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View Article  ACLU-PA analysis of proposed Allegheny County Council Human Relations Commission Ordinance as Amended

This is Section 215-31(H)(1), the problematic section of the Human Relations ordinance:

Section 215-31(H)(1)

For the purposes of this Article, the definition of "employer" shall not include any

religious organization, regardless of number of employees or County funding,

provided that such religious organization provides documentary evidence of its

religious nature to the Human Relations Commission of the County of Allegheny,

and avers in writing to the Commission that gender, sexual orientation, or gender

identity constitute grounds for employment decisions under the fundamental

tenets of the religion in question. Documentary evidence of an entity's religious

nature may consist of articles of incorporation, a charter or other foundational

document for the entity, documentary evidence of tax-exempt status as a

religious institution under ?501 of the Internal Revenue Code or any other

applicable Pennsylvania or federal law, or any other documentary evidence

deemed sufficient by the Commission.

This analysis has been made available to help explain why the ACLU cannot support the ordinance as currently amended.  I think it speaks very well for itself.  My source for this information has been Kris Rust, former chair of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats who has been working with myself and other media sources to educate the public about this process.  Kris is very modest about this, but it was his initial conversation with County Councilwoman Amanda Green which sparked this ordinance.  He continues to work very hard with a broad array of supporters. The ordinance in its currently amended form is attached to this post as a .pdf file. 

ACLU Analysis 

There are a number of problems with Section 215-31(H)(1) of the proposed ordinance.  These problems are so endemic that this section should be removed from the ordinance in its entirety.  First, the language of this section creates a preference for some religions over others, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As written, Section 215-31(H)(1) exempts from the ordinance those religious organizations that ?aver[] in writing to the Commission that gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity constitute grounds for employment decisions under the fundamental tenets of the religion in question.?  Accordingly, the ordinance would allow a religious organization that considers gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity to be grounds for employment decisions based on its tenets to discriminate in its hiring on any basis, including race and disability.  Conversely, a religious organization that does not consider gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity to be grounds for employment decisions would not be permitted to discriminate in its hiring on any of the protected categories identified in the ordinance, including race, color, religion,national origin or ancestry, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, familial status, and age.  This language provides a benefit to some religions ? those whose beliefs require that they consider gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity in making employment decisions ? that is not provided to religions whose beliefs do not require that they base employment decisions on such criteria by exempting the former from the ordinance?s nondiscrimination provisions while requiring the latter to abide by them.  Such governmental preference for some religious beliefs over others is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause.  See, e.g., Bd. of Educ. v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687, 703 (1994) (?principle at the heart of the Establishment Clause [is] that government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion?). 

            Second, because the ordinance prohibits religious organizations that do not consider gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity to be grounds for employment decisions from discriminating in hiring on any basis, those organizations would be precluded from considering religion in their hiring decisions, even when they are hiring clergy members.  That result would plainly violate those religious organizations? rights under the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, 71 P.S. ? 2401 et seq., to choose their clerical leadership.

            Third, Section 215-31(H)(1)?s requirement that religious organizations ?prove? their religious nature to the Commission in order to obtain the benefit of being exempted from the ordinance?s nondiscrimination requirements likely violates the Establishment Clause by creating excessive entanglement between the Commission and religious organizations.  As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, ?determining whether an activity is religious or secular requires a searching case-by-case analysis,? which ?results in considerable ongoing government entanglement in religious affairs.?  Corp. of Presiding Bishop v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 343 (1987).

            Finally, allowing those religious organizations whose beliefs require them to use gender, sexual, orientation, or gender identity as grounds for employment decisions to discriminate on any basis even if they receive county funds, but prohibiting fraternal, charitable, or sectarian organizations that receive county funds from discriminating on any of the bases identified in the ordinance violates the Establishment Clause because it provides a benefit to particular religious organizations that is not provided to similarly situated non-religious organizations, namely the right to receive public funds without complying with the nondiscrimination ordinance.  See Grumet, 512 U.S. at 703.


