In honor of Pride Month, the City of Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission crafted an editorial that was published in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Today is June 28, 2022. The first day of the Stonewall Uprising began on June 28, 1969.
I am sharing the entire piece here which is something I would not normally do. But the paywall at the PG might prevent some members of the community from reading the original. If I get dinged for doing this, I may have to take it down. But since I actually wrote this, I hope it is okay.
As a reminder, I was one of the original Commissioners appointed in 2021. I am now serving my second one-year term of co-chair, alongside Marcus Robinson and Sarah Rosso. I am printing this because I wrote it and because it is newsworthy. My personal views on any matter do not reflect the Commission’s stance.
Sue Kerr, Marcus Robinson and Sarah Rosso: The LGBTQIA+ community’s herculean accomplishment
It took a Herculean effort to pass, protect, and expand civil rights in Pittsburgh to the entire LGBTQIA+ community. Understanding our history is not simply a matter of knowing how we got to where we are. It is a key to our resiliency and how much we can accomplish as a community.
In April 1990, Pittsburgh added protections based on sexual orientation to the City’s Human Relations Ordinance. This groundbreaking affirmation of the identities of gay, lesbian, and bisexual residents created solid political and legal rights and changed the structure of local government, after decades of organizing, resistance, and diligent work.
The next year, the protections withstood a proposed ballot referendum after LGBTQ community members spent hundreds of hours inspecting the legitimacy of each petition signature. When they found more than 5,000 invalid or fraudulent signatures, the bigoted referendum was dead.
Fast forward 31 years to March 2021, when a group of 17 city residents convened the first meeting of the Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission. They began the internal organizing work of establishing bylaws, electing officers, and defining goals to lay a firm foundation for this new part of city government.
The Commission had been established in 2020 under then-Mayor Bill Peduto and the City Council to advance communication between the LGBTQIA+ community and city government. (In 2016, then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had formed the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee to guide his administration in matters related to the community.)
The diverse group included community experts in healthcare, education, housing, employment, and aging, as well as representatives from the mayor’s office, City Council, and the Commission on Human Relations. The commission advises city government departments on issues pertaining to Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ community.
The Advisory Committee demonstrated how changing the system from within works when the members of a specific group, informed by the larger community, invest their time, talent, and energy to do so. Similar efforts led to the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression as forms of sex discrimination and the expansion of domestic partner benefits to all city employees.
In a year’s time, the commission has methodically set about creating the foundation for a city institution that cannot be dissolved or erased by political opposition. We’ve put in months of work on bylaws to imbue “queer values” into city government.
Yes, representation matters. Yes, we have standards of conduct. Yes, we strive for transparency. Yes, we have carefully considered how to protect a democratic institution from the undue influence of any one interest. And yes, we have had an impact even in the midst of a pandemic, a change in administration, and political unrest across the nation.
One example is our growing relationship with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the summer of 2021, the Pirates booked country duo Big & Rich to celebrate their return of fans to the PNC Park. Our commission noted that John Rich was virulently anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, anti-vaccine, racist, and held many other beliefs that were a clear threat to our community and Pittsburgh as whole.
We worked with the team to address these concerns and now have quarterly meetings with the Pirates to work for positive impacts on the LGBTQIA+ community. We hope to establish similar relationships with Pittsburgh’s other major league teams.
We also lend our support to issues of community importance brought to us by community members. We weighed in on efforts to create an LGBTQIA+ senior housing development and advocated to the Health Department to allow for gender-neutral bathrooms in the City.
We are working with the City Solicitor’s office to ensure LGBTQIA+ voices are part of the city’s social media moderation policies, and the Office of Permits, Licenses, and Inspection (PLI) to address code issues around an anti-trans billboard posted in a residential area.
Nationally, the LGBTQIA+ community faces increasing threats, many aimed at invalidating our existence. We urge our community and our allies to look back at the accomplishments of everyday residents in times equally troubled and dangerous, when democracy was insecure, and fear ruled people’s hearts and minds. Defending newly won civil rights wasn’t something that happened a long time ago. This example happened just 31 years ago — recent history.
None of that was or is possible without everyday folk bringing issues to our attention and working with us to find solutions. It is the synergy of a group of people that creates change.
The modern equivalent of the community members who gathered in the spring of 1991 to review petition signatures to protect our hard-fought rights might look different now, but it is still critical that we take those actions each day. This Commission provides that momentum.
Sue Kerr, Marcus Robinson, and Sarah Rosso are co-chairs of the Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission. It meets every third Thursday from 5:30 to 7:00 and meetings can be seen on the city’s YouTube channel. Contact the commission at email@example.com.
First Published June 28, 2022, 5:53am
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