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View Article  The Big Gay Endorsement!

Exactly one week from today comes the Endorsement Meeting for Steel City Stonewall Democrats.  For the first time, Steel City will not permit same-day members to vote in the endorsement, a positive step for the organization's credibility. 

The group returns to The Inn on the Mexican War Streets on North Avenue from 2-5 PM on Sunday, March 27, 2011.

Questionnaires are not yet available on the web, but check back during the week. 

Actually, it is pretty interesting times as two openly gay men are seeking the endorsement.  That's unprecedented.

I am looking forward to covering the event live.  I have to dig through my archives to find the hashtag, but I'll let you know. 

View Article  The lesbians do some mingling/volunteering to support Bruce Kraus

Wednesday evening we had an unexpectedly amusing stint as the official coat check girls women at a fundraiser for Bruce Kraus' bid for a second term as City Councilor. 

To be honest, the whole coat check thing scares me. I prefer to keep my coat close at hand in case a speedy retreat is in order. I spend half the night obsessing about the coat check tag and the other half obsessing about the valet parking stub.  I put the stubs in my purse which is usually too rinky dink to afford me the security of retrieving my property.  This is where my dear departed grandmother would point out that purses may be cheap at Target, a purse from Macy's is built to handle things like stubs.  Ledcat puts the stubs in her pocket and somehow avoids worrying about pickpockets and other potential mishaps.

I usually end feeling foolish because I don't have the rhythm of the coat retrieval down. There's a quick exchange of coat for tip that requires tip to be folded into hand for a seamless transfer.  I never get it down and then I feel like I should apologize for holding up the line and add more $$ to the tip. At this point, Ledcat typically takes over and sends me off to deal with the valet induced trauma. Do you tip the driver? What if another parking person holds open your door?   I once tipped entirely in quarters because I was afraid to ask the bartender for change w/o buying another $3.00 Coke.

Clearly, I cannot function without a ledcat.  Fortunately, I bring home prize opportunities like coat check volunteer to hold my own in our relationship.

The fundraiser was at Perlora on the Southside.  Ledcat adores Perlora and laments what our cat has done to the one chair she purched there, but that's another post.  I know she came with me first for the locale, second to support Bruce and third to watch me meltdown when she didn't follow the strict coat checking rules I reviewed with her.

What a fun time!  We had unlimited access to the hors d'?uvre trays, a great view of the speakers and the opportunity to interact with most of the guests. I, of course, was tweeting in between coat fetching.  (The official hashtag for Bruce events is #VoteBruce just as an FYI).

But she was right about the meltdown. The coat racks were a little high for her to reach so I got to do the schlepping.  She had to drag me away from making sure the scarves were just so on their respective coats.  I was at a loss as how to handle umbrellas; she chucked them into the corner and said folks were on their own to retrieve.  Hats she piled up on the table and dared anyone to challenge her.  I sure didn't.  I grew increasingly frenzied balancing my desire to be ubervolunteer with my even greater desire to be "the" tweeter of the event. 

I had no idea how high intensity the coat check duties could be.  Umbrellas and hats were just the beginning.  Someone accidentally spilled some water and I'm proud to say we didn't dampen a sleeve thanks to my keen eye. And then there was the coat retrieval experience. 

First of all, we were volunteers.  Our pay (seriously) comes with the election of the best candidate for the District which is Bruce Kraus.  A few rounds of appetizers and a behind the scenes peak at Perlora was a bonus.  But ... people who are adroit at these things kept stuffing money in my hands. We didn't have a tip jar (note to self) so I was shoving scrunched dollar bills into my pocket.  And -- ha, ha -- two people tipped us in quarters.  The umbrella men were not fazed by our makeshift umbrella stand and the hat men were fine.  I did invert a 6 into a 9 and bring someone the wrong coat and he sort of barked at me.  I was ready to tell him I have a master's degree when I realized I could use my actual skills to defuse the situation with an apology and the correct coat.  That's what master's degrees get ya these days ...deescallation of coat check tension.

