Mayor’s Office Still Mum on Advisory Committee; Chief Executive’s Office Still Mum on Virtual Town Hall

You recall that our Mayor was going to set up a LGBT Advisory Council?  Nominations were due January 15, 2009.  I had a few questions which his staff refused to answer, in spite of promises otherwise from spokeswoman Joanna Doven and Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski.

Last Friday, I contacted Ms. Doven asking her for the answers she promised me over two months ago.  This was her response:


The woman in charge of this from our office is out until Tuesday. I will check in with her then and get back to you.


Joanna Doven

Press Secretary

Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

414 Grant St. Pittsburgh, PA 15219


(cell) 412-475-2387

I certainly hope her coworker is feeling better and back to work soon.  It is interesting that Ms. Baginski promised to get me the information I needed, then punted me to Ms. Doven who promised to get me the information I needed, then punted to the Mayor's trip out of town.  Now Ms. Doven is punting back to Ms. Baginski. 

Anyone want to bet on my getting any actual answer to a single question?  I'm putting my money on “we are moving forward on this project” as the official response. 

However, at least the Mayor's office RESPONDS, however unsatisfactorily.  The County Chief Executive did not address any of the LGBT related questions submitted to his virtual town hall meeting.  Then we each received email messages informing us that we would receive a detailed response in the near future.  Folks who asked other types of questions received answers (such as Bram from The Pittsburgh Comet). 

Dear Ms. Kerr:

 Thank you for your email.  We appreciate your interest in the cyber town hall meeting.  While the County Executive was not able to answer every question due to time constraints, we did receive your question and will send a response in the coming days.

 If you were not able to join us, this morning the cyber town hall meeting will be archived on the County’s web site.

 Thank you again for contacting our office and for submitting your question.


 Megan Dardanell

Office of the County Executive

Before the most recent town hall meeting, I contacted his office again pointing out that I was still waiting on a response and resubmitting my question.  No response.  So I contacted my County Councilwoman, Amanda Green, expressing my concerns that the Chief Executive was ignoring his constituent.  She urged me to contact his office and that she would be in touch with them as well about my concerns.

So there you have it.  I would be overly bold to suggest they are just stonewalling moi as others who submitted related questions to the County were also ignored.  They are really stonewalling our entire community  … double entendre fully intended. 

It is very hard to believe that we are going to make progress on a local level if our two executive leaders refuse to answer simple questions about LGBT issues.  I can see the Mayor's reluctance to comment as two of his three gay advisors are facing potential criminal charges related to accusations that they received administrative favors in return for campaign contributions to the Mayor.  That shouldn't mean the entire community loses a potential resource.  In fact, all the more reason to appoint other people to the council, perhaps?  

Chief Executive Onorato has no legs to stand on.  He won't publicly comment on LGBT issues.  Remember that when he announces his bid for Governor and starts showing up at public events where he can't be questioned.  That proved successful for Luke to convince tons of people he is gay friendly, in spite of publicly commenting that he opposes civil unions.  Let try not to be so easily deluded this time around.

Why bring this up?  Well, some recent commenters have got me thinking that we have a lot of unfinished local LGBT business.  That's actually rather true.  I've had some sense of where things stand, but it has all been off the record and I actually think that it is unfair to just ask all of you to start focusing on other issues without giving some update or perhaps closure to these issues.  The elected officials aren't going to do it and the LGBT advocates aren't going to do it. And these are the same people asking you to turn your attention, time and donations in new directions. 

Don't get me wrong.  I think statewide issues are incredibly important and clearly deserve our support.  However, is it realistic to think that we can have any impact statewide when we are in such gridlock locally?  Is it in our best interests to divest resources from these local efforts and send them to Harrisburg?  If nothing else, we have upcoming elections that could have a more immediate impact on our lives so perhaps we should focus on those?

After reading the comments, I agree that we are being pulled in a lot of directions and I'd also like to see just one thing get finished.  One thing.  I understand that leaving an ordinance in committee is better than having it defeated by bringing it to vote.  I understand that a domestic partner registry is a symbol, not a practical tool.  But I would argue that both of these situations allow Dan Onorato and Luke Ravenstahl to get some LGBT credibility without actually doing anything practical.  And that's not okay. 

Here's what I'd like to see, in no particular order.

1.  Mayor Ravenstahl instruct the Department of Personnel to contact City Employees informing them of the Domestic Partner Registry, allowing us to automatically transfer if we choose and describing how it benefits us to do so.