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View Article  Allegheny County: the explanation

On Wednesday, July 1, 2009, the Allegheny County Council will vote upon an ordinance which would create a Human Relations Commission to ensure that County residents are not being discriminated against in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodation.  No such ordinance exists at the County level.  Residents of the City of Pittsburgh have protections at that level and there are statewide protections as well.  13 other municipalities in Pennsylvania have Human Relations Acts of some form. 

This particular ordinance includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression among the protected classes.  As you might suspect, this has been a major bone of contention in socially conservative Southwestern Pennsylvania.  The ordinance hearing in January 2009 drew record breaking crowds to testify for this legislation (and a some folks to testify against it such as the owner of Blumengarten Flowers who will hire gay people, but doesn't want them living near near his children.) 

Over the past several months, advocates and opponents have rallied the troops and lobbied the Councilpersons to amend the ordinance based on the inevitable configuration of religious freedom versus civil rights. I'm sorry but that is how they frame it -- our basic civil rights are an affront on their religious freedoms which are CLEARLY embedded into the Constitution.  It sucks, it doesn't reflect how all Christians feel but there you have what grabs headlines and spurs postcard/email campaigns.  It  has been the issue de jour since Nixon ... anything related to "gay marriage".

Anyway, the ordinance was heard in the Government Relations Committee last week and an amendment offered by County Councilmen Burn, Macy and Robinson added a complicated loophole that will give some religious organizations preferential treatment by allowing them to discriminate.

Essentially, it creates a registry for religious organizations to register as religiously opposed to homosexuality and thus, exempt from the ordinance.  The problem for you is that it exempts them from complying with any of the ordinance. In essence, the Allegheny County Council is saying that they will condone discrimination against people of color or Jews or disabled folks in order to appease homophobes in your area.  Councilman Robinson signed off on this.   Granted, there are state and federal protections for those classes of people but is that the message Allegheny County wants to send to the world by embedding it in ordinance-- homophobia gives license for racism, sexism, ageism, etc --- really? (Big Registry of Hate pops to mind).

A second problem is that religious organizations receiving County funding can opt to join the Big Registry of Hate and keep their funding. Meanwhile, every other organization in the County that receives County funding must comply.  How is that fair or just?  Are you content to use your public dollars to fund someone who doesn't have to follow the law?  That's absurd.  This could actually set up a scenario where a faith based foster care/adoption agency could accept white babies only and place them in white straight married Christian homes only and it would all be perfectly legal.  They would get paid for this.

Third problem is that this ordinance forces the Human Relations Commission to get entangled in figuring out which religious organizations are homophobic and which are not.  The Constitutions already says this is a bad idea.  How on earth would you define this -- three gay exorcisms a year and purging the choirs on a regular basis?  The Catholic Church music ranks would be decimated in months. A vote by the populace?  Buttons?  Fred Phelps church fans?  What? 

Here's a fourth mind blower.  The religious organizations that do not enroll in the Registry of Hate would be unable to use religion in their hiring decisions.  So a gay-friendly Unitarian-Universalist Church that was interviewing for a pastor could not consider that pastor's religion in their hiring decision.

I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.

This is a terrible turn of events.  A amended, the ordinance is going to pass on Wednesday and a series of legal challenges will ensue.  The good news is that the ordinance itself is worded so that it certain language is deemed unconstitutional, the rest of the ordinance stands.  The really bad news is that this sets a precedent for HBO 300.

I am waiting permission to post the much more articulate and artful documents outlining this situation that I have provided. I tried to explain to a group of people last night and was met with a series of dropped jaws and disbelief.  Several were churchgoers and none thought applying for dispensation based on homophobia would be a good thing. 

So, here's the plan.  We have three days to try and convince folks to restore the original language.  Understand that the vote on Wednesday is on the whole measure, not the ordinance and the amendments. Before we tell them to vote against it, we want to try and reign it in to its original intent. 

