LGBTQ | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Posted By on Tue, May 30, 2017 at 2:34 PM

click to enlarge The transgender flag - PHOTO COURTESY WIKI COMMONS
Photo courtesy Wiki Commons
The transgender flag
Scores of political pundits, media personalities and even comedians have commented on how quickly transgender individuals have been accepted into mainstream society. And while the perception of acceptance might be growing with trans individuals like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox emerging into the celebrity spotlight, a new nationwide survey shows the average trans person is far from receiving equal treatment in the U.S.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, released this month, showcases how trans individuals face significantly higher rates of poverty, unemployment and workplace discrimination nationwide. The survey received responses from 1,171 trans individuals in Pennsylvania, and asked them questions about their work status, housing situation, education and restroom access.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 3:37 PM

click to enlarge Marchers in EQT shirts at last year's Pride Parade - CP PHOTO BY JOHN COLOMBO
CP photo by John Colombo
Marchers in EQT shirts at last year's Pride Parade
In January, LGBT nonprofit the Delta Foundation announced this year's LGBT Pride Parade in Pittsburgh on June 11 would be renamed the EQT Equality March.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the new name drew backlash from some in the LGBT community who are concerned about corporate involvement in LGBT activities. And now, a counter LGBT group has announced they're hosting a separate march that day.

"Pride has historically been about resisting. It's about bringing visibility to a marginalized community," says Ciora Thomas, leader of SisTers PGH, a LGBT organization helping to organize the counter march. "That's the history of Pride. We trying to carry on that legacy."

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 5:19 PM

click to enlarge Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) - PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair)
When President Barack Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning this week, a predictably polarizing media storm followed. Many on the left praised the president, while many on the right condemned him. Manning was convicted of espionage and theft charges in 2013 for her role in leaking classified U.S. military information to Wikileaks, however some believed her actions caused no real harm and she was merely acting as a whistle blower. Manning is a transgender woman who has been held in a men’s federal prison since her conviction and, according to her lawyer, has attempted to commit suicide twice while in prison.

And Southwestern Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair), like many Republicans is upset Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, citing the setting of dangerous precedent.

“Three days before he leaves office, our Commander in Chief just set a tremendously dangerous precedent. Commuting the prison sentence of Bradley (Chelsea) Manning signals in no uncertain terms that protecting classified materials, military secrets and diplomatic documents is not a national priority," said Murphy in a statement. "In fact, his actions may have actually cost lives of those who help our nation in the fight against terrorism. Yet, one of the President’s final actions is to reward Manning’s treachery.”

And while Murphy is entitled to his opinion on governing and national security, it is how he addressed Manning that is upsetting the LGBT community. Murphy refers to Manning as “Bradley (Chelsea) Manning” twice in the press release and uses the male pronoun “his” when describing her.

Ted Martin, director of statewide LGBT-advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, says Murphy should think harder about how he refers to transgender people and not “misgender them” because his profile can create a bad precedent for how his constituents should treat transgender individuals.

“It’s a really unfortunate choice of language for the congressman,” says Martin. “For people in his position, he should really think about how he refers to people in the transgender community. Some people can take the leap to treat other people with respect; it is not hard.”

A 2014 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. Transgender people report higher rates of bullying in schools and still face large stigmas from society overall.

Carly Atchison, press secretary for Murphy, offered a no comment to City Paper for this story.

Manning said in an article in The Guardian, that her first public appearance as a woman was in February 2010, and she said “I’d long known I was a woman” before that public appearance. Manning leaked documents in January 2010 and has served seven of her 35-year sentence (significantly longer than similar convictions in recent years). Manning will be released in May.

However, those looking closely at Murphy’s LGBT-related record would hardly be shocked that he would choose to use language insensitive to the LGBT community. Murphy voted against a federal bill to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation; he voted for defining marriage between only a man and a woman; and he voted for a same-sex marriage ban.

During his entire 14-year tenure in congress, Murphy has never received higher than a 0 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaigned scorecard, which rates U.S. senators and reps on their LGBT-related votes and stances. (BTW, many other Pennsylvania Republicans have received higher than a 0 rating over the years.)

