The Gay Chat: Here's How It Went
Tonight Ledcat and I scurried home to let the dogs out and head over to Shadyside for an historic meeting -- the first ever LGBT forum sponsored by the Allegheny County Democratic Committee which gave the community an opportunity to speak with endorsed candidates about our issues.
About a dozen endorsed and a few not-so-endorsed candidates turned out and created an interesting mix of mostly white, middle aged heterosexual candidates seeking the LGBT vote. To be fair, the audience was mostly white, middle aged homosexual voters.
I personally want to applaud the candidates who turned out tonight. Being there made a statement about their recognition of the LGBT community even if their responses were not always what we wanted to hear. My biggest criticism is for those who didn't turn out and those who didn't send a surrogate. I don't have to bother asking where you are on LGBT issues if you don't even show up for the conversation.
My second biggest criticism is for the LGBT community. The crowd was about 40 deep including several heterosexuals. I was probably the 2nd or 3rd youngest person there and I'm 36. Where are all the young queer activists -- how on earth could they pass up this chance to ask the questions that are so relevant to their futures? Kudos to Tom Sokolowski for speaking out loud and proud (and in a fabu pair of eyeglasses) but how long can those who forged their activist street cred during the 80s continue to carry us on their backs? This was a missed opportunity for anyone who deems themselves a gay activist and shame on them.
My third biggest criticism goes back to the candidates who did attend. Most of them didn't do their homework. As Tom point out, they would NEVER have shown up at an event for other minority communities without knowing the issues and the data. This was disrespectful to our community. Better to be honest about your lack of awareness than to try and fool us, but there's no excuse for not being prepared. You accepted the invitation to attend a forum; get on the Internet and at least familiarize yourself with our concerns. To walk in not being aware of domestic partnership benefits is inexcusable.
That being said .... here are my impressions of those who attended.
First the moderator. Hugh McGough from the City Solicitor's office did a nice job and was very well prepared on a range of issues.
Michael Lamb, City Controller: Wow. I had no idea how freakin good this guy is and has been for many years. I admit that I just knew him as the progressive guy who wasn't Bill Peduto. I should have made it my business to know more and for that I am sorry. He has a solid history of work on AIDS funding, the legislation to extend civil rights protections to the LGBT community and clearly knows the issues. Wouldn't it be awesome one day to have Lamb as Chief Executive and Peduto as Mayor? Sigh. A girl can dream.
Bill Mullen, County Sheriff: Lives in a land of delusion where there are no problems between law enforcement and the rights of the LGBT community. He served on the Pittsburgh Police Force for a gazillion years and ended up as Deputy Chief but was never aware of issues. No comments on the need for sensitivity training for the sheriffs. Actually no comments at all about LGBT issues, just responses to direct questions. He did say he wouldn't oppose negotiating with the Sheriff's union about domestic partner benefits. He seemed distinctly uncomfortable and had no actual LGBT platform other than a need to secure votes for a tight race. But at least he showed up.
Matt Arena, County Council District 13: Spoke a lot about diversity and not discriminating against people on the basis of religion, ethnicity or "other things." I'm not sure he actually said the word gay out loud. At first, said he would consider extending civil protections and non-discrimination language countywide, but couldn't make a promise. Later Jon Robison from the Gertrude Stein Club asked him to make the pledge to support and he publicly said he would support it.
Rich Fitzgerald, County Council District 11: One of the most thoughtful candidates present, he directly answered each and every question from the crowd relating even tangentially to the county. He stated he has no problems extending civil protections countywide, but acknowledged that winning the necessary votes from other council members would be a challenge. In response to Tony Silvestre's question about issues of human service delivery and health disparities, Fitzgerald offered to set up a meeting with LGBT leaders, himself and Marc Cherna, Director of the Department of Human Services to discuss those concerns.
Arnie Klein, Court of Common Pleas: I liked his sincerity. He made a good case for the importance of experience on the bench and his commitment to be fair. I noticed that he really seemed to be paying attention to the questions, the dialogue and the issues. That impressed me. He's good on gay adoption (and seemingly foster care).
