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Club Hopping

When the Gertrude Stein Political Club of Greater Pittsburgh made its endorsements for the May 18 primary this year, they came with a plea attached: 

"This will be the LAST endorsement by the Gertrude Stein Political Club ... unless new members are willing to take on leadership roles and duties."

Swissvale resident Todd Bryner heard the call after it appeared in the April issue of Pittsburgh's Out, a monthly gay publication. Bryner's partner pasted the note to his medicine cabinet, and Bryner decided to step forward -- "So all the work put in doesn't go to waste," he says.

Thanks to Bryner, "We have a new lease on life," says Jonathan Robison, a charter member of the club.

Robison says the group, which has a membership of about three dozen, has been struggling to find leaders for some time: There is currently no vice president, and no one stepped up for the president's position last year. "Those that served got burnt out" by running the organization, he says.

Robison's wife, charter member and treasurer Mary Robison, agreed to serve as interim coordinator. But Robison, 71, decided recently to step down after a year, and put out the call for new blood. It "might have meant we outlived our usefulness if we couldn't get someone to take on its leadership," she says.

The multi-partisan group was founded 30 years ago to support candidates who are LGBT-friendly, anti-racism, pro-choice and pro-civil rights. It endorses candidates for the primary and general elections based on their responses to questionnaires that club members study, along with the candidates' records. 

Pittsburgh's LGBT community is also served by the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, which formed in 2004 and has 98 official members. Bryner believes the Gertrude Stein club is still necessary. He plans to maintain its multi-partisanship and hopes to grow membership, particularly from an LGBT community that he says is often complacent.

"Here we have a straight couple running a gay and lesbian political club, and no one wants to step up?" he asks. "I think it might be of some use for someone leading an LGBT organization to be one of the people we are fighting for. "

Bryner, a paralegal, has been involved with politics before. He ran unsuccessfully for Greater Latrobe school board director in 1996, and volunteered for Al Gore, Ed Rendell and John Kerry campaigns. Those experiences, he says, have given him an "understanding of politics, how they work and how they don't work, and what it takes to go out and solicit members."

Sue Kerr, author of the blog Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, believes the club has quite a bit of recognition in the LGBT community. "It's been steadfast in LGBT equal rights," she says. "In some places statewide it's considered the LGBT endorsement. ... It's also important to have a strong political club outside of the party."

Among the club's endorsed candidates this year are Senate challenger Joe Sestak; gubernatorial candidate Joe Hoeffel; and state House contender Tonya Payne.

The Robisons say they are confident in Bryner, whom they expect to be elected at the next club meeting, slated for 7 p.m. May 13, at United Cerebral Palsy in Oakland.

[Editor's note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story mistated the endorsement police of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats. See the "comments" section below.]

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