Additionally, both Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) issued statements deriding the President's decision without referring to Manning by her dead name or using male pronouns.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Nov 29, 2016 at 1:45 PM

click to enlarge Pittsburgh City Councilors Dan Gilman (right) and Bruce Kraus (background) - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
CP photo by Ryan Deto
Pittsburgh City Councilors Dan Gilman (right) and Bruce Kraus (background)
When Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, the city’s first openly gay politician, was in third grade he says his parents were “struggling to understand who and what I was,” in terms of his sexual identity.

“Even I didn’t know, I only knew that I was different,” says Kraus. “I do remember my parents seeking medical attention to help them understand who and what I was, and help me understand who and what I was.”

Kraus says it never went as far as his parents sending him to “conversion therapy,” the practice of using therapy or spiritual healing to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to straight, but he fears that people and families are vulnerable to this practice.

So, today Kraus and City Councilor Dan Gilman introduced an ordinance to ban conversion therapy on minors within Pittsburgh city limits.

“The City of Pittsburgh bears the responsibility to protect all of its residents and this legislation defends LGBTQIA+ youth against the destructive psychological and physical impact of forced conversion therapy,” said Gilman in a press release. “By passing this legislation, the City is standing up for equality and ensuring that Pittsburgh is a welcoming city for all.”

Kraus says he wanted to introduce this legislation now because of articles detailing the LGBT-related positions of some of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet members “absolutely terrified” him. (Vice President-elect Mike Pence supported government-funded conversion therapy while serving in Congress in 2000, and has not disavowed that support.)

“One of the things that scares me about this public acclimation of the possible appointees of the new administration would be to redirect funding from HIV patients in critical need, and take that money and redirect it into conversion therapy,” says Kraus. “I find this to be Neanderthalic in thought.”

(In a boon to advocates for HIV treatment, today Pittsburgh City Council also passed unanimously a will of council that urges all doctors to test for HIV during all routine visits.)

Kraus says that support of conversion therapy from the Trump administration might give support to homophobes and others who attack LGBT people, such as how Trump’s victory emboldened some to bully and harass minorities, refugees and immigrants. Kraus says this legislation is a call to the LGBT and their allies that Pittsburgh is a safe place for them.

Six states, including California, Illinois and New Jersey, have passed conversion-therapy bans for minors. In the last year, other cities have followed suit, like Cincinnati, Miami Beach and Seattle. Kraus says that Pittsburgh has always been a leader in protecting LGBT-rights and says he expects “full support from council” on the passage of the bill.

Kraus adds that he has conferred with legal council and believes the ordinance will hold up, if challenged in court.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 2:14 PM

Image courtesy of Human Rights Campaign
Last week, an employee at one of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s golf courses filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired because he is gay. Eleazar Andres says in the lawsuit that shortly after he revealed he was gay to his co-workers at Trump’s Pine Hill golf course in New Jersey, several of his co-workers threw rocks and golf balls and yelled gay slurs at him. Andres filed a police report, and said in the lawsuit that he was fired shortly after.

Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus (D-South Side), the city’s first openly gay politician, spoke out last week against the alleged misdeed, calling for more protection for LGBT people.

"In too many places in our country, you can get married on a Sunday and fired on a Monday. No one should suffer harassment because of who they are or who they love — not from Donald Trump or anyone else,” said Kraus in a press release. “This is just another example of the discrimination that LGBT Americans still face far too often.”

Levana Layendecker, of statewide LGBT-advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania, says stories like the lawsuit point to the Republican candidate’s inconsistent record on LGBT equality. In April, Trump said transgender people could use whatever bathroom they felt most comfortable in, but a month later said the decision should be left up to state legislators.

But Layendecker says Trump’s choice as a running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, set in stone that the Republican ticket is anti-LGBT.

“Mike Pence is absolutely the most anti-LGBT governor in country,” says Layendecker. “If that is any indication of what we are looking forward to in Trump’s America, then we are worried.”