Call Dan Onorato on Monday.  412-350-6500.   The message is simple:  Please remove the language from the ordinance that allows organizations receiving County funding to discriminate. 

In its current form, this ordinance does not embody tolerance, fairness or equal treatment. 

If we can generate 100 calls to Onorato's office on Monday, it will make an impact.  How many calls can you arrange?  Your partner?  Your mom?  Your best friend?  Your adult son? 



View Article  Call to Action: It is do or die (aka not exist) time folks!

Stay tuned for more details on the Allegheny County Non-Discrimination Ordinance amendment quagmire.

We MUST regain control of the ordinance language.  Right now, it will allow organizations that are funded with your county tax dollars to discriminate against you.  And that's just the beginning.

Put Monday on your calendar.  We need you and everyone you identify as an ally to make a mental note to call Dan Onorato's office on Monday between 9 AM and 4 PM with the following message:

Ask them to remove the language from the proposed Human Relations Ordinance that allows organizations that receive County funding to discriminate.

Dan's number is 412-350-6500.

A simple five minute task folks.  Please spread this around. I promise I will fill in the gory details when I have time but we have less than 48 hours to line up 100 telephone calls for Monday.  Many of you tell me you want to help.  If you can get one person to commit to make this call and you make it yourself, we can cut our work in half. 

I would love to know how many people are calling.  I've heard from about 10 folks so far.  Please email me, facebook me, comment or hit me up on twitter. 

Please retweet this.  Get promises from people to call.  The County ordinance really needs you and this will have major play when it comes to the statewide ordinance. 

View Article  Steel City Stonewall Dems Denounce Eichelberger's Statement

The Steel City Stonewall Democrats wishes to express our profound disappointment in the statement made by Senator John Eichelberger on Friday, June 19, 2009 during his debate on WHYY with Senator Daylin Leach. In that debate Senator Eichelberger made the statement (in reference to a question by Senator Leach about whether Pennsylvania policy regarding same-sex marriage should be about punishing the gay community) that Gay people were not being punished and that ?we are allowing them to exist and do what every American can do??


This statement is very hurtful because no minority group needs permission to exist. LGBT community members are important participants in the fabric and culture of Pennsylvania. It is difficult enough to listen to hurtful language about our civil rights but discussions about our right to exist are beyond the pale of civil political discourse and unacceptable from any elected leader.


We call upon leaders of both parties to repudiate this statement and request that Senator Eichelberger apologize to the LGBT men, women and children of Pennsylvania.


Steel-city Stonewall Democrats is a voice of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Democrats in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We endorse and recommend candidates for public office, sponsor events and try to foster progressive change throughout the community.


View Article  Hey Bellevue! Ways we can do something constructive for the gay agenda

Today is Saturday, June 27 which makes the campaign kick-off for Tom Michalow who is running for Allegheny County Council in district 1 .

Tom has been involved with local politics for 10 years, serving for the past 4 as a borough councilmember for Avalon.  His campaign website is here.  

District Municipality
1 Aleppo
1 Avalon
1 Bellevue
1 Ben Avon
1 Ben Avon Heights
1 Coraopolis
1 Crescent
1 Edgeworth
1 Emsworth
1 Kilbuck
1 Leet
1 Leetsdale
1 Moon
1 Ross
1 Sewickley

Clearly, if you live in these districts you are impacted by this campaign.  Tom is trying to unseat Matt Drozd.  So in the interests of democracy it would behoove you to pay attention to this race. 

However, for those of us outside of District 1, there are some good reasons to pay attention as well.

Drozd dropped his co-sponsorship for the ordinance creating an Allegheny County Human Relations Commission.  Boo.  Drozd did not complete a survey for the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, but Tom has and you can read it in its entirely here.

Tom has been at almost every gay event I've attended, well except the Indigo Girls concert.  He is always last in line to speak because protocol dictates that County Council is last.  Yet he's fresh, excited and very cool about listening to 100 other people speak before him.  That alone gets points in my book.  Kidding.

