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View Article  Letter to the Editor: Marriage Equality

Always a lift to read a suuportive letter to the editor.  Not a fan of "sexual preference", but I agree that marriage equality is about the community and region as much as it is about individual civil rights. 

Local leadership: the next step

The leadership in our city has done so many things right over the last few years, and the region is slowly being rewarded. The comparison with downtrodden cities like Detroit, Cleveland and others are disappearing. We are not a Rust Belt city anymore; we are not crying in our soup over the steel industry losses. Now it's time to move our region to the next step.

The consensus is building and documented that the governments around the world should be sticking to things they have a right and obligation to do, not dictating someone's sexual preference. Let's show leadership now and promote our region as one of openness, growth, ideas and inclusiveness. If we don't dictate our future, it will be done for us.

We need to get real on this subject. We need to focus on top-line growth like becoming an energy center or focus on public transportation issues.

Gay marriages and civil unions will happen nationally. We should step it up locally.



View Article  Gay Bashed Downtown

From Wikipedia

Gay bashing is an expression used to designate verbal confrontation with, denigration of, or physical violence against people thought to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT) because of their apparent sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar terms such as "lesbian bashing" or "queer bashing" may also be formed. A "bashing" may be a specific incident, or one could also use the verb "to bash" e.g. "I was gay bashed." As there is no foolproof way to detect a person's sexual orientation, people sometimes fall victim even if they are not LGBT, should they be perceived to conform to the relevant stereotypes.

A verbal gay bashing might take place on any street corner and use sexual slurs, expletives, intimidation, or threats of violence ? or, it might take place in a political forum and include one or more common anti-gay slogans. Passionate invective fits more closely into the general idea of gay bashing than does a calm, intellectual justification for anti-LGBT attitudes or policies. However, some people[who?] would include any expression of anti-LGBT sentiment in one or another category of "bashing".

The term can also be applied to non-verbal acts of homophobia although that application is less common.

Most of the discrimination I've experienced has been on a societal level (second-class citizenship, denial of civil rights) or in the workplace (whispers, innuendo, slanderous comments, etc).  I have the privilege of being white, educated and not "looking" like a stereotypical lesbian to shield me from the worst of public gay bashing.  And I'm grateful b/c my experience on Friday was more bothersome that I realized.

We were walking down Smithfield Street a little before 1 PM when a car sort of rolled out of his parking space and almost hit us.  I turned to look at the driver and he said "F***ing Dyke."  Typically, I avoid confrontration when people insult me in public, but for some reason I pivoted and walked right back to his car, asking him if I had just heard him call me a dyke.  He got out of his car and loomed over me, probably a 350 lb man.  I had no fear that he was doing anything but posturing so I chewed him out as did Ledcat as he repeated the slur.  I didn't know what to do so I took a picture of his license plate and tried to get a shot of him. 

Meanwhile, Eddie from Banner Coin Exchance was sweeping his walk and approached the scene.  He told the man he knew us and asked him to be a gentleman and apologize.  The man threw up his hands, saying he didn't want trouble and apologized.  To Eddie.  I immediately told him he needed to apologize to us and he mumbled something about not doing nothing for us.  Eddie said he needed to apologize to us, but he got in his car and drove away. 

We chatted with Eddie a few minutes and resumed our walk down Smithfield.  Do you know that man circled the block so he could cruise by us one more time and shout the same slur out the window before screeching off? 

Confronting him was probably foolish because while I was counting on the public street to deter any violence, there were no guarantees. I had just had enough.  When I turned around, I immediately thought about the 6 members of County Council who voted no on the non-discrimination ordinance.  Their (lack of) leadership in the realm of homophobia sets an example for this sort of individual behavior.  I'm sure they would feign outrage, but protest that government cannot control private behavior.  There's no way to know if this man pays attention to politics, but it isn't a big leap that the society which condones his disregard for women and lesbians, perhaps all gays, is the same society which condones permission for religious bodies of pious men and women who would never utter that phrase to discriminate against us, too. 