Pence has supported “religious freedom” laws that LGBT groups say would increase discrimination and has opposed laws that prohibit LGBT discrimination in the workplace. Layendecker also worries that Trump’s calls to Pennsylvanians to monitor the polls, will only increase voter intimidation, that many in the LGBT community already feel.

“Voter intimidation is very real in the LGBT community,” says Layendecker. “People in the LGBT community are targets for bullying in a real way. And the idea that someone would stand in front of the polling place and intimidate people, that is very worrisome.”

But Layendecker says this has only re-ignited Equality Pennsylvania’s push for equal rights for LGBT individuals. The group has knocked on 100,000 doors (and plans to knock on 100,000 more) to inform people of the potential trouble of the Trump-Pence ticket, and also to talk about its ongoing fight to pass the PA Fairness Act. The bill would provide statewide housing and workplace protections for LGBT people. (Thirty-six municipalities offer protection, including Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, but outside of those, it’s still legal to fire someone for identifying as LGBT.)

Last week, Pennsylvania’s state assembly failed again to pass the act through the legislature. For 12 years, Equality Pennsylvania has been trying to get the Fairness Act through, and this year there was some progress. The act was voted out of committee in the state Senate, but was held up after two Republican Senators called for public hearings on the bill. Now the bill will have to start the process over again come the new year.

Gov. Wolf has pledged to sign the bill if it comes to his desk, and polling completed by Equality Pennsylvania shows that 75 percent of Pennsylvanians support the bill. Layendecker says it’s just a matter of educating everyone, so the whole state can advocate for LGBT rights.

“So much progress has been made on LGBT rights, we have to go back and remind people that those protections don’t exist here,” says Layendecker. “People can’t believe that it hasn't already happened.”

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:55 AM

Ball on the Bridge, an event highlighting ball culture and the need for improved health-care services for Pittsburgh’s LGBT community, took place on the Andy Warhol Bridge Saturday night. The event had 28 competition categories on the bridge, which was closed down to traffic. The sidewalks remained open and passersby were encouraged to take in the action.

“We want to see you up here on this stage!” the MC hollered to those who stopped to watch. 

Ball on the Bridge, which the Delta Foundation helped to organize, was meant to “bridge the gap” of health-care access for members of the LGBT community. Dalen Hooks, a longtime participant of the Pittsburgh ball scene and the main organizer of the night, told City Paper’s event preview.

“One of the perks of having this outside is [that] it is taking something that it is underground and making it mainstream,” Hooks told CP.

The night also brought a sense of community. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, greeting each other with hugs and kisses. Check out our highlights from the event below.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 2:25 PM

Last week, City Paper wrote about the issues surrounding LGBT residents in the Pittsburgh area receiving adequate health care. Jason Herring, of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, said stigmas still exist that cause gay, trans and bisexual patients to feel uncomfortable asking doctors for the treatment they need, and that doctors also need educated on how to properly respond when LGBT-specific request are made.

Health-care companies Highmark and Allegheny Health Network are hosting an event that hopes to address these issues. Highmark has hosted “Meet Dr. Right” events before, where potential patients can meet and talk with doctors in a public setting, but internal-medicine specialist Brian Lamb of AHN says this is the first event geared toward a specific community.

“It’s notorious that the LGBT community doesn’t always get the care that they deserve,” says Lamb. “Health care should not just be found in specific clinics. They deserve a family doctor that knows them.”

On June 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., LGBT-friendly doctors will be accepting new patients at the Highmark auditorium on 501 Penn Ave. (second floor), Downtown. The event will also feature information on health, dental and vision insurance. Local LGBT organizations will be on hand, and attendees can make appointments with physicians on the spot.

“Our goal with this event is to let everyone know that there are resources and options available for health care right here in Pittsburgh for LGBT individuals,” said Rhonda Moore Johnson, senior medical director of Health Equity and Quality Services for Highmark, in a press release. “Bringing that information together in one place is a great opportunity for LGBT individuals and their friends and family to learn more about living a healthier life.”