2.  Megan Dardenell from the Chief Executive Office send the promised answers to county residents who submitted LGBT related questions to the town hall meetings.

3.  Local LGBT advocates distribute talking points for the County Ordinance, including reasons why gender expression should be included in the final version.  That's a complicated issue and we need some education ourselves to be effective advocates.

4.  The Mayor update the community on his Council in a public manner, not via his unofficial gay spokespersons.  I don't want to be updated, I want you to be updated.

5.  Mayor Luke Ravenstahl respond to the Steel City Stonewall Questionnaire for this election cycle. 

6.  Steel City Stonewall drop the “highly recommends” information from its endorsement list so that the endorsement carries more value. 

Thank you, readers and commenters, for pointing out what kinds of issues mean something to you.  You've really given me some food for thought.  It isn't popular thought with local organizations as per the comments, but it is probably progress that you are contemplating and commenting on these issues.  I think my platform might move you to take action.  I could be wrong.  I'm willing to take that chance.

So while I do think you should pay attention to the statewide issues, I would urge you to also hold your local officials and local LGBT advocates accountable for our currently very full plates.  Otherwise, we are going to end up with Governor Onorato and Chief Executive Ravenstahl making not a single meaningful action on real LGBT issues.  Statewide legislation would mean a lot less if two out of three top politicians aren't invested in our community.

I would welcome some meaningful dialogue on how we can prevent this. 

I mean, seriously, do we really want to be the advocacy generation that can list a domestic registry with six participants as our accomplishment for this region?  I think we can do better, but we need better organizing, more transparency and more resources dedicated to Western Pennsylvania.  Good old fashioned Pittsburgh politics isn't getting us very far. 


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  • Oh, you are going to piss off some folks, Sue. That guy who thinks we are meaningless will hate you. So will the Mayor's unofficial advisors, but I'm sure you know that.
    I think we should be working statewide, but I'll cede the point that leaving so much undone here in our region does reinforce the message that we are very low on the priority list for the advocacy groups. If they don't make time to answer our questions, is it realistic for you to expect the elected officials to do so? You aren't that naive. Their needs are being met by the very people we trust to advocate for us.
    So, let's go rally in the big H! Rallies get our blood flowing and might be just what we need to come back here and kick some ass. I'm willing to go, but I haven't seen any actual information beyond what's posted on your blog. When will they make the details public?
    Come on, Sue, come to Harrisburg and get yourself rejuvenated. You might feel differently about accomplishments if you get a little taste of grassroots fever.

  • Hey Sue have you seen the new Cue Pittsburgh Magazine…
    I looked at the CUE magazine last night.
    There was not A SINGLE LESBIAN issue, or reference, or “girl” in all it's 44 pages. (a sport section) Ok I take that back. Britney Spears was in it. I saw random lesbians in a photo montage.
    All 44 pages and NOTHING for the women!
    I think I will stick with reading Tony's OUT! At least he covers stories that help us!

  • To be fair, they do have a woman writing some of the articles — Jessica Levine, I believe. I'm not sure if she identifies as part of the LGBTQ community or not.
    Both Cue Pittsburgh and the PrideGuide have approached me to contribute to their publications, explicitly stating that they want to include more lesbian perspectives/stories. I made a pitch to PrideGuide and haven't yet decided what to do about Cue Pittsburgh. I applaud them for reaching out and hope they will also approach some of the professional lesbian writers such as Jane Muder. Do you think I should do it?
    I was rather surprised to see a new magazine launch in this economy. My gut tells me that if OUT is not expanding their feature/news sections, there may not be the advertising revenue to support that type of expansion for the long haul. I could be wrong and it could simply be that the advertisers aren't interested in OUT's other content, but do have an interest in LGBTQ publications.

  • My question wasn't answered either. It bothers me that Dan Onorato feels he can so blatantly ignore us. He takes our votes for granted and that's not a good idea. If Jack Wagner challenges him, I'd be interested in comparing their records. I would also take into consideration the opportunities both men have had to vote or take public action on gay issues. Onorato has the opportunity to offer domestic partner benefits without anyone's approval and he is choosing not to do it. He is being foolish on that one. It would be the least controversial way to court progressive voters (and the least expensive). Maybe he needs a few LGBT advisors on his election committee.

