c/p at Pam's House Blend

Surprise!  Diane Gramley, self-proclaimed spokesperson of the Pennsylvania hatefest known as the AFA and resident of Venango County, is bringing her show on the road to Allegheny County in Southwestern Pennsylvania to challenge legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of classes including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.  Allegheny County is home to the City of Pittsburgh which already has such protections in place.  Statewide, legislation has been introduced and proponents hope to see movement in late winter/early spring. 

The Allegheny County legislation originally garnered 13 co-sponsors (out of 16 councilpersons), but Gramley's agitation efforts have been successful in driving three co-sponsors to jump ship.  Conventional wisdom is that the three conservative-leaning districits have been targeted by Gramley, but there is still reason to believe that the erstwhile sponsors may in fact vote for the legislation.

 The legislation establishes (and funds) a county Human Relations Commission with a goal to educate business owners, landlords and employers about the legislation and provide recourse and investigation to those who believe they have experienced discrimination. 

Gramley is using the typical weapons of hate:  misinformation and fear.  Her arsenal includes false claims that companies will be "required" to hire gay people (at the expense of good Christians).  She also purports that this threatens this could prevent the Boy Scouts from using government parks and buildings, building on the anger over a situation in Philadelphia wherein the Boy Scouts lost their government-subsidized rental property because of their ongoing discrimination against gay scouts and scout leaders, neatly ignoring all the efforts the Philadelphia elected officials made to minimize the fallout of this on the children themselves.  And, you won't be surprised to read, she brings out the tiresome threats of men invading women's bathrooms to lounge about in women's clothes and terrify the poor hapless Christian women who enter unknowingly. 

In short, Gramley's message is based on ignorance and fear.  But she's effective and not to be underestimated.  She uses email and a daily radio program to drive attention to this very specific issue.  She testifies as an "expert" with no identifiable source material, trying to deflect questions with vague references to health encyclopedias that don't exist to defend her demonization of LGBT people as disease ridden hedonists.  She follows Pennsylvania's Human Relations Commission Chair, Stephen Glassman, like a mutant "fag hag" tramping all over the Commonwealth to challenge him at every turn. 

The best response?  Truth.  During a planning meeting last night focusing on how to connect this ordinance (the public hearing is set for January 15, 2009) with the upcoming national DOMA/Join the Impact rally, I kept flashing back to the film "Milk" and Milk's pleas for gay people to come out and be real and present to everyone in their lives.  Allegheny County is not some backwater movie set filled with unfeeling human beings.  Quite the opposite.  I have found that most people are caring and encouraging and, even when they aren't 100% comfortable with homosexuality, still agree that homosexual people deserve to keep their jobs and live in decent apartments and get a table at Applebees.  These aren't special privileges and when folks know real life people suffering the indignity and dehumanizing impact of these discriminations, they care. 

So the best response is a response laced with truth and honesty.  Let your friends and family and neighbors and coworkers know what is going on and ask them to contact their County Councilmembers with your story and theirs as someone who loves and respects you.  Start talking about those discriminations we've all endured -- I have a 'good story" that was surprise, surprise resolved by a former employer in a positive way, but the resulting cultural shift was minimal.  Still, I was lucky because even though I had to implicate my immediate supervisors for failing to take action, I had a lot of support from my (lawyer) partner and friends.  And there was fallout and I carried some worry with me for the next three years about my job security given that I was now a troublemaker and could be let go at any point because there was no legal protection for me.  It weighed me down and I was really angry for a long time for being the object of a stupid degrading joke. 

So, all you who read this, if you have family and friends in Alllegheny County, Pennsylvania (Go Steelers!), contact them and ask them to make this call today.  Remind Councilman Finnerty, Drozd and Ellenbogen that LGBT people live in their districts, along with people who love them, and ask them to vote for the legislation.  Share your stories.  I have information up here on how to make those contacts and which neighborhoods are part of these council districts.  It doesn't hurt to ask those who live in other districts to call, too, and shore up support by reminding our elected officials that this legislation is about equality of opportunity to employment, housing and public accomodations and fairness for their LGBT voters. 

Diane Gramley is not from Allegheny County.  She doesn't vote here.  She represents some shadow members who can't be bothered to show up to testify themselves.  We need to turn out a good sized contingent of LGBT folks and allies at the public hearing on January 15, 2009 to demonstrate that there are thousands of us living in the County and we won't be silenced by her fear mongering ways. 

This is your "recruitment" moment, folks.  Sure, County Chambers are a long way away especially during rush hour and with all of the parking and what about the kids?  But does the tally for parking, gas and a babysitter (or a favor from a family member to watch them) = the peace of mind of not worrying about someone at work finding out you are a lesbian or being able to get a table at Eat 'n Park regardless of your gender identity?  Bring the kids!  Show the County Council that your family is part of their voting base.  Show them in an up close and personal way the real impact of discrimination on your life. 

Equally important, my friends, is that you show them the positive impact YOU have in their district.  The you work, pay taxes, shop, dine, coach soccer, shovel snow for elderly neighbors, attend worship services, and ... vote.