I'm thin skinned enough that this man hurt my feelings.  I couldn't shake it off because of the persistent feeling that he had the gonads to say what so many people feel in their hearts.  Coupled with the realization that this was a very minor incident compared to the physical assault people experience, I spent the day dismayed and somewhat depressed. 

Do people recognize the continuum of intolerance and dehumanization of sexual orientation and gender identity?  Do they realize that leaders in our region use "fag" as a slur far behind the scenes and don't care who witnesses it (as long as it isn't the voters)?  Do they get that Christianity is no excuse for hatred? 

I bet that guy doesn't realize he can be tracked down and taken to the Magistrate thanks to my Crackberry.  :-)


View Article  Fort Worth

The Post-Gazette carried the NYT story about the police raid on a gay bar in Ft. Worth.  You can read the full story at Pam's House Blend.  Ft.Worthians have created a new organization and defined this a unifying moment for the city's gay community.

Related to that event, here's a post from a new radical trans/queer organizing group, Bash Back

What is Bash Back?

Bash Back! formed in 2007 with a small group of Radical Transfolk, Queers and Allies organizing against the Republican National Convention. In April of 2008 over 100 radical Trans/Queer/Allied folk met in Chicago to formulate plans against the RNC/DNC and to start a long lasting network. Anyone who agrees with the Points of Unity can start a Bash Back! Chapter.


Members of Bash Back! must agree to:

1. Fight for liberation. Nothing more, nothing less. State recognition in the form of oppressive institutions such as marriage and militarism are not steps toward liberation but rather towards heteronormative assimilation.

2. A rejection of Capitalism, Imperialism, and all forms of State power.

3. Actively oppose oppression both in and out of the ?movement.? All oppressive behavior is not to be tolerated.

4. Respect a diversity of tactics in the struggle for liberation. Do not solely condemn an action on the grounds that the State deems it to be illegal.

There is a Philadelphia chapter, but nothing connected to Pittsburgh that I can find.  Point of Unity #4 is clearly problematic in that it masks tolerance of violent resistance which I abhor.  I'm wondering if they will show up at the G20 protests. 

Personally, bashing the police back in Ft. Worth would have been a useless response and probably further alienated the community.  Peaceful protests and organizing has unified the community and generated a lot of pressure for the authorities to investigate the incident.  I see that this wouldn't appeal to Bash Back members, but I can also foresee that a failure to take action by the authorities will probably generate a statewide howl of protest.  There are a lot of gay in Texas, especially Dallas.

View Article  Candidate for Allegheny County Council Tom Michalow's chimes in on the Human Relations Ordinance

Tom Michalow is running against sitting County Councilperson Matt Drozd for a northern suburban district.  Tom made time to attend the Council debate on the Human Relations ordinance and expressed disbelief at the "arguments" of the 6 dissenting members.  I like how Tom positions this as a human rights issue. 

I am pleased to see progress occurring in Western Pennsylvania.  Namely, I am proud to see that the ordinance creating a [Human Relations Commission] was passed by Allegheny County Council earlier this week.  This ordinance is a small but important step in national struggle in achieving equality for all persons regardless of race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation.  For Allegheny County, I believe it to be not only a major milestone for the GLBT community, but for all persons who live in the county because it protects everybody from abuse not just the GLBT community. 


I do have two concerns about the ordinance.  My first concern is a matter of implementation. Will the bill have teeth and will the ordinance as amended hold up in court?   I, of course, am pleased to see the ordinance passed and put into effect rather than languishing in committee limbo.  I particularly liked Councilperson Green?s response that if all we have to fear is a law suit, then we are on easy street compared to the physical danger that the original civil rights activists faced.  I did state several months ago to Councilperson Green that the city?s commission and the county?s commission should be unified, but again, that process will take a year or more and is no reason for delay. 