In between this, our assorted political friends and comrades dropped by to say hello.  Let me tell you ... it is very hard to network/mingle when you are retrieving coats.  Here's my tweeting obsession reared its ugly head which Ledcat extinguished with a 'don't you dare pull that damn phone out and leave me alone with the coats' glare.  I know that glare.  It is very similar to the 'if you tweet during this movie, i'm closing the cell phone account" look.

To be honest, I'm not sure everyone realized I actually stepped away while they were talking to me which certainly dampens my sense of being on the fringes of the in-crowd.  But my honor was restored when a political friend found me by texting and brought me two intriguing books on the Holocaust and the LGBT community.  Sensing our distraction, he came and brought books, and then went on his way. 

That's how you network with the coat check girl woman. 

All in all, we collected about $20 in unsolicited tips.  We donated it to the charity of the evening, the Lexa Cleland Family Memorial Fund, in honor of the child who was killed in a DUI accident on the Southside.  Bruce was donating a portion of the evenings donations so we thought it was a good idea. 

I would coat check again in a heartbeat (for the right candidate).  It is pretty straightforward and I was on the control side of the coat check relationship. Plus, Ledcat was really in charge and I just had to check my baser impulses to bring out the Blackberry. 

Oh, and yes, we did keep our own coats close at hand (behind the hats).  Just in case.

Volunteering to support your candidate of choice can take you in some interesting directions.  You can learn a lot from a campaign, especially a local campaign.  Actual transferable skills (coat checking aside), you get to interact with all sorts of community leaders and hear a range of perspectives.  The fancy fundraisers are fun (and essential), but it can be equally stimulating to make phone calls especially when someone has a strong opinion either for or against your candidate.  They don't hesitate to tell you what is on their mind.  Public events give you another level of access to these contacts.  I'm impressed when the woman next to me says she took two buses to attend. 

I've never had anyone take two buses to hear me speak, unless I was hiring. 

I encourage you to get involved with Bruce Kraus' campaign.  Click here for more details. I'm off to bedazzle my tip jar for the next event ...

View Article  Thank you GLEE for getting it sooo right

On last night episode of GLEE, two oustanding storylines made me want to cry and cheer at the same time.

First, the always stellar pairing of Kurt and his Dad, a man's man who is the most amazingly sensitive parent to his openly gay son.  In this episode, Dad is prodded to have "the" sex talk with his son.  He walks in the room with "pamphles from the free clinic" and forces Kurt to sit down and talk in spite of their mutual discomfort.  Check it out at HULU at the 32 minute mark.

I cannot say enough how much I value this relationship.  Kurt's Dad is so brutally honest about his foibles, but equally honest about his love for his son.  He doesn't allow anyone to gay bash Kurt and goes right to the core of it because he used to be the bully when he was young.  He expects Kurt's loved ones to stand up for him with no exceptions.  The scene from last year when Finn called Kurt a fag, a comment Dad overheard was intense and sad and loving all at the same time.  We should all have such parents in our lives.

The sex talk in this episode is possibly the best sex talk ever.  Dad bulldozed right through the awkwardness of sexual actions and went for the core of treating yourself like you matter, not using sex to degrade yourself or cheapen who you are. I just sat slackjawed that GLEE had captured the perfect conversation and it happened to be between a gay teen and his Dad.

The other wonderful story was the building tension in the Santana/Brittany relationship.  They've made out on the show before with no qualms about what it meant.  Santana begins questioning even though she hates labels.  In heartwrenching locker scene, she professes her love for Brittany and her absolute belief that her sexuality is fluid, not something that can be pinned down with a word except whom she loves.  Sadly, Brittany opts to stay with Artie even though she acknowledges the love is reciprocal.  Santana wrenches herself away, utterly heartbroken.

These were amazing scenes and my wish is that every queer kid in America could see their lives played out with such honesty, compassion and realism.

Brave, GLEE.


View Article  Local woman pursues International Ms. Leather title

I usually learn a few interesting things when I chat with folks about this blog, but I have to admit to learning a *whole* lot during my recent conversation with Ms. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish 2011, Jessi Seams.