People interested in attending the event can register in advance at

Also, the upcoming Ball on the Bridge will be highlighting the need to improve health-care access for the LGBT community. The ball will be held on the Andy Warhol Bridge, from 8 p.m. to midnight, Sat., June 18. Central Outreach Wellness Center will have its mobile medical center onsite and will be providing free check-ups. 

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 4:14 PM

While openness toward the LGBT community has improved in Allegheny County over the years, urban Pennsylvanians sometimes forget there are many other places throughout the state that don’t share Pittsburgh’s pride. (Only Erie and Allegheny counties provide legal protections for LGBT job- and home-seekers in Western Pennsylvania, after all.)

click to enlarge Copies of the AMPLIFY zine - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
Photo by Ryan Deto
Copies of the AMPLIFY zine
To that end, advocate and blogger Sue Kerr has chosen to amplify unheard voices in hopes that those LGBT people living in less-friendly communities don’t feel marginalized. Started in 2015 as part of her artist-in-residency with Garfield’s Most Wanted Fine Art, AMPLIFY blog documents the experiences of LGBT people with ties to 18 Western Pennsylvania counties and has already told the stories of about 150 individuals.

Now Kerr is hoping to spread awareness of her project with a print zine that has been distributed regionally . “The zine was part of the plan all along,” says Kerr. “We wanted to provide something tangible. Then when people have safe access to the internet, they can explore [the blog] further.”

The first issue of AMPLIFY includes 11 stories, taken from her blog, that cover a wide range of different LGBT experiences. Kerr plans to print four issues a year and hopes to focus on certain groups, like pansexuals or bisexuals, in upcoming editions. She also hopes to eventually distribute the zine to all 26 Western Pennsylvania counties.

So far, the project has proved popular. According to Kerr, the first 500 copies of the zine were distributed in 12 days, and the Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom has requested an additional 350 copies. A grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation helped Kerr expand her AMPLIFY project, but she says that additionally funding must be sought to print more copies of the zine. (Those interesting in donating can visit the crowdfunding page here.)

Kerr says that some LGBT residents in rural counties are a bit more hesitant of online technology, and so she hopes the zine will provide another avenue for those in the community to tell their stories.

“There is a thirst for print,” says Kerr. “Many people would rather fill out [their story forms] on paper.” 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 11:42 AM

Photo courtesy of Becky Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons
The 2016 Pride in the Street headliners have been announced, and they are a stark contrast from last year’s Iggy Azalea debacle. Azalea had used what some consider racist and homophobic language on social media in the past, and protest erupted over the 2015 announcement that she would be headlining Pittsburgh largest LGBT pride event.

While on the surface, the controversy seemed to be about  Azalea's selection, the issues went deeper. (Azalea dropped out because of the protests and was eventually replaced by Nick Jonas.) Many local LGBT groups criticized the Delta Foundation, Pride’s organizers, for operating on behalf of one segment of the community — namely white, gay males — and not including all of the individuals who make up the community.

This year Kesha and African-American rapper Angel Haze were selected. According to a press release from Delta, “Kesha has used her music to bring attention to the bullying and harassment that many LGBT people continue to face.” The release also states that Kesha has recently been awarded the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, which is given to high profile individuals who use their platform to advance and advocate for the LGBT movement.

“Kesha has used her influence and international platform to bring attention to the challenges faced by women and the LGBT community,” said Delta president Gary Van Horn in the press release. “We are thrilled to bring her to Pride in the Street this year, and we know that Pittsburgh’s LGBT community and allies will be excited to welcome her.”

Haze, who identifies as pansexual and agender (having no gender) has also recently been recognized by an LGBT organization when they were nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for their record “Dirty Gold.” (GLAAD, which stands for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is an LGBT rights group focused on the media.) 