My second concern is the opposition.  During the debate, I was stunned by comments from those opposed to the ordinance.  Though there are many I wish to rebut, I will focus only on one specifically from my opponent.  He compared human rights legislation to restrictive business legislation.  I am furious that many persons in the opposition believe that respecting an employee?s human rights and paying a decent wage is some-how un-American.  I assert that equality under the law and fair reward for hard work is more American than pandering to companies for hand outs.  Lastly, concerning human rights, I am sure than every major corporation in the United States already has anti-discrimination policies in place that have similar language.


I hope that if elected to Allegheny County Council, I will be able to help protect the Human Rights of all residents. 

The issue about consolidating the commissions would be debatable as the City does not legalize faith-based discrimination like the County.  Yet, to my knowledge, no churches have self-destruced or been invaded by hordes of crossing dress men taking up residence in the ladies' rooms to corrupt young children.  I'm pretty sure KDKA would have live on the scene at 5, 6 and 11 if that were the case.

Watch Michalow for County Council.  As I've said before, this is a race where your $25 donation can make a difference and could alter the balance of power on the County Council. 

View Article  Statement from City Council President, Doug Shields

More statements about the passage of Allegheny County's Human Relations ordinance

I am pleased that the county in some way recognized that all people have rights to be protected from discrimination based upon sexual identity.

I am disappointed that a very simple constutional concept - equal protection under the law -  causes so much political foot shuffling.

The County law has yet to meet that test in that it says you can continue to discriminate in a variety of situations.   It is also less than what the city enacted years ago.  As we celebrate our nations birth it is clear to me that many still have not grasped the concepts embodied in our Constitution. Doug Shields, President, Pittsburgh City Council.

Amen, President Shields.

View Article  State Representative Dan Frankel on the Allegheny County Non-Dscrimination ordinance

Rep. Dan B. Frankel, State Representative, 23rd Legislative District

 I?m sorry I can?t be here today in person to commend Allegheny County for addressing this critical issue of fairness under the law; but I wanted to put it on record that I very much hope you?ll see fit to create a Human Relations Commission for Allegheny County.

 Pennsylvanians have already decided that discrimination is wrong.

 We?ve decided that it?s wrong when people discriminate based on the color of someone?s skin; whether they get around with the assistance of a wheelchair or a seeing eye dog; or whether they pray in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque.

 It?s time to recognize, as a community, that it?s also wrong to discriminate based on who somebody falls in love with, or how they express their gender.

 As the prime sponsor of House Bill 300, which would extend protection from discrimination to the LGBT community for all Pennsylvanians, I often get asked whether or not the problem of discrimination is real. I can tell you that it is.

 My office gets calls from as far away as the Philadelphia suburbs to report instances of discrimination. And as recent as two weeks ago, a Pennsylvania State Senator, Senator Eichelberger, said publicly about lesbians and gay couples that Pennsylvania ?Lets them exist.? He implied that it?s enough that Pennsylvania doesn?t consider someone gay or lesbian a criminal just for having a relationship with their partner.  

 Well, it?s not enough.

Our LGBT friends, neighbors, taxpayers, business-owners, landlords, tenants and employees deserve much better. They deserve the right to be public about their relationships and identities, without fear that they could be fired, or kicked out of their homes. They deserve to go into a restaurant and not worry about being refused service, just because they?re holding hands.

 The Human Relations Commission will ultimately benefit all residents of Allegheny County, because young people want to live in diverse, inclusive communities. Straight and gay individuals alike want to start businesses in places where fairness is the law.  Already, the majority of Fortune 500 companies, as well as 3 of our bordering states, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, have non-discrimination laws that protect the LGBT community. A majority of Pennsylvanians know that gender identity and sexual orientation have nothing to do with putting in a good days work.

 I hope that you will take leadership and create a commission that will help protect lesbians, gays, and transgender people from discrimination. And I hope Pennsylvania will soon follow to protect those many people living outside the county borders.


View Article  Pgh Councilman Bruce Kraus on the Allegheny County Non-Discrimination ordinance

Public comment of Pittsburgh City Councilor Bruce Kraus at the July 1, 2009 Allegheny County Council meeting.

