CP on Big Queer Rally; More on Club Pittsburgh

The City Paper's Marty Levine does his usual excellent job with in-depth coverage of the recent Big Queer Rally. Levine focuses on how the crowd responded to the participation of so many local politicians that many interpreted as a strong show of support for the LGBT community.

But it was the number of elected officials speaking out for LGBT rights that most impressed the activists in attendance.

“City and county representatives are here — I actually wasn't expecting that at all,” said Ellie Gordon of Squirrel Hill. “We don't hear a lot about how the government here is [supportive].”

“When they come to seemingly small rallies it makes a world of difference,” added Tamar Toledano, of Oakland. “It brings your private struggle into the public sphere.”

Levine's story is a good reminder that we do have a lot support among local politicans on all three levels:  City, County and State.  I am sure the same holds true for many councilors elected throughout the 700 million municipalities throughout the County and the larger region.  I'm encouraged that they encourage advocates because mobolizing our allies among the voting public is the key to impacting the legislative process, indeed the larger political process. 

Now for a brief look at what's happening with the Club Pittsburgh story.  Last week, the Post-Gazette explored the much-lauded philanthropy of Club Pittsburgh owners' Peter Karlovich and Steven Hereforth.  Community leaders including Kathi Boyle of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (PATF) and City Councilman Bruce Kraus spoke very positively about the generous nature of both men, including the frequent opening of their home on Mt. Washington to fundraisers for a wide range of activities, both LGBT related and not.  Political campaigns of  including those of Hillary Clinton, Luke Ravenstahl, Jason Altmire and Chelsa Wagner have benefitted from fundraisers held at their home. 

For the most part, people acknowledge that these men have been generous with their good-fortune and acknowledge that their philanthropy has been a boon for Pittsburgh, particularly the LGBT community.  My understanding is that Hereforth is a board member for PATF while Karlovich sits on the board of Persad Center.  As I've said before, I have been to their home one time to attend a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, as a guest of local business owner Gary Van Horn.  It was a spectacular view; I did not see the entire home, but it was evidently well designed for a variety of events.

Despite this generosity, there remain lingering questions as to whether these gentleman “paid to play” with their personal donations (and those very same fundraisers) to prevent closer scrutiny of their business, Club Pittsburgh.  Both men and the Mayor vigorously deny these allegations.  The attention of the local media has swung to potential criminal activity related to the death of Cleophus Pettway over a week ago. 

KDKA's Marty Griffin broke the story on Tuesday evening with a live investigation of the removal of police removal of a significant quantity of containers of VCR inhalants, reportedly used to enhance sexual performance (try an Internet search on that topic and see what fun sites you bring up). What was unclear is whether the Club (illegally) sold the inhalants which may have contributed to Mr. Pettway's death.  Toxicology reports are pending. 

The Post-Gazette picks up the story in this morning's edition, using cashe website pages to allege that Club Pittsburgh did advertise the sale of these inhalants at one point.

cppleasures.com, a Web site affiliated with Club Pittsburgh, advertised the sale of Maximum Impact, a “premium head cleaning solvent” in an aerosol can, as recently as Dec. 29.

The product has since been removed from the site.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, video head cleaners — called “poppers” — often are used to enhance sex. Dozens of Web sites sell a range of brands.

A December posting at clubpittsburgh.blogspot.com recounted the story of a club-goer who inhaled the head cleaners: “We once had a customer who would purchase phenomenal amounts of Maximum Impact. (Available at cppleasures.com for only $18!) By 'phenomenal,' I do not mean 3 or 4 cans. I mean 30 or 40. If we recycled her [sic] popper cans, we'd have had enough metal to create the world's first all-aluminum bathhouse. He huffed & puffed & blew our sales through the roof.”

The posting came from a blog called “A Night at Club Pittsburgh,” which is also the name of a pornographic video filmed at the club.

A Web site advertising the video features explicit pictures of sexual acts and invites potential viewers to “spend an evening at Pittsburgh's ever popular Club Pittsburgh.”

Attorneys for the owners assure that the Club is cooperating fully with the investigation who have reportedly made a private contribution toward the funeral expenses for Mr. Pettway. 

Other bloggers have commented that this might be some sort of gay-sex witch hunt, feeding into the public's perception that anything associated with the sexual activity of gay men is seedy and sordid.  There is another line of thought that running a bathhouse with so many under the radar activities itself contributes to this perception. 

I still maintain that the stories are, first, the investigation into the cause of death for Mr. Pettway and, second, the allegations that the City turned a blind eye in exchange for political contributions.  If the Club activities, legal or not, contributed to his death then they need to be held accountable, but that is still very much open to investigation.  A man died and that should be investigated.  The issue of the “pay for play” are much less easier to investigate. 

Today is the final day for nominations to the Mayor's newly forming GLBT Advisory Committee.  Appointments are anticipated by mid-February; perhaps the composition of that committee might be a better indicator of whom the Mayor deems a voice for the community.  As you recall, I have repeatedly asked the Mayor's office which they have refused to provide in spite of Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski's promises to the contrary.  They are not returning my calls rgarding either the criteria or the campaign contributions and so I have no confidence in this process.  I might be proven wrong and the Mayor will cobble together a truly diverse group of voices with little to no political campaign contributions.  As is apparent, he has the ear of one segment – the white gay male business owners who are in a position to make significant contributions to his campaign.

