Letter from the Allegheny County HIV advisory committee

Friends and colleagues,

I am sending this email to those of you who may be involved in county or state elections this year particularly for executive positions. I know that I don’t have all the names of those representing our interests so feel free to circulate this if you see any merit in it.

Happily, we met with Roddey last year and he promised us needle exchange and he actually did it. I believe that at the county and state level we have more opportunity to garner support than we ever did.

Over the years, I have observed that we often (rightly) ask about legislation but seldom ask candidates such as governor or county executive or the old county commissioners about what they will do in the executive branch.

Because of my work, I have often seen the most vulnerable of our community receiving no or poor services. About a third of homeless youth are gay but there are few programs for them and little training for professionals dealing with them (the Whale’s Tale here is an exception but the problem is state-wide). We all know that our schools do not have adequate anti-bullying programs or adequate HIV education. The same is true in mental health, drug and alcohol and other services. For example, routinely, lgbt people going into treatment in D and A treatment centers are told not to mention their homosexuality or gender differences. We all know that if treatment is to work addicts and alcoholics have to deal with their social life, their families including chosen families, self-esteem etc. You can’t do that in a therapy group if you are hiding who you are.

I can give many other examples as I am sure that Randy and others of you can. My point is that candidates for governor and county executive appoint the people who run STD, HIV, children and youth, education, corrections, mental health, drug and alcohol, human relations and other services.

I think our community would benefit enormously if politicians are willing to appoint cabinet officials who pledge to work with our community to identify needed policies and programs and to implement them.

In addition, all state and county workers need to be trained on cultural competency including us, of course.

There may be other things that we can ask for in this regard such as the appointment of a top level staff person responsible for ensuring equitable services for lgbt people. Others may have other ideas.

I just hope that we can urge the candidates to remember our most vulnerable community members and to begin to address the problems that they live with.

Take care,
Tony

Opinion Piece: What GSPCGP Identifies as an LGBT Issue (May 2003)

The Gertrude Stein Political Club of Greater Pittsburgh (GSPCGP) is a multipartisan organization working in electoral politics for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. Each election, the Club endorses a slate of candidates who are pro-gay, pro-choice, and anti-racist. Just this past election, questions came up from the community as to what the Club identifies as an lgbt issue. As a long-time Club member and former chair, I offer the following as my understanding of the members’ rationale in choosing candidates and issues to support.

GSPCGP recognizes the right to autonomy over our own bodies as a core lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender issue. Examples include whom we choose for sex partners; what reproductive decisions we make, from birth control and artificial insemination to abortion; and how we transform our bodies to fit our true genders.

Members of the lgbt community all share some of the same specific needs such as the right to a civil union, adoption and child custody, and safe school or work environments. In some of our other seemingly common issues such as anti-discrimination laws, women and racial minorities within the lgbt community may require additional legislation such as affirmative action for the anti-discrimination laws to be effective.

GSPCGP, an all-volunteer political organization, has steadfastly supported candidates and legislation that support all of the needs of the lgbt community. When the Pennsylvania state legislature showed a chance to pass hate crime legislation last year provided that “gender identity” be removed, the Stein Club lobbied state congress to pass legislation without any changes. This means that the Stein Club stood behind the trans members of the community to ensure that the hate crime legislation specifically protected them as well as the rest of the lgbt community. And the Hate Crime Bill passed intact.

The Stein Club believes that its work over the past 20 years has contributed to the growth of a broad pool of supportive candidates. In recent years, two or three and sometimes eight or nine candidates for the same office have been endorsable. These candidates have supported all of the issues GSPCGP has presented to them regarding the diverse needs of the full community. With this track record, the Club resists endorsing candidates who have proven themselves to parts of the community while not the full community. Candidates who have supported domestic partnership, funding for AIDS, and affirmative action but did not support reproductive rights tend to not receive the Stein Club’s support. Candidates who support all of those rights but not health care coverage for sexual reassignment surgery also tend to not receive endorsement. However, candidates who seek further education on lgbt issues are met.

The Stein Club believes that if it sacrifices the needs of some of the community members, then all of the community will eventually suffer for it. On the other hand, when the Club insists on full support, more and more candidates will rise to the occasion, and these are the ones the Club wants to see succeed.

Over the years, GSPCGP has seen its endorsed candidates climb the political ladder while maintaining their strong advocacy of lgbt rights. Among them are Jim Ferlo, from City Council to Pennsylvania State Senate; Barbara Burns, from the Pittsburgh Board of Education to City Council; and Valerie McDonald Roberts, from the School Board, to City Council, to Recorder of Deeds. Barbara Hafer has moved from Allegheny County Board of Commissioners to state Auditor General to PA Treasurer. Shelley Friedman and Max Baer, from their positions as attorneys to judges, have better enabled the lgbt community to achieve justice.

These candidates are within both the Democratic and Republican parties. When the strongest advocate is in a third party such as the Greens or Libertarians, GSPCGP will support that candidate, sending a message to politicians that lgbt needs are essential and not to be relegated to the back burner. Some of these candidates join the major parties in future elections and some remain in the third party as they continue lobbying for lgbt rights.

GSPCGP welcomes new members, new ideas, and new directions to continue its endorsement and lobbying of candidates and legislation to enhance the lives of all who make up the lgbt community.

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