Q&A with Laura Pollanen, Candidate for Bellevue Borough Council

 

Laura Pollanen

LGBTQ folx are everywhere, and we’re not going away. By taking office, we can push not just legislation to ensure our legal rights are protected, but also push for normalizing what are seen as LGBTQ+ issues until your LGBTQ+ identity is as unremarkable as your hair color. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean for LGBTQ+ identity to be buried or be seen an unimportant; rather, that it’s just another part of one’s identity, as accepted and celebrated as any other aspect. 

This is the 13th post of our election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.

I connected with Laura after I invited the slate of the NoBo Progressives to participate. They’ve endorsed 25 candidates. Six agreed to the Q&A and five, including Laura, returned it in a timely manner. It is important to know who from the Northern Boros are interested in engaging the LGBTQ community. Hopefully, more of them take an interest in this opportunity.

Laura identifies as a bisexual woman, one of three openly bisexual women running for office this election cycle (all three completed this Q&A) and that’s incredibly exciting. Her ideas on community development, cultivating progressive values, and the importance of political coalitions are blunt and fresh. And note that she repeatedly describes how she is still learning.

Your Name: Laura Pollanen

Your Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

The Office You Seek: Councilperson

How do you describe your identity?

Demographically, I’m an ablebodied cisgender divorced bisexual white woman with mental illness. Beyond that, however, I’m a woman with a passion for serving her community. I’m a woman who is unlearning socially enforced norms and prejudices. I’m a person who wants to see Bellevue stay as welcoming and affordable as I found it. I’m an actress, a performer, a singer, a language learner, and a magician. I’m a huge nerd. My identity is shifting, but one I am building for myself.

Please tell us about an underappreciated or little known asset in your community. 

VIBE is an independently owned smoothie/shake/etc shop that has really, really tasty smoothies that cater to folks who follow all types of diets. I like small businesses that make it a point to reach out to a new client base.

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life?

My sister is a lesbian, so she’s not only the first LGBTQ+ person I met, she’s one of the first persons I met, period! She is an incredible role model. She’s brilliant, talented, beautiful, compassionate, and so funny with such dry humor that I don’t even realize some of her jokes until the next day. I have always tried to live up to the example that she set, and she is the reason I keep pushing myself to do more and more.

Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region.

My personal LGBTQ+ journey was a long one: I didn’t realize I was bi until I was 30, and I didn’t come out until I was 32 or so. Because of that, I missed a lot of the connections that folx make in their teens and twenties. Most of my LGBTQ+ familiarity is friendships with individuals within the community. However, I do know that the SWPA region has a strong LGBTQ+ community with many resources and supports within Pittsburgh. As you move outside the metro area, however, the resources dwindle. There is also an ongoing issue exemplified by the Delta Foundation Pride event and People’s Pride: white, easily-digestible LGBTQ+ folx and corporations cashing in, sometimes in opposition to an intersectional community based in grassroots movements and real, life-saving support.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for Bellevue?

One of my top priorities as a councilmember is to learn more specifically what the wants and needs for the community are. I would like to work directly with our schools and youth to ensure that there are safe, healthy supports for our LGBTQ+ youth, and to make Pride a more visible celebration and local community event.

Please describe the municipal government of Bellevue. What offices are on the ballot in the 2021 Primary? 

Bellevue is a borough governed by a mayor, 9 councilpeople representing the 3 wards. There are several appointed positions, and other elected positions such as auditor, On the ballot will be council member, school board, auditor, and judge.

What is asset-based community development? 

Asset based community development (or ABCD) is the theory that effective community development cannot come from an outside source. The community has a number of resources (“assets”) within itself already, and those assets can and should be leveraged to address the challenges a community faces. ABCD also pushes that any person working for change must listen to the community, trust the community, and work with the community to make change. Community members have the skills and abilities to make the changes they want to see, and an ABCD facilitator’s role is to ease and help navigate that work WITH the community, not to bring in outsiders and use a plan that was developed for someone else.

How has your work with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank prepared you to serve on borough council? What can you do at that level to address food insecurity? 

My entire career has prepared me to serve on borough council! GPCFB is the latest step in a 12 year non-profit career, all of which has been centered on grassroots work and leadership development. On council, I would be able to work directly with the food insecurity organizations in Bellevue and support them from a governmental aspect – for example, grants available to them. I can also promote those organizations to the community, so anyone who has a need is able to access them easily and privately.

You are one of (at least) three openly bisexual women running for local office. We also have a bisexual council member in Etna and a bisexual State Representative. How does so much visibility impact the bisexual and LGBTQIA+ community in general? 

I’m hopeful that with elevated visibility, so will follow elevated support for the community. LGBTQ folx are everywhere, and we’re not going away. By taking office, we can push not just legislation to ensure our legal rights are protected, but also push for normalizing what are seen as LGBTQ+ issues until your LGBTQ+ identity is as unremarkable as your hair color. I want to make it clear that I don’t mean for LGBTQ+ identity to be buried or be seen an unimportant; rather, that it’s just another part of one’s identity, as accepted and celebrated as any other aspect.