Yes, I know I can get this information myself and yes, I believe gay people should participate in the political process, including supporting campaign.  And that link between those campaign donations and any payback has not been established. 

But it doesn't look good and I think it is reasonable to ask the Mayor to bring some other people to his table, particularly those who do not have the means to participate as significant donors.  Everyday folks, you might say.  Why can't an average citizen serve on an Advisory Council? 

Finally, there is the issue of whether a bathhouse and related sexual activities should be operating in the City of Pittsburgh.  Bram at The Pittsburgh Comet is calling for a zoning reevaluation, explaining that the proper zoning would legitimize adult entertainment, gay or straight, as long as they follow the rules.  There is some legitimacy to this perspective, if the issue is whether mainstream culture is ready to take strides toward accepting that consenting adults are able to engage in sexualized activities without judgement or condemnation.  One could question whether we need to operate under the radar in the modern era. 

After all, we have openly elected gay officials and to my knowledge, there was no attempt to smear Mr. Kraus for his association with the owner's of Club Pittsburgh.  US Congressman Barney Frank withstood a challenge to his seat based on his association with male prostitution vis a vis a lover.  Those who make headlines are those who engage in illicit activities or dupe their families (and their constituents) by trying to have their cake and eat it, too.


Reminder:  Today is the public hearing on the County Ordinance to establish a Human Rights Commission in Allegheny County.  This is exactly where those who would seek to demonize us will make the argument that we are diseased, sex-crazed pedophiles out to destroy the fabric of society.  Show up and prove them wrong. 


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  • From a business perspective, there will always be demand for the services a Club Pittsburgh provides. The questions are: Should this Club be in your downtown near your beautiful cultural district and the marvelous shops in the Strip District? Should the patrons of Club Pittsburgh question if they want to play at a business where the owners draw so much attention to themselves?
    Those are the questions for the gay community. We know gay sex happens and we know that no matter how scrupulously it is monitored, people are going to use illegal substances and engage in risky behavior. You can't buy a zebra and then scrub off the stripes to make a horse, especially if the zebra is the money maker at your zoo.

  • “As is apparent, he has the ear of one segment – the white gay male business owners who are in a position to make significant contributions to his campaign.”
    If your impressions are correct, Sue, this is a serious issue. Someone in city politics explained to me the other day that “Unfortunately, there just aren't that many gay people who are politically active”, which is definitely not the impression that I've ever gotten — until I realized that by “politically active”, they meant people who spread money around.
    “Bram at The Pittsburgh Comet is calling for a zoning reevaluation, explaining that the proper zoning would legitimize adult entertainment, gay or straight, as long as they follow the rules.”
    Thank you for echoing this — I do hope you join me. By “proper zoning” what I really mean is sunlight, recognition and a degree of beneficial regulation. No, I'm not totally naive; I don't believe for a minute that straight adult clubs “follow all the rules”. I'm only angling toward rough equivalency.
    Zoo Keeper said:
    “Should this Club be in your downtown near your beautiful cultural district and the marvelous shops in the Strip District?”
    I have almost no patience for this. If Blush nightclub is allowed to operate Downtown, so should a gay club that by most accounts already provides a much more positive atmosphere. How about a little something for everyone in a modern Downtown? Are you telling me that there ISN'T room for a gay club near the theater district?
    “We know gay sex happens and we know that no matter how scrupulously it is monitored, people are going to use illegal substances and engage in risky behavior.”
    Again, this strikes me as the bigotry of very low expectations. I believe we can encourage better behavior over time by bringing the whole ball of wax out of the shadows. How did gay sex come to be “linked” with drug use — could it be that gay sex itself was considered illicit, so for it to be conducted one had to create a sort of lawless zone where illicit behavior seemed welcome? Maybe if allow gay youth get their rocks off in a non-secret, non-illicit environment, they won't feel quite the shame and alienation that motivates them to suck down industrial chemicals while they're doing it.

  • Just in case anyone who missed the Jan. 10 rally is interested, we've posted video of it on our Web site. Just go to our home page and click on the “CP Video,” link directly below the graphic for our main feature. You'll have to sit through a 15-second ad (sorry), and then you'll get about 9-and-a-half minutes of remarks made by local activists and politicians.
    Critiques of my film work are always welcome.
    — Chris Potter

  • It is important to separate the public health issues from the culture war issues and to keep both of those distinct from the political issues. Would we have this same discussion if a gay owned restauranteur donated to Dan Onorato and then had a private meeting with his chief of staff to discuss a health inspection notice? No, it would not be the same discussion. It would be a discussion about pay to play.
    You are doing a pretty good job of keeping us focused on that issue. The public health issues of bathhouses deserve a fair hearing. I hope the police investigation will address and resolve allegations of illegal activities, especially those that threaten the welfare of the community.
    The culture war issue is being waged down at the County Council meeting as I type this comment. Everyone can agree that a more tolerant and just society will benefit all persons in the gay community, including those who feel they have no choice but to operate on the down low and those who do so because they like it. Everyone benefits. So rather than complain about a witch hunt and the demonization of gay sex, do something constructive to change the culture.
    Clearly, it all ties together. A gay friendly society would make for safer sex, better information and less internalized homophobia that drives people underground. A less purient society would not be concerned about consenting adults engaged in sexual activity. A more open society would mean gay people from all walks of life would have access to politicians and other public servants.
    Obviously, we'll destroy Rick Santorum's marriage to get there, but get there we shall. Carry on!

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