The first ever Ms. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish, Jessi is among a handful of transwomen across the country to hold similar titles.  And she has eyes on a much larger goal -- to become Ms. International Leather 2011 at the upcoming April competition in San Francisco.  Ms. International Leather celebrates 25 years and bills itself as the longest running female leather competition.

While sipping coffee at Crazy Mocha one recent afternoon, Jessi educated me on the Pittsburgh Leather scene and the Pittsburgh BDSM scene. 

BDSM is a consensual lifestyle choice, or type of adult roleplay between two or more individuals. The compound acronym, BDSM, is derived from the terms bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&s), sadism and masochism (S&M)

Jessi is part of both communities, but describes them as being distict.  The leather community is older, dating back to the post-WW II era and is more clearly defined as LGBT.  The BDSM community is broader, inclusive of the LGBT communities, but predominantly heterosexual.  The BDSM community organizes in social group known as munches to build camraderie and introduce people to the lifestyle. Burghermunch is the most high profile. There is a LGBT specific munch known as Rainbow Munch which occasionally holds educational workshops at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center.

A Rainbow Munch Demo on Fire

 Join the Rainbow Munch of Pittsburgh as we share more knowledge with a demonstration and class on Fire Play.  Wednesday March 16th at 7pm we will be hosting this event at the GLCC of Pittsburgh.

 The class will show some of the beginning ways one can play with fire in a sensual and non-sensual way.  The class will cover basics from fire baton construction to more advanced play such as fire cupping.  This class should be a really hot time.

 Where: GLCC of Pittsburgh at  210 Grant Street Pittsburgh, PA, 15219

 Who: The Rainbow Munch of Pittsburgh instruction by Atea

 Cost: $5 donation (Scholarships available)

 When: March 16th, from 7pm to 9pm

2011 is the first year an official Ms. Pittsburgh Leather Fetish took place in Pittsburgh. Long-time organizers of the Mr. Pittsburgh Leather event, the Three Rivers Leather Club and Steel City Bondage Club, approached Jessi and asked her to compete. Pittsburgh does not have an official women's leather group, but according to Jessi there is a thriving leather scene for local women.  Women's group have historically grown from queer women hanging out within the men's leather community and slowly building their own networks, as have the women's competition.

Jessi  and one other woman participated, with Jessi taking home the title.  Mr. Pittsburgh Leather moved on to the Mid-Atlantic competition which he also won.  There is no official hierarchy with Leather competitions, no need to go from Ms. Pittsburgh to Ms. Pennsylvania to Ms. USA, etc. Next stop for Jessi is the International competition in California this April.

However, much like a traditional title competition, Ms.Pittsburgh Leather Fetish has obligations to fulfill. Jessi is committed to a certain number of appearances, advocates for the leather community and will coordinate a charitable project amongst the female leather community.  She will also be recruiting women to compete for the 2012 title and generally spreading the word that this community and the opportunity to compete exist for women as well as men.

Jessi is currently using her blog to recruit sponsors for her participation in the International competition where she plans to advocate for trangender health issues as part of her platform. 

Why should Pittsburgh care about the odysseys of Mr. and Ms. Leather Pittsburgh?  Jessi believes bringing home a major leather title will bring more recognition to Pittsburgh, particularly among the LGBT community. This is good for local businesses who want to attract LGBT tourists to the City and their businesses. She points to the rich philanthropic history of the Three Rivers Leather Club as a prime example of how much the leather community "gives back" to the LGBT community and the region.  In addition to a large Toys for Tots drive, they are regular volunteers at the Shepherd Wellness Center, Pridefest and more. 

So getting back to the leather/BDSM distinction, Jessi is a big believer in gently encouraging people to explore their kinky interests. The munches are one such outlet and more can be found at this site.  A monthly gathering known as Sinferno is held at Cattivo in Lawrenceville.  In February, Jessi "sold" spankings which she believes is a very low-key way to introduce the BDSM element, particularly for people who are curious but hesitant to attend a meeting.  She also mischievously gave away "I was spanked by Ms. Pittsburgh Leather" buttons to promote the competition. 

My button has not yet arrived.  :-)

Best of luck to Jessi Seams as she pursues the Ms. International Leather title.  Follow her blog to keep up with her adventures.