 Years have passed since the Stonewall Riots gave birth to the fight to achieve social equality for GLBT people everywhere, and yet today, still the struggle continues. We struggle against the modern day Anita Bryant?s of the world, against the stereotypes and myths, against the lies and distortions, against governments determined to deny us our rightful place in society.  Somehow government hasn?t gotten the message that GLBT people will not sit quietly by while being viewed as the last socially acceptable, some even argue justifiable, targets of discrimination with our society.


Visionary Pittsburgh leader, Mayor David Lawrence, fully understanding the value of ensuring a ?seat at table? for all people, was instrumental in the establishment of the Mayor?s Commission on Human Relations as far back as 1954; some fifty five years ago.

In 1976, via the City Charter, the Commission was established as an independent agency of City government, renamed the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission and charged with protecting the rights of every Pittsburgher to equal treatment under the law in issues of employment, housing and public accommodations.

Nineteen Ninety saw the first City Council election by district, assembling for the first time in our history, a governing body truly representative of Pittsburgh, in all its complexity and diversity. It was this council that amended the city charter to include sexual orientation, as a protected class.

A future Council would add gender identity and transgendered people to protected class status. 

And in the years that have passed since the implementation of Pittsburgh?s Human Relations Commission can anyone here speak to me of the negative impact it has had? Has one company refused to locate here because we respect the rights of an individual to employment without discrimination? One family refused to live here because we respect the rights of people to fair housing without discrimination? One handicapped person refused to come here because we respect his right to navigate an unobstructed world?

And yet Bill 4201-08 has struggled for the full support of this council without a clear reason, other than what I see as being misinformation and myth, spread by ill-informed and narrow minded people, claiming religiosity as a shield for prejudice.

And some members of the council worry about the political repercussions of their support.

But I am reminded of a conversation I had with, now Magisterial District Judge, Gene Ricciardi, regarding his election to the first city council elected by district in nineteen ninety, and his support of adding sexual orientation as a protected class to the city charter. A freshman councilman with this whole career before him, faced with this daunting decision, and truly believing it would cost him reelection, Councilman Ricciardi had the moral character to stand for all that is right and cast his vote in the affirmative.

He won reelection with 88% of the vote. 

So how will we dispel the rumors and innuendo, the myths and the stereotypes that protect peoples? thinking that it is somehow acceptable to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression?

I can only think of one way, and it is how I have chosen to live my life: truthfully and honestly as an openly gay man. It will only be then, when all GLBT people are truly free to live open and honest lives, free of the worry of being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or refused public accommodations that people will see the truth.  That we are your son?s and daughters, your mothers and fathers, your teachers, attorneys, doctors and yes, even your elected officials.

Today is your call to courage; the courage to overcome fear and injustice; to leave behind moral cowardice.  Choosing the right thing to do is not always popular or easy, but standing for what is right and true and just, especially when it is unpopular, is the true test of moral character.

Let me be clear in what my message is to you today.  We are not here today asking you for our rights; they are already ours, granted to us by a much higher authority they earthly government. Today, we are here to tell you to ?get out of the way of our rights; we are here to claim what is ours.?


View Article  Pivotal Civil Rights Victory in Western Pennsylvania

With the passage of the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission ordinance, Allegheny County has taken a step forward with regard to statewide equality for the LGBTQ community.  I was privileged to be in attendance at last night's meeting and witness this little bit of history.  I want to share with you the reflections of various community leaders before posting my own thoughts.

"While it still stuns me that people actually were against this bill ? that they wanted permission to discriminate and didn?t see any problem with that ? I am grateful today for Councilwoman Greene and the council members who voted yes. They brought the county up to speed with what the city did 2 decades ago, and they fulfilled their responsibility to make Allegheny County a safe place to live and work. I wish Persad Founder, Randy Forrester, was alive today to see this, since he was so active in the earlier city ordinance. I hope that the religious exemption is not used to continue discrimination ? especially in social service agencies that receive public dollars to help people. Most people outside of the LGBT community that I talked to didn?t realize that before this bill passed yesterday, that it was perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay ? most of the Joe Publics of the world realized that this was just not fair."  Betty Hill, Executive Director of Persad Center 

