For Your Consideration: The Case to Appoint Sue Kerr to Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission

In July 2020, Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved the formation of a new commission focused on the LGBTQ community to replace the current Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee established in 2008 by Mayor Ravenstahl. Commissions serve the City residents, not just advising the Mayor.

This is a change I first proposed in July 2019.

From TheTrib:

Mayor Bill Peduto proposed the creation of an 11-member LGBTQIA+ commission, saying it would help make Pittsburgh a welcoming place for LGBTQIA+ residents and visitors.

The legislation calls on the commission to hold monthly public meetings, conduct studies, seek out best practices and develop advocacy programs to help make Pittsburgh more inclusive and equitable. It’s also designed to serve as liaison between the city and residents, create cultural competency training for city employees and produce annual reports for City Council.

Applications are being accepted here. 

The Commission will

  • Conduct studies and analyses, seek out best practices, and develop action plans to address challenges facing LGBTQIA+ residents and visitors of Pittsburgh.
  • Serve as a conduit between members of the LGBTIQA+ community and the city, and connect residents with services.
  • Engage with members of the LGBTQIA+ community regularly.
  • Work with city departments, bureaus, agencies, and authorities to assist in the creation of cultural competency training opportunities.
  • Conduct outreach to city departments, bureaus, agencies, and authorities and external organizations and provide information and resources pertaining to the needs of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
  • Develop outreach and advocacy programming in an effort to create a more inclusive and equitable city for LGBTQIA+ residents and visitors, especially people of color and transgender individuals.

I’d like to serve on this Commission. I know that I am well-qualified, but I do fear that my reputation as a blogger will be a barrier. So here’s my case for being nominated. I have already applied. But your opinion matters to me. Is this a good step for me? Am I serving the community, being an ally, using my privilege?

There’s something to be said for the historically informed perspective when it comes to growing existing efforts into new heights of power and influence. After all, all that has come before has shaped what we now consider to be ‘progress’ whether for good or bad. In the case of the good, let us preserve and infuse it into the new. In the case of the bad, let us take care to understand mistakes and take heed to avoid repeating them in new and creative ways.

So, you have a blogger with 15 years of archival documentation of municipal politics. Moreover, she has personally paid more attention to the historical and current incarnations of this predecessor to this Commission more closely than any other human being on the face of the earth. Some have paid closer attention for shorter periods of time, but over the long haul – one person, me, likely has been listening and absorbing.

I was there when the founding fathers said (I’m paraphrasing) “trans people aren’t willing to be at this meeting and everyone knows bisexual people don’t exist” as a joke circa 2008 even though seated at the table were persons of both identities. Most of those bi and trans folx have since moved away. I wonder why?

I was there when the second or third incarnation of the group wanted a project to address. So I told them about the then-Pgh-Dyke-March struggling to get permits and police services. They were appalled, they secured the permits and made sure the police were on notice about their expected duties. An important and notable outcome.

I tried to be there to discuss the intersection of the City’s application for the Amazon H2Q facility and the extension of gender confirmation health benefits to City employees. I was banned from further communication as the list grew of former staffers involved in this body politic who treated me with derision and contempt. No one, not even the pastor, apologized to me or made amends, but I’m willing to let it go. And I kept paying attention.

So I have exposure and historical knowledge. What about my education?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Marymount University (c/o 1992) with a minor in Philosophy. I interned on Capitol Hill for six months (bonus points if you can name with whom I interned?) Then I spent three years studying American politics and political theory at LSU. Finally, I was graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a MSW from the School of Social Work, emphasis in Community Organizing under Moe Coleman, Jim Cunningham, Matt Hawkins, and Tracy Soska.

I’ve read the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Federalist Papers many, many times. I roughly knew the storyline of Hamilton and the actual story of Hamilton. I reasonably converse on the three levels of government (local, state, and federal)as well as the three branches of government at each level (executive, legislative, and judicial). I can name my elected officials and generally know how many people represent me where and why. To be fair, judges throw me a bit, but I know how to find the information when needed.

I know where we queer folx have nondiscrimination protections and where we do not. I know who is tracking that and who is not. I know which members of the General Assembly voted to amend the PA Constitution to define marriage and I know how the strategy worked to turn that on its head in 2006.

I understand how the Pennsylvania Constitution constrains local government AND constrains federal government and why that matters. I know the Pittsburgh is designated a second class city and thus cannot just do whatever Philadelphia does.

I know that nominating and endorsing people who worship with homophobes at any level of government is a bad idea for queer people. (Bonus – I’m pretty good at researching candidates.)

My professional experience? I have worked in the following industries – domestic violence shelter; nonprofit coalition work; housing – home ownership, residential programs, poverty law; homeless programs; financial literacy; foster care and child welfare; mental health work. My unpaid work includes food insecurity; reuse/recycling; community development; and public health. Also, I’ve done a lot of drives – toys, clothes, blankets, coats, food, tote bags, gift cards, socks, and face masks. I’ve worked in very rural no-red-light communities, suburbs, and throughout Pittsburgh. I’ve been paid staff, unpaid staff, volunteer, board members AND consumer.