View Article  New Voices Pittsburgh to celebrate 7 years with gala event

New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice honors 7 years of good work in Pittsburgh with a celebration event on Saturday, March 12, 20011.

New Voices Pittsburgh is a groundbreaking organization, using a Reproductive Justice framework to organize and build a local movement with young women of color and allies in the Greater Pittsburgh Region. Reproductive Justice is a community organizing framework based in Human Rights, a social change movement primarily led by women of color that affirms the rights of women to decide if/when they will have children and how they will raise their children and a vision for reproductive freedom for all people centralizing the healing practice of self-help. New Voices Pittsburgh is deeply committed to building a local movement for Reproductive Justice to elevate the powerful voices of women of color on human rights, reproductive oppression and the totality of our experiences as women of color.

For tickets or more information, click here.

New Voices Pittsburgh is a queer inclusive and queer affirming organization.


View Article  Why Domestic Partner Benefits for Allegheny County employees matter to all of us (redux)

A bit in the Tribune Review caught my eye last week. 

Councilman Bill Peduto said he is prepared to move forward next week with legislation that would merge the city and county's financial systems. He said the city "would find the money" if state money would not come through. Identical legislation is awaiting a vote from County Council.

The march toward consolidation is underway.  This means the delay in extending domestic partner benefits to County employees will impact City employees at some point.  It already has, when the City 911 Call Center was folded into the County system.  Those City employees LOST access to a benefit to save money for the rest of us.  That's just wrong, especially given how hard many people worked to help the City workforce make that progressive leap.

In this particular situation, no jobs will be impacted.  For now.  City employees who are connected to the financial system will remain City employees.  But that won't be true forever.  There will be more consolidating. 

I support consolidation efforts.  Members of City Council, including Bill Peduto, have stated they won't let City employees lose benefits even as they move ahead with the consolidations.  At some point, we'll hit a wall and progress will be halted because ... the County won't move on this. 

This is a long term problem (consolidation) so I am hopeful our next County Chief Executive will right the ship to ensure all employees can insure their families.  I am hoping we'll see this question in the Steel City Stonewall and Gertrude Stein questionnaires. 

But let's not pretend this is a little issue that impacts a few folks who are off our radar.  Consolidation is about saving public monies which puts the onus on us to make sure employees are treated fairly.  Until the County provides domestic partner benefits, we tacitly support a two-tiered system of equality in the County workforce.  We have to carefully keep our eyes on the consolidation efforts and remind our City officials that anything involving actual jobs is not acceptable until the benefits are equal. 

With all the attention on labor in the past weeks, let's not forget our LGBT sisters and brothers right here at home who are denied health insurance for their families for political reasons. 

View Article  Westboro Supreme Court Decision

Picketing funerals is abhorrent, but I must admit that it irks me a bit when people overlook the fact that this hate group has been picketing the funerals of LGBTQ persons for years -- they even picketed Mr. Rogers memorial service (I was there).  Any parent, spouse, or partner having to bury their loved one deserves peace during the final good-bye. 

However, grief does not trump the First Amendment.  In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court protected speech, recognizing the slippery slope of allowing sympathy to overwhelm Constitutional protections.

I keep thinking of a media clip interviewing Albert Snyder, father of fallen soldier and plaintiff in this case.  He was awarded nearly $10 million in damages. The interviewer asked if he would give up the $$ to have his son back. He replied that he would give it up just to say good-bye. 

Now who asks a question like that to a grieving parent?  I bring this up to remind us that the press can also feast on the outrage stirred up by Westboro.  The press also overlooks the salient fact of the original protests at the funerals of gay people, particularly those who died of complications from AIDS.

Still, the decision was sound.  There's no need to protect speech that is easy on our ears.  Discourse that we find repugnant must be permitted.  The gay community should appreciate this decision as we are often the ones accused of  promoting repugnant ideas. 

When I think of Westboro, my mind drifts back to the Mr. Rogers protest.  The Phelpsians brought a little girl with them, holding one of the hate signs.  Counterprotestors walked the sidewalks with colorful depictions of The Land of Make Believe.  The little child was captivated by the images.