  • I think you are wrong Sue. Participating in the Harrisburg rally is important. Turning out a large crowd from Western Pennsylvania will be a good way to show that we do matter. I know you aren't actively discouraging people from attending, but I think you should give it some more PR. I mean, I get your points. It is disappointing that the entire 21st century has not seen any local progress on gay rights, except that we elected an upper middle class white gay male business owner to the City Council. I also agree with the commenters that we are being pulled in too many directions with very little information. It doesn't help that a board member from a local advocacy group makes disparaging comments about people's opinions being meaningless. That was not a smart move. However, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Passing statewide legislation would be a huge victory. Please give it some more thought. You are an opinion leader in our community.

  • I agree with you on the economy. If you looked at the recent Out Magazine it was very thin. $$$ is tight, even for the advertisers. We have had magazines come and go, but it seems that Pittsburgh can't support more than one publication.
    PrideMag last year was pretty fair to the whole community. There was alot of content and I have to say it was a pretty decent publication! Made me feel proud to be a Pittsburgher!
    I think you should write for them. What have they asked you to write about?

  • I saw a copy of this magazine. I wasn't impressed that they picked Marsha Mellow to write a column and that she used it to defend Club Pittsburgh. At least OUT is more upfront about that scene.

  • This is exactly what I'm talking about. The advocacy groups and leaders in our community must have zero leverage or access to Ravenstahl and Onorato or this sort of slap in the face would not happen. They keep moving our eggs from basket to basket based on which way the wind blows. So now we have a lot of empty baskets and many fragile eggs. Eggs are an analogy for resources and the baskets are political promises if you don't follow me.
    I repeat: we are not a traveling freakshow. If the best response you can do is to tell us we are meaningless, you prove these points.

  • Does this magazine have an online edition? Or would anyone be willing to copy this column online? Or failing all of that, where can I pick up a copy on the North Side? I'd be interested to see what a defense of Club Pittsburgh reads like.

  • Who exactly are these advocacy people you keep mentioning? I know Gary Van Horn is the Mayor's guy. Who else is there? Maybe it is time for a town hall meeting to discuss these measures and bills. Invite the Mayor to give an update on his committee. Invite the Chief Executive to give an update on domestic partner benefits. Invite them to talk with us face to face. Why should we wait for the ACDC to do it again? Let's hold our own meeting. Bring all these advocacy people together and get some answers, then point us in a new direction. Invite Gary. Invite someone neutral to chair the meeting, like Betty Hill. Put a chair on the stage with a label and leave it empty if they don't show up. That will show them we mean business.
    Whoever these advocacy people are. Here is my concrete suggestion on how to move forward. I will volunteer if I hear this happens. I'm tired of hearing about bar crawls. Other groups have political meetings. Why can't we?

  • Because we are a traveling freak show. Don't you get it? Our “advocacy people” can't make this happen. They declared our voice null and void, baby, the day they endorsed Luke Ravenstahl. They try, try, try like the little engine but it don't go nowhere. Gary Van Horn is the best hope to get anything done because he actually likes the Mayor. Does anyone else think of Buffy when you read that?
    So get on board the homo train and stop complaining about the conductor. Woo woo! Woo woo! The freak show is leaving town.

  • Hey, I like the idea of a public forum. We had one to meet candidates so why not have one to learn about the issues? These are the groups that I know about – Steel City Democrats, GLCC, Womens Legal Project, Lambda Foundation of Pittsburgh, Delta Foundation (frownie face), Marriage Equality PA, and ACLU. I think there's a political club, too, but I don't know what a political club does.
    So who do we email to ask for a forum? Bruce Kraus?

  • Charles, I could not agree more. Hold them (Onorato) accountable. The gay community is more votes than they know, and that threat is what needs to be mentioned.

  • Yes, Yes and yes…public forum..a legitimate public forum, not a parade,not a festival, not a bar meet, but a forum, a meeting…..make them answer…if they don't show, make that public…
    Your issues…your pressing issues…(Insurance for families, etc) for real that affect everyday life…calling in Steel city democrats, women's legal project, etc..all good very good….Sue, don't get discouraged…
    I know how you feel….you recently facebooked me…I contacted…the florist after the fire, he has my number.
    Call me!

  • A lot of the people making comments on this blog are probably not even really gay. Virtually all the people getting attacked are the few gay people who do hard political work for no pay.
    It is very easy to attack, complain, and spread misinformation. It is a lot harder to actually do something constructive.