I’ve also moved from crusading social worker as blogger to writer to artist (residency with Most Wanted Fine Art) to columnist with a publication and back to blogger. I’ve built an online archive of hundreds of stories from LGBTQ neighbors (and read each post multiple times.)

As for the blog which is my greatest unpaid effort. I’ve written about so many things – I’ve composed nearly 7,000 posts here and more on other sites. I would never claim to have an all-inclusive or comprehensive view of queer Pittsburgh. But I do believe it is somewhat robust both in terms of time (15+ years) and the topics.

The topics. The blog. The opinions. The comments. The backlash.

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend

Political blogging is not for those who want to build up a fan base or a loyal following. It can be a lonely endeavor that leaves you backed into a corner, holding onto that little shred of truth and sincerity like Linus in the pumpkin patch. It is a training ground for navigating nuanced policy discussions where everyone is certain they are right and determined to slay those who oppose their POV.

Sound like serving on a public commission that will inevitably piss people off, right? You  are accused of doing too much and not enough on every decision.

So I’ve got the education, work experience, and historical knowledge. I’ve lived in the City for 15 years and spent 25 years living in the suburbs (if you are counting, I spent 10 years living in Virginia, Louisiana, and Kentucky.)

I’m also new, so to speak. Too often in Pittsburgh and the region, the same people are always at the table. Some of them are good people with decent intentions and a solid track record, but they are still occupying a seat at the table that could go to someone with a fresh perspective. Some of them have a lot of influence on their City Council rep and the administration and regional LGBTQIA organizations.

I don’t serve on any boards and haven’t for a long time by choice. I’m a bit of an island in that sense. I am not employed by nor tied to any LGBTQIA organization or business.

My greatest weakness is my lack of tact. I can be tactful, but I’d prefer to be compassionate and kind. I’ve blogged about my complicated history with Mayor Peduto. He knows what he is getting with me. I’m flawed, but pragmatic.

If people have power, I am willing to critique their efforts and outcomes. I’ve been rushed out of offices because someone I critiqued was coming into said office. I’ve been accused of every sin, scourge, bias, and ill motive possible over things that I wrote or said. I don’t believe in blind loyalty, fealty, or allegiance.

I don’t work with evil people or those who prop evil regimes. There are plenty of not-evil people with whom I can work. I’d work with Toomey’s office but I’d never talk with KDKA-AM. I’d travel to Cleveland or Philly (if health conditions warrant), but never again to the White House – until the end of January. There’s not much call for these sorts of trips for the lesbian blogger, but I’ve thought about it.

At the same time, I get along with many people because I refuse to play along with some. I have organized multiple community projects reaching across the community. We can talk about tote bags, holiday drives, cat TNR resources, or face masks without being besties.

I am reasonably well-informed on local current events. I read the newspaper and watch local news broadcasts every day. I use Google alerts to follow Pittsburgh themed stories around the world.

I vote.

Mayor Peduto is my partner’s boss – she’s a 20+ year veteran City employee investigating police misconduct. That might be a barrier. She doesn’t think so. I don’t think so. Someone else might not agree.

Would I still blog about the City? Yes, but not about matters before the Commission. Would I still critique the Administration? Yes, but with the same level approach I’ve used for 15 years. Can a blogger serve on a City Commission? I don’t know of any who have.

Have you considered serving? It doesn’t have to be the same players from Delta/COWC/Persad. It doesn’t have to be the same advisors, year after year. It can be you. Your stake in the future of LGBTQIA+ Pittsburgh is important. Apply here.

A few minor, but important things I would want to address:

  • Keeping the website and FB information very current to reflect staffing and commissioner changes.
  • Requiring City staff assigned to this Commission to promptly reply to all inquiries  either themselves or via a Commissioner. Never tell the public “we get too many email messages to answer yours.”
  • Advocating for a “Municipal Government 101” training for the entire Commission so no one is wasting time arguing moot points and everyone is able to effectively resolve issues without constantly contacting Chief of Staff Dan Gilman. Not just “here’s a chart” but an actual training.
  • Best practices. Best practices. Best practices.
  • Cultural competence isn’t just about personal interactions. It is about paperwork, procedures, etc. I suspect the looming budget shortfall will not prioritize this, but it should be possible to update online forms and procedures.
  • Hire LGBTQIA+ folks who are NOT campaign veterans.

I’m a real catch, Mayor Peduto. You should nominate me. And this isn’t the least bit facetious.

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  • Sue, I think it would be unfortunate if the Commission didn’t choose you! You’re passionate about the community, yet reasonable without acquiesce to the majority or status quo. I definitely support your candidacy!

  • Sue, you’d be a fantastic commission member! I’m so glad you applied.

    How do we formally nominate you?

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