This warms my heart because counterprotesting did reach a child, did introduce her to the wonders of Mr. Rogers.  It does matter that we counter hate speech with more speech. 


View Article  Update on pro-equality legislation in Pennsylvania

State Representive Cohen has introduced a measure that would expand existing law to recognize civil unions.   HB708 has several familiar cosponsors, including Dan Frankel, Jake Wheatley, Chelsa Wagner, Dom Costa, Paul Costa, Mark Gergely.  41 sponsors in total. This legislation has been referred to the Judiciary Committee as of February 12, 2011. Several cosponsors sit in the Judiciary Committee.

State Senator Daylin Leach introduced a similarly timed bill to extend marriage to same sex couples.  SB 461 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 9, 2011. More on why Senator is ardent on this issue.

In addition, State Representative Josh Shapiro is poised to introduce legislation which would amend the Hate Crimes statute to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

Also, Representative Dan Frankel from right here in Pittsburgh plans to reintroduce legislation that expands protected class to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  This would provide protectsion in housing, public accomadation and in the workplace. 

Interesting situation to have 4 critical pieces of legislation in a state controlled by Republicans.  I'm sure there's a strategy.  I'll keep you informed on any momentum these pick up as well as the potential reintroduction of marriage discrimination legislation to put a DOMA referendum before the voters. 


View Article  WPTS launches "Gay Agenda" radio program

From Thursday's Post-Gazette comes word of a new LGBTQ radio program called "The Gay Agenda"

The idea behind "The Gay Agenda," which airs on FM 92.1 from 4:30 to 5 p.m. Thursdays, is to discuss issues of concern to people in the gay community of greater Pittsburgh. The show began in January, and has included visits from people in the local gay community and discussions about crimes against gays and other topics.

Mr. Elko said he is involved with the project partly because of his commitment to social and community betterment.

"I feel an obligation to shed light on GLBT issues. ... Where there's ignorance, there's potential for fear," he said, noting that there is a higher suicide rate among young gays than among their straight peers

I urge you to read the story to see why the co-hosts signed on for this volunteer project.  Kudos to Pitt to bringing a pro-LGBTQ show back to the airwaves.


View Article  The PG's Reg Henry weighs in on DOMA

The Defense of Marriage Act took another blow this when the Department of Justice (part of the Executive Branch) anounced it will no longer defend DOMA in court.  Pittsburgh's own Reg Henry weighs in with a very pragmatic priece.

DOMA, on the other hand, is increasingly uncool, being social and religious prejudice written into law.

I am of the view that if you don't like gay marriage, don't marry a gay person. Otherwise, shut up and mind your own business.

However, isn't part of the president's job defending the indefensible? The president, under the Constitution, is supposed to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. It is the Supreme Court that is ultimately supposed to decide whether laws are constitutional.

Mostly I fear the return of the culture wars, the greatest excuse for avoiding the nation's real problems that was ever invented. I fear the prospect of Rick Santorum getting on his high horse and saying, "DOMA, he's making eyes at me!"

Still, to the extent it encourages a put-upon minority, I am glad.

The attorney general issued a statement, part of which I believe addresse Reg's concerns.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.   The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.   Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.   I fully concur with the President's determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit.   We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.   I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option.   The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.  

Furthermore, pursuant to the President ' s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President's and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

This is not a blanket denial of the appropriate role of the DOJ, but a clear statement that DOMA cases will be subjust to a higher level of scrutiny based on the Administration's interpreation of certain segments of the law.  My understanding is that the DOJ does not routinely defend every such case anyway, but we must be wary of greater state momentum to implement DOMA state by state.  This, of course, includes Pennsylvania. 

North Carolina is already pushing an constitutional amendment. 

Advocates have been warning for years that the increasing tangled web of equality will create a myriad of problem for everyone, including the IRS.  If marriage equality challenges to DOMA are subject to a heightened level of scrutiny, what impact will that have on the courts and the 10th Amendment?

It is complicated my friends, but imperative that we try to stay on top of these changes.  And even more imperative that we work hard to elect pro-LGBTQ officials locally and statewide.

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