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN FOYLE
Photo courtesy of Shawn Foyle
IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt
This week City Paper reported about the apparent lack of progress with the Delta Foundation since the protests at Pittsburgh Pride by smaller, local LGBT groups. Protests were sparked by the selection of Iggy Azalea as headliner (the rapper had a history on social media of making comments that many felt were racist or homophobic), but protesters felt the issues went beyond that (Azelea later dropped out and was replaced by Nick Jonas). Demonstrators demanded more inclusive practices at Delta, particularly the participation of trans and people of color in Pride.

But another, less-reported group also engaged in the protests, calling out Delta for another issue: the exclusion of union stagehands at Delta events, particularly Pride.

Shawn Foyle of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 3 says he has been reaching out to Delta for years trying to convince them to hire union stagehands for their events. Foyle says that union stagehands should be considered for Pride because it is a large event held on public land and because labor unions have historically been allies to LGBT organizations.

Foyle says that despite a “cordial” meeting in April 2012, IATSE has not spoken with Van Horn or anyone at Delta since. “We don’t have a relationship,” he says.

Since the initial 2012 meeting, Foyle says he has written multiple letters and emails requesting a follow-up discussion on the possibility of including up to four union stagehands for Pride events. After receiving no response year after year, IATSE joined in on the 2015 Pride protests and handed out leaflets detailing their frustration.

Since their protest, there has appeared to be some falling out between Delta and some of its labor support. Adanjesus Marin of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania says SEIU dropped out of marching in the 2015 Pride parade and barred Delta from marching with SEIU in Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade after he learned Delta had been ignoring IATSE. 

“We [at SEIU] decided to not march in the Pride parade after Delta turned its back on labor,” says Marin. “This is frustrating because Delta has been supportive of labor for years before this.” (Delta marched in the 2013 and 2014 Labor Day parade with SEIU.)

Marin, who is also the co-chair of LGBT union organization Pride at Work, says that SEIU tried to contact Delta with a letter about the IATSE issue before Pride, but Delta president Gary Van Horn ignored the letter. This is when SEIU decided to pull out of the Parade and to discontinue donations to Delta, Marin says.

“The fact is that [Delta] spends tens of thousands of dollars to bring in high-end entertainment,” says Marin. “They should be able to pay a living wage to the people who set up the stage. It would be a simple fix. we are talking about less than a handful of people.”

Foyle says that other IATSE unions march in Pride parades in places like Toronto and Portland and that IATSE Local 3 would be happy to march in the Pittsburgh Pride and donate to Delta, but not under the climate that currently exists.

Delta spokesperson Christine Bryan told CP in an email that Delta does not hire stagehands for their events but instead hires contractors to set stages, lighting and sound equipment. “We have asked [IATSE] to provide us with names of union shops in Pittsburgh that can provide these services and have been told that there are none,” wrote Bryan in an email.

Foyle says the response does not truly address the stagehand issue. He says contractors don’t usually have union stagehands as full-time staffers and that stagehands are hired as needed to assist contractors in preparing the stage and equipment for entertainment events.

Foyle says if experienced stagehands are not hired, then the contractors either put up the stage themselves or use “whatever help is necessary” to put up the equipment. Foyle says in the case of Pride, this extra help is usually volunteers, which can lead to potential problems.

“They don’t want to engage local people who actually do this for a living,” says Foyle. “It is easier and cheaper for Delta to pass the buck.”

Foyle also points out that if volunteers get hurt when helping to put up stages, they typically do not have any legal protections.

Bryan says that recently there have been attempts to improve communications between the feuding organizations. She says that Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman set up a meeting between Delta and IATSE, but the union cancelled the meeting.

Foyle says IATSE turned down the meeting because they had still not received a direct response from Delta after writing to them around Labor Day, and so they were skeptical of anything productive occurring at the sit down.

“We don’t believe that anything constructive would come out of this,” says Foyle. “We can read between the lines. The sit down was not happening for the right reasons.”

Foyle says IATSE would be willing to start discussions with Delta when the large LGBT nonprofit shows a desire to use some union stagehands for one of their events.

“This is what we do, and we do it right here in the Cultural District,” he says. “We support [LGBT] efforts. It would be nice if [Delta] included us.”

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