that this is an important event because of the visibility. The growth of the march in 5 years is a testament to the emerging visibility of dyke culture and women in the Pittsburgh queer community. I've probably commented every year on how pleasantly surprised I am to see such an array of participants.
I suggest you visit this website for more information on the history and meaning of the dyke march.
Wednesday, May 11
by Sue on Wed 11 May 2011 01:30 PM EDT
I am honored and so pleased that 20 of my fellow bloggers took the time on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 to contribute to this project. Blog for Equality Pgh 2011 may be the most important of our blogswarms as we face increasingly well-funded and hostile opponents to LGBTQ equality.
Why does this matter? Well, I do monitor the ways people find their way to this blog and the previous years' posts have generated a fair amount of hits. Sometimes I wonder who reads them? Other bloggers? Readers? Teens? Adults living far away from the bingos, bars and potlucks? Foes wanting to get a glimpse into the opinion of our allies? All of the above and more?
I don't agree with everything that was written. I fear some underestimate the damage that a protracted battle around the equality of LGBTQ persons can inflict, particularly on those already laboring under negative influences from their family, friends and neighbors. I'm not sure we appreciate the "agenda" in which this is just one item.
But I also appreciate that more coverage in mainstream blogs of the general topic is good. And I appreciate the lots and lots and lots of words that lifted up and affirmed the LGBTQ community, as well as blowing holes right through the idea that marriage equality threatens anyone.
The marriage amendment is a weapon, a symbol of a cruel, destructive agenda that shows compassion only for those who earn it by following/believing in a creed that in no way shape or form stems from God or the Jesus I was taught to know.
The love with which 20 people embraced the Blog For Equality Pittsburgh stands in stark contrast to that agenda. Be it love of gay family or friends, the love of a compassionate Creator or the love of justice and fairness ... love is the thread that binds the 20 posts together. Here's hoping those posts, individually or collectively, generate the action we need to defeat this amendment and ensure that Pennsylvania remains a place dedicated to equality. For all.
Tuesday, May 10
by Sue on Tue 10 May 2011 10:20 PM EDT
Other good stuff happened ...
In New York, openly gay State Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell has announced the introduction of a marriage equality bill. He announced it by Twitter. You can follow him @DanielJODonnell
How can you not follow this guy? It would be like denying yourself a breath of fresh air. I just nearly gassed myself with weed killer in a death match with poison ivy so the fresh air analogy is the best you are gonna get from me right now.
So New York is a battleground. More than 1,000 folks turned out for a lobby day on Monday and the Governor supports the legislation. There's always a but ... however, today we are just going to bask in the good news.
Next, we have word from The New York Times
And then some very sad news from Uganda which is reportedly set to pass their anti-homosexuality bill. The one that includes "punishment by death."
It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that were I living in Uganda, I could be executed. I strongly encourage you to follow the link and delve into some of the nuances of that legislation.
Then come back and tell me that I have nothing to fear from those right wing Christians who SUPPORT this legislation. They may not be trying to kill me, but ... they are unabashedly denying my humanity.
Hurrah for New York and the Presbyterian Church. Prayers for the people of Uganda as they struggle for their very lives.
Monday, May 9
by Sue on Mon 09 May 2011 03:28 PM EDT
Over the past few days, bloggers have taken note of a piece by Andy Birkey in The American Independent describing a carefully planned campaign by "Family Policy Councils" in now Republican controlled states. Essentially, an infusion of cash from an unidentified source will fund a three prong approach:
This quasi-relationship issue is nothing new to PFI which made headlines earlier in the year by partnering with Chick-Fil-A to sponsor a marriage workshop in Central PA, a workshop that fits smack into the larger context of the IGNITE plan. While Chick-Fil-A denied formal affiliations with anti-marriage groups, the blog Good As You found close ties between the company's philanthropic wing and organizations such as the National Organizations for Marriage.
Chick-Fil-A corporate has tried to parse the situation so as to create a wall between their investment of "marriage strengthening resources" and their desire to sell you a chicken sandwich without judgment. It is artifice at its most dangerous because most people still think they were simply donating a few chicken sandwiches to a local church event.
My suspicions were raised when PFI announced that their annual dinner would take place in Cranberry Township, an affluent suburb about 40 minutes north of Pittsburgh. Cranberry is home to Pennsylvania State Representative Darryl Metcalfe, a tea partish uber-conservative with a long history of anti-gay initiatives. Metcalfe is also chair of the powerful State Government Committee and recently introduced legislation to pass a Marriage Amendment in PA. The most recent attempts to write bigotry into our Constitution were rebuffed (2008 and 2010) at the committee level. Metcalfe's current's chairmanship coupled with a newly elected Republican Governor and shifts in the composition of the Legislature make this battle more threatening.
Things just seem a little too cosy.
Getting back to Ignite, PFI's annual operating budget averages $1.4 million yet they plan to spend $1.5 million over the next 18 months. In December 2010, they announced a matching pledge drive to raise $7500 which Birkey says was successful, but the source of the matching funds remains anonymous. Coupled with similar grants around the country, the numbers start to really add up. Where is this money coming from? These groups aren't saving that much by scraping up chicken sandwich donations, my friends.
The plan itself is somewhat uniform.
Here's a little more detailed glimpse into what PFI has in mind . (Click on image for larger view)
Full brochure is attached below.
Plans include marriage seminars, supporting legislators that promote their agendas and concerted focus on choice and the marriage amendment.
PFI has launched the marriage workshops, invited anti-choice darling Lila Rose to be their keynote speaker, hosted a large event in Metcalfe's backyard and got a seed grant of $7500 from an anonymous source. There's a plan at work here and one that potentially involves the investment of millions. The plan is in motion and the Marriage Amendment is just one strand.
There's a pattern amidst these threads ... Metcalfe, Cranberry, Chick-Fil-A, Winshape Foundation (Chick-Fil-A foundation), the Cathy family which owns Chick-Fil-A. Is the Winshape Foundation and their larger partners behind the donations? Is Metcalfe one of the "statesmen" PFI lauds in their brochure?
I hope progressives continue to dig. Chick-Fil-A went on a PR frenzy to convince you to keep buying chicken sandwiches and milkshakes and waffle fries. If there's more to that particular relationship, we need to know.
The money came from somewhere and isn't limited to Pennsylvania. Birkey's piece details goings on in South Dakota, West Virginia, Indiana, Louisiana, Arizona and Florida.
The source of these anonymous seed grants matters, but the bigger issue is the fact that our opponents are in the trenches and they are well funded on multiple fronts. The current PFI blog posts focus on school choice and abortion. These are hot topics in the Corbett Administration.
It also illustrates the need to build coalitions and pool our resources. When I read that PFI plans to target half a million on three issues, one of which is the marriage amendment, I believe we need to broaden the scope of our own individual agendas. Destroying the public school system, for example, will not be good for children in LGBTQ families and/or children who identify as LGBTQ.
Please continue to pay attention. Elections are right around the corner and you can make an impact by electing (or retaining) progressive women and men. We need to support the attacks on labor, public education, health care, reproductive justice as vigilantly as we defend our community. Finally, we need to pay attention to the well-laid plans of those who would deny us our freedom and liberties.
Friday, May 6
by Sue on Fri 06 May 2011 02:37 PM EDT
It is hard to keep up with the good stuff, but I'm sure you want to know about it ....