Pittsburgh will have a lot to celebrate when it holds its annual Pridefest march this weekend -- not least the fact that we helped remove a certain gay-bashing U.S. senator from office in last November's election. Now the Senator Who Shall Not Be Named is the Senator Whose Name We Can Try to Forget.
But in recent months, some of the most notable advances have been the least noticed. And that may be among the best things about them.
Take the absence of truly homophobic legislation coming from Harrisburg these days. Just about this time a year ago, the Republican-controlled legislature was trying to cobble together yet another anti-gay-marriage bill. It was pointless, divisive and mean-spirited -- the stuff conservative coalitions are usually made of. But thanks to reservations from socially tolerant representatives in the Philly suburbs, Republicans couldn't form a consensus even when they had a majority ... and they lost their grip on the state House in November.
Closer to home, as reported in City Paper two weeks ago, when a local mother objected to gay stereotyping in a Kennywood stage show earlier this summer, the park quickly excised the offending material. (The skit originally involved a limp-wristed, lisping character offering to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.) The story touched off a heated debate in the "comments" section of our Web site -- much of it in the "you're-being-intolerant-of-our-right-to-intolerance!" vein. But Kennywood, which prides itself on being "family friendly," quickly chose not to entertain one kind of family at the expense of another.
This past May, meanwhile, the Democratic primary was won by the man who will likely become Pittsburgh's first openly gay city official: Bruce Kraus, in City Council District 3.
Does Kraus' election mean Pittsburgh has suddenly become a beacon of tolerance? Maybe not, since many voters probably voted for a gay candidate without realizing it. Kraus has run for council twice in the past two years, and during that time I've watched him speak at numerous voter forums. The subject has never come up. In the best Pittsburgh tradition, voters focused on getting their frickin' street paved, and doing something about the drunken jagoffs taking a leak in South Side alleyways.
There was some grumbling, from council incumbent Jeff Koch and others that Kraus was trying to have the issue, well, both ways. Kraus' sexuality, they noted, was touted on the Web site of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund -- a Washington, D.C. organization that contributed $2,500 to his campaign. But Kraus' own campaign Web site made no mention of it, relying instead on safer biographical detail like the fact that Kraus' mother "has been a member of Unite Here! Local 57 for over 25 years."
I'll admit that such selective disclosure troubled me a bit, too. But hey, Kraus wouldn't be the first politician to tailor his message for an audience, choosing when to stress some things rather than others. And while taking a $2,500 check may not be a political sacrifice along the lines of "give me liberty or give me death," a lot of politicians would have been afraid to cash it at all. If anything, it's a sign of progress that being gay is now a political asset -- one that can be deployed as smartly as campaign photos of a candidate playing with the kids.
Of course, the right-wingers still have their tactics too, and a lack of genuine issues won't change that. One conservative group, the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, recently denounced Gov. Ed Rendell's budget ... because out of its $27 billion in spending, less than .0001 percent may be spent to help fund an annual "Equality Forum" in Philadelphia. (The group also opposes a state historic marker commemorating gay-rights marches in the city.)
Increasingly, though, those tactics are catching up with conservatives. Ocean levels and crime rates are rising, along with casualties in Iraq. And those families that conservatives were supposed to be protecting? They're being crushed by health-care costs, which have ruined more families than any number of gay couples down the street.
If there's an upside to the mess we're in, it's this: We no longer have the luxury of indulging in our petty hatreds as if they were all that mattered. George W. Bush and his cronies may have been uniters after all, it seems ... allowing us all to take a big step forward.