You are part of the “NoBo Progressive” slate. Tell us about that coalition and why it matters. 

Change starts at the local level. It starts with individuals. However, the process of running for office takes time, effort, money, and a lot of research done in one’s ‘free’ time. I’ve been active in community work and politics for decades, but I had no idea where to start with regards to running for office, nor did I have enough money to pay for any sort of collateral. A group like NoBo Progressives makes it very easy to get the signatures, turn them in by the right date, fundraise for campaign materials, and are a group of people to lean on for support when campaigning gets overwhelming. Like minded people who want to see the same sort of progress in our neighborhoods are so much more powerful together than as individuals. A coalition like NoBo can effectively organize to support public funding for public schools, calling out and asking for action on bigoted actions by elected or appointed officials, support campaigns all over the district, and more. Working together is the only way we move forward until we become a force.

That slate is very white, with the exception of one candidate that I know of. And his family has been targeted by racist abuse in the past. How do you build a progressive future without BIPOC at the table? 

That’s an excellent question. To give some context, NoBo Progressives is brand new, and all-volunteer. It does not yet have historical evidence of how it has supported BIPOC as candidates. NoBo Progressives also put out a call for applications for endorsement, open to any candidate. I would not expect any BIPOC to actively align themselves with an organization that has not proven it can be a benefit to them. Additionally, NoBo Progressives is aware of how homogenous the slate is this cycle, and is dedicated to listening to BIPOC on what would support for their candidacy would look like. I am hopeful that as NoBo Progressives grows, so will their connection with BIPOC who want to run for office. Additionally, NoBo Progressives is recommending a a number of judges who are Black

Bellevue is known for an emerging progressive base and for a slew of local business owners who are proud Trump supporters. What does this dialectal opposition tell us about the community? 

It tells us that being complacent and thinking that things are fine as they are will lead to harm and violence against marginalized communities. It tells us that, as residents of Bellevue, we have a civic and moral duty to stand up against bigots because otherwise our literal neighbors will suffer. It tells us that it won’t be easy – business owners hold a lot of sway in any small community, and the emerging progressive base wants a thriving business district just as much as anyone else. It also means that we have to look at the processes in place and find out how it happened that there are several business owners who are also Trump supporters. Who has been prevented from being a business owner in Bellevue, and why? Are there barriers in place that would keep out folks who are opposed to Trump’s policies? Is this a result of state and national systemic racism? How do we change this for the future?? It gives us a clear place to start with a clear goal.

In 2015, Bellevue went from a dry community to permitting the sale of alcohol. How has that change impacted the community? 

The change has absolutely encouraged business growth and made Bellevue a more attractive community for people looking to buy a home. Several restaurants opened within the past 5 years, all locally owned, and continue to thrive with community support. When COVID-19 shut down the restaurants, the community immediately scrambled to support the local businesses any way it could. It wasn’t always successful, but the spirit was clear.  It has also meant that Bellevue started to attract flippers and gentrifiers – I’ve heard the phrase “the new Lawrenceville” and “the new Sewickley” several times. We’re at a turning point in the community, and it’s up to the residents and local government to ensure that renters, long time residents, and those with a lower income do not get pushed out in favor of developers. I feel confident that we can do it, but it’s going to take a conscious effort.

Why did you ask me to complete this Q&A? 

I deeply respect the journalism of Pgh Lesbian, and in a time when journalistic integrity is key, I hope to reach people who also respect that legacy.

Tell me about your endorsements and supporters.

I am endorsed by NoBo Progressives. My supporters are my neighbors, my family, my friends, and I hope I can soon count my fellow Bellevue residents in that number after the primary and general election!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you so much for this opportunity! I am always open to talk about community, ABCD, listen to questions and concerns, share pictures of dogs, and play some Dungeons and Dragons if anyone’s interested.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media? How can they donate to your campaign?

Donations can be made through https://www.noboprogressives.com/donate , and my social media is https://www.facebook.com/lauraforbellevue . You can reach me at any time at [email protected] If analog is more your thing, I walk my dog three times a day around Bellevue – just stop me when I’m out!

Thank you, Laura


Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.

  1. Q&A With Bill Peduto, Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh
  2. Q&A With Ed Gainey, Candidate for Mayor City of Pittsburgh
  3. Q&A With Raymond Robinson, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-02-42
  4. Q&A with Bethani Cameron, Candidate for City Council District 4
  5. Q&A with Hilary Wheatley Taylor, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge for District 05-2-19
  6. Q&A with Connor Mulvaney, Candidate for City Council District 4
  7. Q&A with Judge Derwin Rushing, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 5-2-40
  8. Q&A with Alyssa Cowan, Candidate for Court of Common Pleas Judge
  9. Q&A with Anita Prizio, Allegheny County Councilor District 3
  10. Q&A With Tiffany Sizemore, Candidate for Judge, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge
  11. Q&A with Robert Disney, Candidate for Bellevue Borough Council
  12. Q&A with Cheryl Patalano, Candidate for Northgate School Board of Directors
  13. Q&A with Laura Pollanen, Candidate for Bellevue Borough Council

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