One item the kid’s proclamation mentions is the challenge of housing affordability and security in the trans community. While this is a big problem across the city and its communities, there are some housing forms that are more affordable and appealing for youth. Other cities have created programs like host homes, boarding houses with meal service, and transitional housing with 24/7 supportive services. They are finding that adding these alternatives models can be a lifeline for some of their residents. We are learning a lot in Pittsburgh about what supportive and alternative housing models look like.
Our next post of our 2023 primary 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. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
I first met Deb Gross during her 2015 campaign. The first time I had a chance to really talk with her was during a social outing, but we ended up in a deep discussion about childcare and foster care and so forth. Deb has always struck me as someone who consistently wants to improve life in Pittsburgh, not afraid to acknowledge our deep challenges or speak up about them. She is also capable of juggling multiple big issues because she see’s how the dots connect. Deb is one of four women currently serving on City Council, a record breaking change in the way things get done. They are not a uniform block of voters, but four independent women who take their work seriously and demonstrate the possibilities of an increasingly representative forms of government.
Your Name: Deb Gross
Your Pronouns: she/her
The Office You Seek: Pittsburgh City Council District 7
How do you describe your identity? Straight cisgender white woman
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? While maybe not so hidden, the businesses on Bryant Street in my home neighborhood of Highland Park are certainly worth a visit
How has redistricting impacted your district? Because my district gained population, during redistricting we lost geographic area. Because of this, the Strip District is no longer in District 7.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine.
In 1986, I was in college and was an active member of the campus NOW chapter. There were only five of us in the chapter, including me and a Cuban immigrant, who was also a lesbian.This was during the the peak of the feminist backlash, and these were dark days for LGBTQ rights. We were struggling to remain an approved student organization on campus and were organizing a feminist and gay-friendly independent film festival. We successfully asked bands to volunteer for a fundraising concert, and succeeded in recruiting many members to the chapter, securing the organization for a few more years.
How has your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region changed since you took office?
Being in the role of Council person, you hear more detail about people’s frustrations, but also more detail about policies and programs that would help the community. Some of these I talk about in more detail below. I have been privileged to hear from LGBTQ leaders talk about elder care and senior housing; I have supported organizations that are providing meals and meal boxes during quarantine; worked with LGBTQ business owners; helped assist residents who were denied parking passes as a same sex married couple; and even spoken at memorials for victims of homicide. This Council district is fortunate to have LGBTQ friendly spaces and a large, diverse, LGBTQ community.
Primaries allow candidates another way to introduce themselves to new community members. Competitive primaries also allow voters to check in with their elected officials and make sure their priorities are still aligned. As I mentioned above, my policy work comes from listening to residents and working together to think through solutions.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the City Council? How will you respond to those priorities?
The LGBTQ+ community in my district has a diverse range of needs, and I believe it is my role to listen and center their voices when determining legislative priorities. Many of the top issues I work on, like care work, housing, food security and mobility, disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community and I will always do my best to approach these issues with an intersectional lens to make sure we’re lifting up those who have systematically been disadvantaged the most. Fighting against gentrification, fighting for food security, fighting for workers rights has meant fighting right alongside my LGBTQ constituents. Everyone should feel safe in their neighborhoods, and there is no place for any type of hate speech or discrimination in District 7. For the last five years or so, I have actively aggregated instances of hate crimes and threats in the neighborhoods I represent, including geotags and photo images of graffiti and report them to the FBI. Hate speech and hate crimes are often geographically clustered and can help in identifying the actors.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work.
In my 2019 survey I wrote about my awareness of the historic failure of white feminists (like me) to view progress, equity, and inclusion through an intersectional lens. 4 years later, this is something I still work on daily. I am actively listening and learning and trying to ensure that I uplift the voices of the most marginalized members of my district and my city, and understand the ways intersections impact everyday issues like affordable housing, public education, public accommodations, safe water and clean air, and more. Because we know that in the City of Pittsburgh seventy percent of our most needy households are female-headed households with children in the home, I have focused on affordability that affects those households the most: housing, child care, food, mobility, utilities and also on worker’s rights and wage security.I am particularly committed to exposing and addressing environmental racism. One example of this was my work prioritizing lead line replacements. We can see the devastating effects of environmental racism in the map of blood-lead-levels in children (map is available at http://www.cmucreatelab.org). This is an extreme injustice. At PWSA, as a board member during the lead crisis, I pushed for doing full lead line replacement, not partial. Then, I pushed for PWSA to start line replacements with the lowest income neighborhoods that had the highest concentrations of children and the density of lead lines. That is what we did.
