Ten Fabulous “Special Rights” for LGBTQ Public Employees

In response to the conversation about domestic partner benefits from PA municipal employers such as Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh, some have raised concerns that same-sex couples will be receiving “special gay privileges” which is unfair to unmarried heterosexual employees.

It is probably fair to look back into history at the civil rights movement and the women’s movement as well as the work of farm-workers, persons with disabilities and poor people to find ample evidence that special rights grew magically out of air and permeated American culture within 30 days or so. Right? I mean look at all the prominent men of color, women and disabled people in prominent leadership roles right here in Southwestern PA? How many unmarried white heterosexual men hold leadership roles?

Contrary to the noble stance of just wanting to be equal, I would like some special rights. After all, I’m not equal. If I drive to Cranberry Township or Greensburg or “Little Washington” for dinner – I can legally be turned away from any restaurant simply because I’m queer. I could be fired. I might not be able to rent an apartment. Or stay in a bed and breakfast in the Laurel Highlands. If someone physically assaults me because I’m queer, it is not a hate crime at all.  And we wouldn’t be married in half the country – still have to carry documents with us, still have to do second-parent adoptions, still have to pay for all of that from our salaries. That doesn’t feel very “special” or equal at all.

So maybe some special rights would help the bitter pill of failure on behalf of Southwestern PA Democrats go down. And I’m talking way better than pesky health insurance or “soft benefits” – I’m pretty sure Obama fixed that right? Did we elect a black man President in 30 days? Or 40 years – same difference.

If you are already convinced to push back against these nonsensical complaints, sign here.

1. Free Parking. City and county employees often have to park downtown. That’s expensive and there are all sorts of archaic rules about using City cars versus getting reimbursements, etc. So how about a special gay parking garage? Free parking for gays who work for the public or are partnered/married to someone who does? Maybe limit it to a total of 10 hours of free parking per day per household. That’s a workshift plus time to duck into Macy’s to do some shopping on the big public servant salaries. When we park, we simply cover our cars in rainbow glitter like fairy dust.

2. Corporate Car. Get some of those older police vehicles into rotation. Paint them pink, maybe “salmon” and set them free to confused the heck out of the drug dealers. Bonus is that you don’t need to affix mustaches and they will be immaculately maintained. We need wheels if we are going to get to our top-secret meetings about the gay agenda.

3. Pool passes. What could be a better wait to celebrate our equality than a big queer pool party rotating around the Citi-parks all summer long? We can pin those snazzy little pool passes onto our fabulous bathing suits and bring some music, maybe even snacks. Who needs Rehoboth Beach when you have the luxurious Sue Murray Swimming Pool?

4. Gender neutral bathrooms. You don’t want to share your bathrooms with queer people, trans people or those who wear gender ambiguous clothing? Fine. We’ll get our very own executive gay loo – one on every floor with a really pretty key and a big sign on it to make it clear that it is a toilet in case people get confused. No urinals, no group think. Just a bathroom that’s tidy and safe for all. Of us with special privileges.

5. Window Cubicles. You know what helps when you are worried – every single day – about your spouses getting fired if their employer finds out they are queer? Sunshine. A little glimpse into the bustling Downtown life to remind you that you are one cog in a larger wheel. Let the sunshine in every day, baby to help offset the terrible clouds of fear, anxiety and hostile work environments.

6. Bonus Holidays. We’ll take Harvey Milk Day, the Trans Day of Remembrance, National Coming Out Day and one other “floating” queer holiday.

7. Two sets of business cards. One will say “Sue Kerr <insert company info>” while the other set will read “Sue Kerr, Lesbian Employee” This lets me play the gay card when necessary, but allows me to blend in when the fact that I”m queer has nothing to do with the matter at hand.

8. Gay Breaks. You know all of those former “smoking break” spaces that once housed your hacking coworkers before they were forced to cross the street and into the river to minimize their second-hand smoke? Remember how they got a break like every two hours or more if the supervisor happened to smoke? Let’s reclaim those spaces as a restorative break area for the office gays. A little scrub, a little paint, a few magazines and we have a place to center ourselves as we “tone down the gay” to keep harmony in the office. I think dividing five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes by the number of LGBTQ employees is a good way to calculate break frequency.

9. The Gay Agenda. City, county and school district employees should have a monthly meeting with the chief of staff to discuss the gay agenda status. This creates open dialogue rather than having to keep our plans for world domination and recruitment of the interns under wraps. We can even start a wiki on the intranet so everyone is aware of the current plans. 

10. Nepotism. One simple way to resolve the whole sticky issue with employee’s partners/spouses working in other counties is to create jobs for them in Pittsburgh/Allegheny County. In the end, that’s about 3 dozen jobs right? Surely, all those social workers, food service employees, lawyers, mechanics, pastors, widget inspectors can be put to use building our own region. In fact, you can start by firing three dozen straight people with connections to current elected officials and replacing them with these folks. That would actually be the final solution. So to speak.

Ready to sign? I hope so. I can’t even think of any other ridiculous special rights. I just want to keep my health insurance until we have achieved a fundamental degree of equality in Pennsylvania.

You know who has special rights? UPMC. The Diocese of Pittsburgh. Former Bishop Duncan. How do you measure our lives?  Let’s keep our eyes on the real enemies – people who want to eliminate us, imprison those of us with HIV, deny us any validity or value or meaning. People who want us to convert, repent and deny our very identities. Who paint us with evil brushes dripping with disdain and oppression.

Pennsylvania elected officials can rise above this fray to focus on HB/SB 300 and not punish us for achieving marriage equality (sort of.) Sign the petition so we can continue the conversation and the County employees don’t have to make huge decisions in a few weeks.

For what it is worth, I hope you can have a sense of humor about this. If the idea of special rights is so urgent to you that it seems more important than non-discrimination, please take a step back and take a deep breath. No one wants to hurt the heterosexual unmarried employees. Many of us have heterosexual friends who are unmarried. No one wants to financially bankrupt the public government on the back of LGBTQ employees. No one wants to make a big fancy wedding a right or a public spectacle. We just want to keep our health insurance and create a more equal Commonwealth.

There’s not anything really funny about this. I brought this to the Mayor’s attention several years ago and again in November during a meeting with Kevin Acklin who personally swore to me that nothing untoward would happen with the Domestic Partner Registry again. I proposed solutions, strategies and even found a funder. I emailed the ACLU and statewide groups last year, asking them about this. The day after decision day, I contacted the Mayor’s office again. I repeatedly contacted City Councilor Daniel Lavelle. I tried again and again to find out the plan. No one answered. That’s a truly frightening feeling – I am personally a member of the City Domestic Partner Registry so I deserved an answer.  I was proactive, more proactive than probably any other resident in the entire Commonwealth.

How is that for special rights?




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