"I am very happy about this and now the battle becomes statewide.We have funded the Women's Law Project who have been working for statewide LGBT rights for years."  August "Buzz" Pusateri, Board Member, Lambda Foundation of Pittsburgh

"The passing of the ordinance was was important for the transgender/transsexual communities in the region for two reasons.  One, the ordinance will help protect trans people within their daily life and two, it showed the support trans people have amongst the local organizations who were adamant in passing an ordinance that includes gender identity and expression." Emilia Lombardi, Ph.D, Pittsburgh's Trans Working Group 

"The Women's Law Project is thrilled that Allegheny County had joined 14 other jurisdictions in Pennsylvania to extend basic protection from discrimination to LGBT people.  We are grateful to the members of Council who stood up for human rights, and especially thankful for the leadership and vision of Councilwoman Amanda Green.  Congratulations to the local LGBT community and their many allies, whose persistence and courage produced a great victory for LGBT people and for all women." Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney, Women's Law Project

"I applaud the members of the Allegheny County Council who voted in favor of the non-discrimination ordinance. This ordinance will make the law more fair and just in Allegheny County and make us more competitive for attracting and retaining jobs. This vote -- in Pennsylvania's second most populated county -- will also help advance similar statewide legislation in Harrisburg. 


"Recent comments by state Senator John Eichelberger highlight why this ordinance is necessary. The senator said, in a public debate, that we 'allow [same-sex couples] to exist,' as if that were all our fellow citizens should expect.


"This kind of basic lack of respect for hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens also jeopardizes economic development for our state. I?m reminded of the Oklahoma state legislator who cost her state 1,000 jobs when she made anti-gay comments last year.


"I?m delighted that residents of Allegheny County will now be protected from discrimination but am still concerned that many Pennsylvanians lack this basic protection, even while most residents believe it should be the law. Look at the 71 percent support statewide ? including 63 percent support in the central/'T' region -- for House Bill 300, which would protect people who live or work in Pennsylvania from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression."  Pennsylvania State Representative Dan Frankel


"I have a 5 year old grand daughter and i want her to grow up being able to take it as a fact that everyone IS equal. to be able to not even give it a second thought. that it just is how it is, as it should be." Sherry Pasquarello, resident, Allegheny County.

"For the past year, our community has worked with determination and persistence to bring this day about.  Throughout this process, we have formed important relationships, and the unique collaboration between LGBT organizations, allies, grassroots activists, and public officials will continue to serve as a model of effective partnership. "  Steel City Stonewall Democrats 

I've got more to share ... the public comments of Frankel and City Councilman Bruce Kraus and more statements.  But let's stop here and see what I have to think about everything.

I tweeted the meeting, providing my own commentary and observations along with factual information about the discussion.  I lost my signal a few times, but was able to restart and keep going.  The comments from the community were a mixed bag.  The hate directed toward LGBTQ persons was sad, but I was heartened to note the looks of pure disgust in the eyes of various members of Council as folks rattled on and on with the usual vitriole.  A group of ordinance opponents sat next to our little group of lesbians.  The classic moment was when a name tag fell off one man's chest onto the leg of a lesbian.  She handed it back and said "You lost your tag."  I think he may have thanked her.  How can you thank a lesbian so politely one moment and liken her to a pedophile the next?  It really makes no sense.

The Council discussion was heated.  Clearly, this was a tough vote and the opponents gave plenty of airtime to a whole host of excuses to disguise their homophobia and transphobia.  That was really sickening ... the cowardice and pandering to hate mongerers in the name of the most ridiculous rationalizations possible.  Protecting the County from law suits.  Putting civil rights issues before the voters as a referendum.  The Catholic Church didn't have enough time over the past year to review the ordinance.  Undermining the good work of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.  (Note to Matt Drozd:  the Girl Scouts don't discriminate).  None of them had the courage to just admit their bigotry.  It was one of the most pathetic examples of leadership I've ever witnessed.

