On Feb. 8, Peduto named the people chosen for the LGBTQIA+ Commission, who will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council on Feb. 9. The city originally put out a call for applicants to join the Commission in July 2020.
“This is a strong and impressive group, and will be extremely helpful in informing policies on LGBTQIA+ matters across city government,” says Peduto in a press release.
The Commission members span the city’s arts, political, medical, and religious arenas, with a focus on being inclusive. The roster includes City Councilman Bruce Kraus (D-South Sdie), Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blogger Sue Kerr, and local business owner and advocate Richard Parsakian. Other appointees include Marcus Robinson – who serves as the housing compliance analyst for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh – and Guillermo Velazquez, executive director at the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation.
Also chosen were Dr. Sarah Rosso – executive director of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation – local theater designer Britton Mauk, and Denise Desimone of the marketing firm C-Leveled, as well as William Hileman, Leonard Orbovich, Luca Salerno, Tiffini Simoneaux, Nekia Burton Tucker, and the Reverend Deryck Tines.
Commission member Jam Hammond was also recently elected executive director for the Pittsburgh Council of Human Relations, saying in a press release, “As a person of color, as a trans person, as a citizen of the world and of Pittsburgh, I am so excited to play a larger role in our civil rights journey together.”
The Commission was launched as part of Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, started in 2016 to “advise on policy and issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.” By signing the LGBTQIA+ Commission into City Code, the Commission is required by law to ensure “LGBTQIA+ community voices are heard and reflected in the city's plans, agendas and policy decisions.” Legislation to create a permanent LGBTQIA+ Commission within the city government was introduced by Peduto in June 2020, followed quickly by its passage and call for applicants.
Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have laws in place to protect LGBTQ individuals from housing and employment discrimination, as well as other issues, with some advancing last year. In December 2020, the borough of Sharpsburg unanimously passed a nondiscrimination ordinance granting civil rights protections to LGBTQ individuals. In January, Monessen became the first town in neighboring Westmoreland County to offer LGBTQ civil rights protections.
Still, studies have shown that the region still has its work cut out for it in terms of being truly inclusive of LGBTQ residents, something Peduto addressed when he first announced the Commission.
“The City of Pittsburgh has long been a leader in protecting and preserving LGBTQIA+ rights, but our city, state, and country still have a long way to go,” said Peduto. “Placing this commission into City Code will re-emphasize our commitment to fighting for the human rights deserved by all.”
While the recent election of President Joe Biden has some seeing a more promising future for LGBTQ people across the country – a vision buoyed by Biden issuing executive orders eliminating former President Donald Trump’s trans military ban, and offering sweeping protections for LGBTQ people against discrimination in schools, health care, the workplace, and other realms – local advocates are not slowing down. After the election, Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with a number of local LGBTQ advocates, who believe that while a Biden term may result in some wins for the LGBTQ community, equality has yet to be achieved in Pennsylvania, where there are still no statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
In addition to the LGBTQIA+ Commission, Peduto will also make appointments and reappointments to the Gender Equity Commission, the Shade Tree Commission, the Historic Review Commission, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Pittsburgh Land Bank, and the Art Commission.