When I read his survey, I get a little teary eyed. Tom is a teacher and bases much of his stance on what he has seen works best for children.  He grounds himself in what is necessary to build a healthy community for children based on support and openness, not ignorance and fear.  His comments on choice are very moving.  He wants gay-straight alliances in schools because he seems to believe that LGBTQ children thrive when they are valued and accepted -- he even calls out Steel City to do more in the schools. 

There is a critical vote coming up on May 1 in Allegheny County Council. More details in another post, but Toms' vote could make a hell of a lot of difference for minority persons in this County.  Talks of futher County-City consolidation are looming.  I want someone who knows what they are doing, but I also want someone who knows that domestic partner benefits are non-negotiable.  You don't strip people of their rights in the name of progress.

This is a campaign where every day people chipping in $10 could make a difference.  All politics is local they say.  The personal is political they also say.  You can be part of orchestrating actual change on a local level by making a modest donation to Tom's campaign, volunteering to help hit the street to get the word out and/or attending events like today's picnic. 

Start using a hashtag #TomMichalow when you cover his events.

Door knocking is intimidating, but can you give up ONE Saturday morning and show your children a bit of democracy in action? You don't have to know a lot and you don't have to live in the district. Tom runs down the street with you and when you identify a potential person to chat, he does the heavy lifting.  You do the grunt work and you make a difference.  Bring your child along to learn how it happens.

But don't say you can't make a difference.  Maybe you won't be the deciding vote when Pat Toomey tries to topple Arlen Specter, but you can literally be the person who persuades someone to vote for Tom.  You can raise the $100 for those extra few flyers that get distributed.  You can tweet, facebook and blog about this campaign and call your  uncle in Coraopolis - he might be the deciding vote. 

I know a lot of you in these parts of town and I'm running over a list of your political complaints over the years -- about the schools, taxes, racism, etc.  Now is your chance, folks. 


View Article  Church tries to exorcize the ga y - who exactly needs to be protected by laws?

This is un-freakin-believable. A church brutalizes a young man (16!) while trying to pray away the gay.  Watch this:

Read some of the CNN interview. 

Patricia McKinney, pastor of the nondenominational church who describes herself as a prophet, said she has even been receiving death threats as a result of the video, but doesn't understand the outrage.

"I believe in deliverance, I believe in anointing, I believe in the power of Jesus," she said in a phone interview with CNN. "I've been threatened already, I've been attacked, and it doesn't make any sense to us. Really, what they're doing, they're putting me out there on the mat."

McKinney says she doesn't refer to the events of the video as an exorcism, but rather a "casting out of unclean spirits." She said this isn't the first time that an event like this has taken place at her church, but it is the first one centered around homosexuality.

McKinney said the boy approached the church and told her he wanted to be a pastor, but was struggling with his sexuality. "We allow [gay people] to come into our church. We just don't allow them to come in and continue to live that lifestyle," she said.

"God made Adam and Eve," she said. "He made a woman to be with a man, and a man to be with a woman."

Robin McHaelen, who worked with the 16-year-old boy at the center of the video in her position as executive director of True Colors Inc., a gay youth advocacy and mentoring program in Connecticut, said the video was taped in March. She would not identify the teen.

McHaelen said she doesn't think the church acted maliciously -- but that's part of her problem with the video.

"None of the people in this video were intending to hurt this kid," she said. "They performed this ritual in an attempt to rid him of feelings that he didn't want to have."

The boy is the fifth teen True Colors is aware of that has undergone an event like the one documented in the video. But unlike the boy, not all the teens approached a church or religious organization.

The event, McHaelen said, reflects a culture and society that doesn't believe a person can be both Christian and gay.

"That's what makes me so sad and so mad," she said.

McHaelen said she talked to the boy since the incident and said he's feeling very conflicted and confused in trying to reconcile who he is with his religion.

"He's 16 and having the feelings that he's having, the relationships he's having, and then [he's] being tormented by 'What if I'm going to go to hell because of what I feel and who I am?'" she said.