Mike McCarthy, Court of Common Pleas: Best quote of the evening "If I weren't here, I wouldn't deserve your vote." Very down to earth and seemingly good on LGBT issues. Again, very good on gay adoption and gay parenting. Something about this guy really struck me and he's a white middle class heterosexual man. So I guess I can be open minded :-)
Jack McVay, Court of Common Pleas: This guy must be impressive because he's snagged just about every endorsement possible. He talked being fair, supportive of gay adoption and looked for opportunities as a judge to be proactive.
Len Bodack, City Council District 7: I have to give this guy props for having cohones. He showed up at an LGBT forum and admitted he's not in favor of gay marriage because of his religion (Catholic). I think it was Tom that made the comment that Len did everything but show us his baptismal certificate to demonstrate how Catholic he was. Then he left early.
Sherry Hazuda, School Board District 6: She spoke about GLSEN as a "wonderful organization" and said she's in favor of using GLSEN to help kids get through school mentally healthy. She is in favor of domestic partnership benefits for school employees. Seemed very enthusiastic and interested in learning.
Stephanie Tecza, School Board District 12: She was direct with regard to LGBT issues "It is all new to me." Has no problem with domestic partner benefits.
Doug Shields, City Council District 5: After a very awkward interlude with the moderator about speaking for his endorsed office versus the other office for which he was not endorsed (Controller), Doug made a nice speech about his long history of civil rights work. What I didn't hear were any new proposals to move the city forward with regard to LGBT civil rights and that disappoints coming from someone who is a strong ally.
Then there were the surrogates. Again, at least the campaigns sent some folks.
Dan Onorato: Said Dan favors extending nondiscrimination protections. In his Steel-City questionnaire, Onorato said he's in favor of domestic partnership benefits if the budget allows. When he was called on that, the surrogate got a bit snotty and defensive. Did he really expect a crowd filled with domestic partners and tax payers were going to just let that fly? I asked a follow up question and he looked none too pleased.
Luke Ravenstahl: Ok, this was weird. The guy he sent was nice enough, but showed up in jeans and a half tucked shirt -- and not in a good way. He commented that Luke courts the bar owners vote. He had no new policies or ideas to speak of. I went up to the guy later and asked if Luke would be at PrideFest -- according to the organizers, he is supposed to be. The surrogate had no idea but said he would pass the suggestion along. Why would you send a surrogate who wouldn't know your plans to attend the largest LGBT gathering in the region? Who was this guy? I have to admit I advised him that Yarone should tone down the gay panic comments if he wants real support from anyone who doesn't own a bar.
Judge Debra Todd, Supreme Court: This is the woman who wrote an opinion on the Superior Court dissenting from the decision against same sex adoption. Her dissent paved the way for the Supreme Court to overturn that decision and rule in favor of same sex adoption. That's good for me.
Wrenna Watson , Common Pleas: The strangest surrogate testimony "She's very sweet." especially coming from someone who took pride in being the first woman in her position. No man running for office would ever want to be described as sweet. She also praised her for being orderly. It was more like an endorsement for Miss Congeniality than anything else. Very strange.
Outcomes to note:
Rich Fitzgerald: committed to schedule a sit down with Marc Cherna to discuss LGBT issues. committed to work on extending civil rights protections to the county and working with progressive Republicans to make it happen.
Michael Lamb: committed to training school principles on LGBT student issues. committed to keeping domestic partner benefits for city employees impacted by any further mergers of city and county offices.
Matt Arena: committed to support extending civil rights protections to the county if the legislation is introduced.
Here's who didn't show up or send a surrogate:
Darlene Harris - City Council District 1
Jeffrey Koch - City Council District 3
Ricky Burgess - City Council District 9
William Isler - School Board District 4
Mark Brentley - School Board District 8
Oscar Petite - District Judge
Seamus McCaffery - Supreme Court
John Milton Younge - Superior Court
Ron Folino - Superior Court
Mark Flaherty - County Controller
Stephen Zappala - District Attorney
John Weinstein - County Treasurer
John DeFazio - County Council at Large
John Palmiere - County Council District 6
Nick Futules - County Council District 7
Bob Macey - County Council District 9
Bill Robinson - County Council District 10
Jim Ellenboren - County Council District 12
Susan Evashavik - District Judge
Eugene Riazzi - District Judge
Richard Olasz Jr - District Judge
Pat Capolupo - District Judge
Beth Scagline-Mills - District Judge
Anthony Saveikis - District Judge
Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.