Please give an example of when another Council member has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue.
While on City Council, I have sometimes been the sole voice in support or opposition of legislation or budget priorities. And yet, I continue to partner with those colleagues on issues that we have in common. To be able to get work done with colleagues who I don’t always agree with, I always listen to their point of view. At the end of the day, we are all trying to make a more livable city for our constituents, and there is certainly no one right way to do that.
I have to say I was shocked to read media and progressive saying a 56-year-old woman should make way for younger male voices, to bring “fresh perspectives” to Council. Having four women out of nine total councilors is a huge fresh perspective that just happened three months ago, it is unprecedented much like the significant number of women and queer folx we’ve elected to Harrisburg in the past few cycles or sending Summer Lee and John Fetterman to Washington DC. Ed Gainey is 52, Jake Wheatley is 52, I never heard anyone saying their age impacted their perspective in a non-progressive way. What do you make of these gender and age assessments?
I am disappointed in this narrative. I hope voters will look beyond it and take into account the work I’ve done in my previous terms when making their decision on May 16th.
Almost any time I’ve spoken with you about anything policy related, you mention childcare. Why is childcare policy so important to you? What is your vision for the City to improve childcare policy?
Thank you so much for noticing and for bringing up child care! The better question might be, why isn’t it more important to every policy maker in Pittsburgh? Of households in poverty in the City of Pittsburgh, 70% are female-headed households with children in the home. Seventy percent. Their top cost burdens? Housing and child care. Even more, we know that child care is a problem for households at every income level. Let’s make policy for the Pittsburgh of today and not the Pittsburgh of yesterday. Let’s help our citizens succeed and let’s invest our energy and efforts in making a real difference. Childcare is a vital part of our social infrastructure. Families deserve safe, affordable child care. This is something that I have worked on in various capacities for many years. It is at the top of my legislative agenda to further this discussion and work with the Gainey administration to subsidize and expand child care capacity in the city. While at City Council, I have been able to allocate and leverage nearly $4 million dollars that has deployed over the last three years to support locally-owned women and minority owned childcare micro-businesses. Early results show that these investments have helped increase employee wages and increase the availability of safe, affordable child care.
Care work is work. If we get good as a City supporting child care businesses and workers, we can also tackle elder care, disability care, and other vital sectors.
Many of the top issues I work on, like care work, housing, food security and mobility, disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community and I will always do my best to approach these issues with an intersectional lens to make sure we’re lifting up those who have systematically been disadvantaged the most.
Your legislative accomplishments just this year are robust – deescalation/NARCAN training for retail and food service workers, expanding public trails, advocating for more electric vehicles in the City fleet, a food justice fund, expanding green spaces, youth sports resources to name a few. How do you maintain this level of productivity?
My work is informed by co-governance. There are so many active community groups in every neighborhood of my district. There truly is a leader on every block. Maintaining strong relationships with my constituents helps me prioritize their needs. I also have a fantastic office staff who are all equally dedicated to working to improve District 7.
When Bruce Kraus leaves office, there will be no out LGBTQ members of Council, depending on this election cycle results. That’s a significant loss for our community in terms of representation. Does it matter for a City like Pittsburgh to have a Council that’s entirely cisgender and heterosexual?
It does matter, City Council should be representative of who we are as a city. I commit to working closely with our LGBTQIA Commissioners to be sure that Council works in partnership with the communities priorities and advance LGBTQ leadership.
In September 2022, City Council recognized the first ‘Protect Trans Kids’ Day in Pittsburgh with a proclamation written by trans teens. Please review the proclamation and offer some concrete policy or program solution you would consider championing in response to their priorities.
I am proud that Council has passed more than ten proclamations and Wills of Council in support of transgender people in my time on Council. In December 2018 I introduced a Will of Council denouncing the Trump Administration’s attacks on the rights and humanity of transgender people and was pleased it passed unanimously (link to Gross’ 2018 Will of Council).
Concrete policies and programs are even better than proclamations. Council has allocated funds for aligning housing policies to be nondiscriminatory. I have advocated for increased funding for our Commission on Human Relations which investigates violations of both federal civil rights and local protections.