We won 8-6 which is pretty close.  We won with amendments that legalize religious based bigotry.  We won even though I was almost thrown out of the chamber.   Well, that probably didn't impact anything except Ledcat shortening my leash. 

I enjoyed the post-meeting celebration.  It was nice to spend a few hours awash in a feeling of triumph over intolerance and hatred.  It was pretty cool to watch the various factions interact and listen to the various perspectives. 

The highlight of my evening was Billy Hileman's attendance.  Billy is an advocacy hero in our community and I thought it very fitting that his mantle has passed to Kris Rust, also a teacher and also very humble (and smart).  There's a synergy there that feels right.  Leadership, after all, is earned not purchased or grabbed. 

Last night was a lesson in what's possible.  It is possible to prod a dinosaur like the Democratic Party in this region toward progress.  It is possible for the lessons of our past (City ordinance battle) to inform the challenges of our future (HB 300).  It is possible for two people on opposite sides to have a polite exchange than could possibly break down ugly, misinformed stereotypes.

To paraphrase Betty Hill, it is possible to change something that just isn't fair.

And to that, may I add a heartful "Amen."

View Article  Allegheny County Update

The vote was 8-6.  After a heated exchange, Allegheny County now has a Human Relations Commission and LGBTQ persons have protections. 

It ain't perfect, but it is progress. 

I am tired from tweeting the hearing and enjoying Chinese food afterward with a group of celebrants.  More tomorrow. 


View Article  PG Coverage on County Odinance and Other Stuff

The PG's Karamagi Rujumba took a well-placed stab at explaining the complicated Human Relations ordinance due for a vote tonight before the Allegheny County Council. 

Best of all, he quotes a person of faith who isn't a bigot.  My apologies to the bigots out there who missed the opportunity to spew the hatred, but your interests are being well protected by stubborn members of Council who ardently believe your right to discriminate trumps the civil rights of their constituents.  What are you gonna do?

Amend.  Amend, amend, amend.  (Get the play on "amen"?) 

I tried last night to explain the amending of the amendments.  It still comes down to a fine tuning of exactly what approach religious groups can take to discriminate against people and how that is exactly enshrined into local law.  Later, we'll wrestle with the issue of funding bigotry. 

Councilman Robinson chimed in with his belief that removing religious exemptions entirely will make the bill dead on arrival.  That may be true, but it sure doesn't say much about communities of faith in our County does it?  All this back and forth makes my head spin.  One positive is that this shines a very bright light on how deeply embedded discrimination has become in our region, as well as the spectrum of anti-gay elected officials. 

Your chorus of "pissed off gays" shook things up a little bit.  I urge you to consider any sudden shifts on this vote with a skeptical eye and continue to agitate for full equality.  We have two clear County officials who have demonstrated integrity and moral leadership - Rich Fitzgerald and Amanda Green -- by their unwavering support to the LGBTQ community. We have several Johnny Come Latelies who are welcome, but still have to undo some damage before they get queer dollars (or they should, but they won't). 

Tonight could be close.  So many things are up in the air -- will Futules teleconference in to vote?  will the amended amendments carry the day?  will Finnerty step up?  why is my old friend Bob Macy proving so intractable -- I really think West Mifflin is sinking back into a prehistoric age.

Only time will tell.

In other news, the PG carries an interesting article on a partnership between Persad and Tobacco Free Allegheny to reduce astronomically high smoking rates among local LGBTQ persons.  As the culture shifts away from the smoke filled bars (sorry bar owners but we all know it is happening) the pressure is on to make the new gay gathering places smoke free for the welfare of the community.  This effort to liberate the community from the tentacles of addiction by using familiar resources is mad genius.

Hey, I made the big leagues with a quote at Think Progress blog.  It was apparently big enough that other bloggers pointed it out and someone called me to tell me.  I'm just happy the Eichelberger story still has some legs. 

When the three of us show up tomorrow at the County Bldg to voice outrage, we can read the story on our Blackberries.  LOL.

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