Darlene Harris, Donald Trump, and Doing the Right Thing in Pittsburgh

You may have heard that Pittsburgh City Councilor Darlene Harris raised a ruckus when she used her personal vehicle to drive through a Northside Park along the walking paths. She claims she was investigating City stuff.

This quickly deteriorated into the ‘Darlene, woman of the people’ folks and ‘Darlene is a self-entitled jagoff’ folks. I rolled my eyes and kept scrolling.

But it went a bit further, so I scrolled back to the thread on Darlene’s page. To this comment:

A Darlene supporter named Brooke Noneya posted a meme stating that Bill Peduto is not her Mayor (because?) she supports the Pittsburgh Police. She then added

“Judging by the size of his big ass, no he doesn’t know what walking is. As far as riding, I heard he prefers firemen to Bicycles “

Darlene liked this comment. And even after being questioned about it, she didn’t apologize or remove her like.

 So, here we are on National Coming Out Day reflecting on anti-LGBTQ ‘humor’ by an elected member of City Council.

The problem isn’t with the Mayor. He’s a grown adult who can certainly handle some nasty, bigoted comments. Being labeled gay is not an insult, although it was intended to be. Being mocked because of his body is also something he can manage, I’m sure.

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But here’s the thing … there are a lot of vulnerable people, many living on the Northside, who struggle with their sexual orientation and many who struggle with their self-esteem because of body shaming.

Our community took some hits last week from the federal government, including the loss of a policy that prevented employers from claiming religious objections to providing access to healthcare (mainly contraceptives) AND issuing religious freedom guidelines that legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Now I don’t think Darlene is one of the truly awful bigots, planning to legislate our rights away. I’m confident she has gay friends. She probably wants the GSA at Perry High School to succeed. And she would use all of these things to defend her allyship to the LGBTQ community.

But … using a gay slur or a gay joke to demean someone is homophobia. Using the possibility of having sex with men as a way to attack Mayor Peduto is homophobia. And while he has thick enough skin to remain unperturbed, what about the actual LGBTQ community?

It doesn’t matter if you have gay friends, vote for LGBTQ policies, or have a ‘good reason’ to take a shot at Mayor Peduto – we are not your ammunition, Darlene. And you do not get to laugh at us while we are struggling for survival.

You tout your service as a school board member as part of your authenticity credentials, but I guarantee you that the among the top 3 slurs kids hear in school every day you will find variants on being ‘fat’ and ‘gay.’ I’m sure you know that. It isn’t new data. The thing is that most kids grow up, mature, and realize that their days of urging on the real bullies were immature decisions that they need to leave behind. Being an adult means you stop being a bully and you stop letting bullies score points for your own agenda.

Today is National Coming Out Day and the International Day of the Girl, Darlene. Your messages that being fat and being gay are insults – that’s gotta stop. You are right smack in the center of people who hurt kids, gay kids, girls, nonbinary kids, all kids. You hurt young adults struggling to figure out their lives. You hurt parents and teachers trying to teach students not to cheer on the bullies.

I’m a fat gay woman living in the Northside. I am your neighbor. I don’t agree with Mayor Peduto that you are our own little Donald Trump, Darlene. I think you are the person who cheers on Trump when he berates other people. You are the person nodding your head and clapping when he says “Lock her up” with regard to another white Democrat woman. You are the person who thinks mocking a journalist about his disability is just a joke.

You are the person who never grew up and will never, ever admit to wrongdoing – no matter whom you hurt. Not if you hurt homeless gay kids, teen-aged girls struggling with eating disorders, or your own constituents. No one matters to you as much as the person giving you praise and attention, people who appreciate you.

You are the person who makes Donald Trump possible.

I used to like you and defend you, Darlene, as a necessary check on the power and influence of the Mayor. I think it is important to have women on City Council and losing Natalia Rudiak’s seat to another white cis het man is a blow for all women. My family has been in Pittsburgh for over 200 years (on the Northside, in fact) so I appreciate the importance of honoring our legacies and traditions, that the old ways of doing things have something to teach us. I still think you have something to teach us.

But if you will not admit your wrongdoing on something so fundamentally unkind as mocking fat people and gay people, I do not believe you have the moral credibility to lead.

Here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like your whipsmart team to put out a statement taking responsibility for your actions and apologizing to the people you targeted. No caveats or ‘sorry if you were offended’ references. A sincere apology.

I’d like you to remove the comment Ms. Noneya posted and create a policy for your page that slurs are not tolerated. People can criticize the Mayor until the end of time, but they don’t need to hurt other folks to do so.

I’d like you to offset the harm you’ve done by doing something positive. Organize a social media training for City Council staff. Invite Dreams of Hope to perform in your district. Participate in an anti-bullying training at Perry or another school.  Show you are the better person you claim to be by demonstrating how a better person responds to reasonable criticism.

LGBTQ folks in your district deserve better, Darlene, especially our young people. Our lives are not fodder for your feud with the Mayor or anyone else.

Now it is up to you to do the right thing.

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  • Wow. Very well said. Darlene is my council person and I am friends with her on Facebook. She has been friendly to me in person, but I often don’t align with her politics. I saw this exchange firsthand, and noticed that she liked the homophobic comment and it really stunned me. Thank you for accurately describing the impact her actions have on the community.

    I want to add that I was equally stunned by her classist comments referring to people who oppose her as being people who are new to the Northside, or renters!! As if either of those groups are less than the people who have lived their lives here.

  • This is a fine article. Ms. Kerr, I am a member of an antiwar group at the Thomas Merton Center. We have met with seven members of Pittsburgh City Council, but Ms. Harris has refused to meet with us. So we are seeking people who live in Harris’ district. I’d like to discuss this with you. We know someone in common: Helen Gerhardt. Helen was on a panel I organized on the US and ISIS. Thank you.

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