My God, in what kind of warped world do we live that grown adults with good intentions even conceive that this could be helpful to a child struggling to come to terms with their identity?  Can you imagine how scarring it would be to have an exorcism of something is intrinsically part of your soul AND when it doesn't work?  Cause it won't work. 

You and I know that the only homosexual demon are the nasty little hypocrites who hide in closets and poke the rest of us with whatever power and privilege their fake-straight identity gives them.

This child was conflicted, not possessed.  He needed support and encouragement.  He also, apparently, needed to be part of a community of faith that doesn't demnonize homosexuals rather than trying to fit into this group of --- I cannot even come up with a term to describe this mindset. 

The video speaks for itself.  I will say the church took their copy down from their website (their website!).  Ha.

View Article  KDKA newsdesk won't even *discuss* Eichelberger b/c it is not local enough?

Are you freaking kidding me, KDKA? 

Whomever answered your newsdesk phone around 2:30 pm (a male voice) reportedly told a local gay person that the Eichelberger story wasn't going to b considered because it has no local angle. The caller tried to explain and reports that your newsdesk phone answering person YELLED at him.  For what?  A tip?  A moment of his time?  Attempting to explain how hate impacts Pittsburgh?  Existing?  Which is it?

WTAE and WPXI heard him out.  They may not find a local angle, but at least they treated a gay man trying to advocate for his community with respect and courtesy. 

So not only do you possibly miss a story (which since you didn't listen, you have no way of knowing if it has legs) you now pissed off a viewer who isn't going to watch your newscast anymore AND is telling other gay people how callous you are. 

You are supposed to be the good guys what with all the Tweeting and the cute little Weather Bug (how gay is that?).  You don't have Sally Wiggin, but the lesbians seem to like Patrice just as much b/c she kicks ass in a man's field. 

You want a local gay angle?  How about a man in pickup truck angry about traffic calling my girlfriend a stupid lesbian cunt?  Granted she gave him the finger but that's considered a gender neutral offense.  Her sexual orientation and gender had nothing to do with the fact that she couldn't undo gridlock in the Strip District.  But it was fair game to him.  And there are thousands of hims (and hers) throughout this region who, thanks in part to the hate-speak of Senator Eichelberger, believe they have some sort of moral superiority over queer folks. 

When a State Senator believes an entire class of citizens exists at someone's pleasure, it sort of affects all of those persons throughout the entire kingdom, including Western Pennsylvania.  The Allegheny Mountains don't protect us from crazyland. 

Since I am going to tweet this, I'm hoping someone might see it.  Figure out who was at the desk at 2:30 PM and I can produce the guy who deserves an apology (yes, I have that power -- :-).  Then at least review the story before you dismiss it out of hand. 

Or ignore the complaint and let the lingering anti-gay taint hang around. 

View Article  lesbian slurs


This morning I was driving across the 16th street bridge when a man in a large truck began blowing his horn at me because evidently I wasn't driving fast enough. This is a new level of rudeness I have been experiencing-some people beleive that if you don't move as soon as the light turns green or bully someone in front of you they have the right to blow their horn on your ass. Rude. Stupid. Ignorant beyond words. So I gave him the one finger salute. But it gets better, he pulled in front of me cutting me off--he evidently thought he could move the cars in front of me better than me. So I blew my horn at him. He then pulled beside me and began calling me a cunt, a bitch, a lesbian bitch and some other choice words. I din't flinch and kept saying, yeah, that's right and how does it feel when someone blows their horn on you? Evidently like most bullies he didn't like it. So, when a woman does something a man doesn't like, he feels perfectly free to use gay slurs toward me and call me other demeaning names. And he had to go for the gay slurs because it wasn't enough to demean me as a woman. So, to Senator Eichelberger and all the other people who think words don't matter and they allow us to exist, this is an example of the deep seated B.S. prejudice LGBT people have to put up with.

View Article  Eichelberger's Garbage

From one of my tweeps ...