One item the kid’s proclamation mentions is the challenge of housing affordability and security in the trans community. While this is a big problem across the city and its communities, there are some housing forms that are more affordable and appealing for youth. Other cities have created programs like host homes, boarding houses with meal service, and transitional housing with 24/7 supportive services. They are finding that adding these alternatives models can be a lifeline for some of their residents. We are learning a lot in Pittsburgh about what supportive and alternative housing models look like. I will work with the LBTQ commission and stakeholders to see what kinds of alternative models in our housing mix are right for Pittsburgh.
I like the specific suggestion from the kids’ proclamation to make safe bathrooms and locker rooms. I can explore whether the City would have any authority over bathrooms in businesses. I can advocate to the Pittsburgh Public School systems to have safe bathrooms. I can also ask for an evaluation of City facilities, especially facilities that have kids, on the safety of bathrooms and other spaces. Thanks to these great teen-leaders for the suggestions.
Potential mergers or collaborations with the County creates a dilemma for City employees who would lose access to domestic partner benefits. The County briefly offered them to same sex, non-unionized employees before rescinding them in 2015. The City offers domestic partner benefits to all employees. The former City 911 employees lost this benefit when merged with the County 911 Department. Would you commit publicly to require any potential partner for mergers and consolidations to ensure City employees do not lose benefits?
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Competitive primaries give candidates the opportunity to check in with their constituents. I honestly enjoy knocking on doors and talking with residents. People are generally happy to talk to their Council representative, and I am happy to hear what they have to say. Primaries allow candidates another way to introduce themselves to new community members. Competitive primaries also allow voters to check in with their elected officials and make sure their priorities are still aligned. As I mentioned above, my policy work comes from listening to residents and working together to think through solutions.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
1) Keeping our public assets and utilities public: Utilities are basic public goods. Paying for heat, or water, or internet should not be a burden on any household. Our local government has the right and the responsibility to provide for us. I fought hard for two years against the privatization of PWSA. I made public statements against every move the privatizers made, from decrying the Peduto “Blue Ribbon Panel”, to out of town consultants, to working with the Our Water Campaign on strategy and communications, to voting and press releases. Today, PWSA has stayed public, replaced 10,000 lead water service lines, and expanded public jobs.
We should be vigilant and have vigorous debate about operations as well as assets. Our city parks are a free and fundamental public good that is important for our bodies and our minds, but other cities have run into problems when they outsourced the management and employees to private groups. That is why I organized to keep management of our parks in the public sector.
2) Food is Too Damn Expensive (and hard to get): Food is a basic human right. I have held multiple post agendas over the years to bring awareness to our local food system and food insecurity. My staff and I have been demonstrating that the City can and should support more food production in the city. I call it City Farms, because I believe the City should proactively support all urban agriculture to help all gardens, farms, and even backyard gardens succeed. I have used City dollars to purchase compost, fencing, seedlings, and saplings for community collective gardens. But we need to invest also in food processing, distribution, and retailing. Increasingly, food activists are talking about food apartheid. Recently, I worked with community members to divert ARPA funding to create a $3 million Food Justice Fund.
3) The Rent is Too Damn High: Housing is a human right and Pittsburgh can and must do better to provide housing. The main threat is the control of housing by private market profiteers, especially the large investment trusts and private equity. We must use every tool that we can to ensure the right to housing. We can create social housing and cooperatively owned housing so you can live securely and build wealth
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
I am endorsed by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Pittsburgh DSA, PA Working Families Party, Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh, the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council, PFT, and SEIU32BJ. I am continuing to seek endorsements from mission aligned organizations.
Care work is work. If we get good as a City supporting child care businesses and workers, we can also tackle elder care, disability care, and other vital sectors.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Facebook: Deb Gross for Council
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
- Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Lita Brillman, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Kate Lovelace, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Valerie Fleisher, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Barb Warwick, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Nerissa Galt, Candidate for PENNCREST School Board
- Q&A with Todd Hoffman, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Dan Grzybek, Candidate for Allegheny County Council, District 5
- Q&A with Khari Mosley, Candidate for City Council, District 9
- Q&A with Alexandra Hunt, Candidate for Philadelphia City Controller
- Q&A with Deb Gross, Candidate for City Council, District 7
For 18+ years, snowflakes, social justice warriors, and the politically correct have built this blog. Follow us on Twitter @Pghlesbian24
We need your ongoing support to maintain this archive and continue the work. Please consider becoming a patron of this blog with a recurring monthly donation or make a one-time donation.
This post and/or others may contain affiliate links. Your purchase through these links support our work. You are under no obligation to make a purchase.