  • So by your own words.
    1. It would be okay to attack people who are getting paid to do political work in the gay community. Like the paid staffers at Stonewall, Equality Advocates, ACLU, etc. The people who never come to Pittsburgh. Shouldn't you be asking them why they ignore our part of the state?
    2. Heterosexual people have no right to give feedback to “your” community. We are supposed to show up to support you and respond when you need us. Otherwise, shut up.
    3. Conversation that does not agree with “your” viewpoint is spreading misinformation and, let me see, nonproductive.
    4. You cannot help yourself but use this blog to attack, complain AND spread information about your organization. Shame on you.
    Why don't you go read the other gay blogs until you have something constructive to add to the dialogue? Poor you for being criticized. It comes with the territory. Maybe you should read the actual content and decide if there is any merit to it, rather than dismiss people.
    What do you mean, anyway, by “not really gay”? Is that like the down low gay people who frequent the bars and sex clubs run by your patrons? The ones who are gay for the glory holes, but won't be at your meeting tomorrow or caught dead at a gay political event? The ones whose “membership fees” and bar tabs sponsor your event tomorrow?
    Why don't you try to be part of the solution and actually listen to people instead of just getting your back up when people criticize your friends? Did you ever hear of freedom of association or freedom of speech?
    Stuff it, you pompous little twit.

  • WTF, Steel City Stonewall? My opinion doesn't count because I'm not really gay? Your own board has people who aren't really gay. You put your foot in it with that comment, buddy. You want me to vote your way, but I can't say anything? Are you nuts? I will remember that the next time Janis gives me a call or Gary sends me an email.

  • Lance is entitled to his opinion. Take his outrage as a sign that someone is paying attention. They may not be moved by what you have to say, folks, but they do hear you.

  • Lance,
    Why do you consistently equate criticism with a personal attack? I've read some of your previous comments you seem to vacillate between paranoia about the right wing infiltrating a blog and yelling at people who disagree with you. How is that constructive?
    To be honest, your organization is part of the problem. You are spread too thin and nothing is done well. I'd rather invest in one or two good candidates than try to be all things to all people, especially with six board members. If you picked one thing and did it well, you'd raise the bar for gay political organizing. Yelling at people to stop posting comments on an Internet blog is a ridiculous defense against the points being raised.
    Tell us, do you think organizing a statewide rally is a constructive step given that so many other projects are not sewn up? Maybe you do, so please lay out the argument without condescension.
    Do you understand why people are upset about the Delta Foundation and Club Pittsburgh? Can you separate your friendships with these men from your grasp of what people are trying to say?
    Do you think Steel City has a responsibility to educate the Mayor on gay issues since your endorsement may have swayed gay voters?
    I don't agree with some of these perspectives, but I believe people have a right to express them. I like this blog because gay people have a place to express their opinions.
    People are expressing different viewpoints. You are mistaken to lump us all together. Reread the comments and engage in conversation. Otherwise, if you continue to post these unpleasant comments, you are doing more damage to your cause than all the rest of us combined.
    If I were a heterosexual supporter of Steel City Stonewall, I would be very pissed off right now.

  • It is not paranoia to think that right wingers might be posting on a blog to spread confusion & misinformation. It is a well known phenomenon. The facts are I have no way of knowing who most of the anonymous posters on this blog are & neither can anyone else.
    I have posted in these comment sections many times and the fact is literally no one has ever been willing to identify themselves.
    Sometimes I wonder if a lot of these anonymous posts are coming from the just one angry person. Often the posts sound very similar.

  • Cool invest in good candidates. I'm constantly encouraging people to give to good candidates. In our web page you can find completed questionnaires detailing their positions on BGLT issues.
    Regarding Ravenstahl, Steel-City Stonewall Democrats focuses on the Democratic Primary. In the 2007 Democratic Primary, our membership voted to not endorse Mayor Ravenstahl. In the 2007 general election we had a choice between Ravenstahl or financial supporter of George W. Bush & Rick Santorum. It is your right to disagree.
    Will see how our membership votes tomorrow.
    Anyone can attend our candidate mixer and endorsement vote tomorrow. People who are not SCSD members or candidates who have submitted completed questionnaires have to pay 3 dollars and show photo ID.

  • OK, this is getting redundant. People are free to make their own conclusions on the content of the posts and the comments. Arguing about anonymity is fruitless and wastes energy, but you are certainly entitled to waste your energy however you see fit.
    I suggest we move on.

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