View Article  Exist-gate: Eichelberger's Public Comment and Potter's Take

WJAC-TV from Altoona is apparently the first MSM outlet to cover Exist-gate.  Eichelberger issued a statement with a non-apology:

The Keystone Progress has started an online petition demanding an apology from the senator. So far, 4,000 people have signed the petition.

Eichelberger issued this statement to WJACTV.com: "This group is a politically active group that goes around the country targeting people that are involved in this issue. If this is an example of how they conduct themselves then it's difficult to continue dialogue and discussion, if people intentionally misportray the truth."

If starting a petition and asking for an apology is an example of stifling dialogue and discussion, well then I'm flummoxed.  There's video at the other of the link.  Keep in mind, this is the best we get.  It is really hard to misportray the truth when every single Keystone Progress contact I've had has included a link to the entire broadcast, not the particularly offensive snippet. 

What is funny is the opening line of the of the broadcast:

Sen.John Eichelberger, R-Pa., is making headlines after a gay rights advocacy group claims he made some controversial comments.

What headlines?  Aside from bloggers, no one is covering this.  There haven't been any sidebars, much less headlines.  Good grief. 

Well, we did make a column headline with this week's City Paper.  Chris Potter takes a look at the original debate and the ensuing controversy.  He's of the opinion that the comment isn't going to generate any useful response from politicians. 

I'm not sure that will do any good. If Harrisburg politicians began condemning each other for every moronic thing they said, they'd get even less done. Plus, Eichelberger boasts of being his district's "first pro-life senator in over three decades": I doubt he's going to be shamed by the equal-rights crowd.

More importantly, I've listened to the entire broadcast. (You can hear it for yourself at www.whyy.org.) And to me, Eichelberger's remarks don't inspire fear, so much as reflect it.

I'm not real comfortable with the subtle suggestion that the rest of us haven't listened to the entire broadcast.  As I've said before on multiple blogs, Senator Leach was great.  I think he backed Eichelberger into a corner and decimated the arguments against marriage equality.  But that just stokes the embers and my fear is that without some public outcry, every other issue is going to bite the dust as we are swept up into a battle of marriage that has absolutely no chance to come out in our favor. 

But that's the irony of the conservative position today. Court battles over gay rights will be won or lost. Ballot referendums will come and go. But the cultural trends are irreversible. Mainstream society now tolerates gay couples to the extent that even a conservative like Eichelberger has to "allow" the thing that freaks him out the most: the idea of gay sex. "They're allowed to live in a relationship like that," Eichelberger acknowledged.

So what he's trying to do instead is deny these couples the right to do things couples do when they are clothed. Things like visiting each other in the hospital, raising children in a stable home, making end-of-life decisions.

Well, not entirely true, Mr. Potter.  He sais that we can do things that other Americans do, just not other married Americans.  To be fair, American's version of criminalizing homosexuality focused on sex acts -- outlawing sodomy across the sexual continuum.  Nigeria, on the other hand, makes it illegal to *be* homosexual, forbidding even gatherings of two or more homosexuals in public spaces.  I guess that's an important distinction. 

Eichelberger's quote sounds menacing, because it implies conservatives would get rid of gays entirely if they could. But the point is: They can't.

Mainstream society has passed the point where our relationships have to meet with John Eichelberger's approval. And that's why, for all their bluster, when I hear these guys talking, I always hear the sound of retreat.

I think you underestimate them.  They can't get rid of us, tis true.  But they can battle us every step of the way.  Given the fraying infrastructure of our LGBT advocacy resources, it might work, Mr. Potter. 

Exist-gate isn't all about the non-apology.  It is an opportunity for our allies to take some action.  It is an opportunity for Pennsylvania's LGBT community to take some control over the dialogue.  We shouldn't be pulled to and fro at the whims of politicians.  We should also take a moment to regroup and realize that there has to be some line, some boundary that when crossed will spur a response. 

We are not in control of our lives and we are not in control of the dialogue about our lives. 

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