Why the (re)election of Pgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus matters to the LGBT community

Adapted from posts at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and Pam’s House Blend

In 2011, Pittsburgh faces an exciting opportunity to support our first openly gay City Councilman in his bid for a second term. Councilman Bruce Kraus was elected in 2007, unseating the incumbent in a race in which his identity as an openly gay man was not a significant issue.

Since then, Councilman Kraus has made his mark addressing quality of life issues in his district, including vandalism and other criminal conduct by patrons of the district’s very significant strip of bars and late night establishments. District residents applaud Bruce’s commitment, noting that he himself is out picking up litter nearly every weekend.

From 2 Political Junkies, a Pittsburgh political blog, District 3 resident Maria Lupinacci writes

Bruce Kraus is seeking a second term on Pittsburgh City Council for District 3. This is my district and I’m a longtime supporter of Kraus (poll watcher, heck, I’ve stuffed envelopes at his house) and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. He’s a solid member of the progressive alliance on Council. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen him walking my district. I also greatly appreciate his efforts to get a handle on the vandalism and violence that have unfortunately become features of the South Side’s nightlife.

A few days ago, someone posted a comment in another post at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, questioning my claim that Bruce Kraus, City Councilman for District 3, is a “champion” for the LGBTQ community, simply asking “What has he done for us?”

Rather than respond in a buried comment, I thought this question was worth an entire post. I also think it is worth contemplating across the nation – why is it important to elect (or reelect) openly LGBTQ candidates on the local level?

With regard to what he’s done for Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, I would put forth the following:

 · Bruce spearheaded the passage of the Pgh Domestic Partner Registry which has created a mechanism for LGBTQ families to achieve some level of recognition on a City level. While it has its restrictions, Bruce has shown a willingness to discuss these, at least with me, and brainstorm solutions to make it more useful to all families.

 · His presence on council seems to make a difference in how his colleagues act, vote, and perceive LGBT issues. It has historically been considered a step toward equality to elect an openly LGBT individual. (Think Council President Doug Shields’ response to Sally Kern)

· It is important for LGBT people to see someone like us in a leadership role, especially youth (think bullying)

· It sends a signal around the nation for a gay man to have the courage to be out as a public servant (think Sally Kern)

· He holds his fellow Council members to walk the walk when it comes to equality and insists the gay community be included (think Ricky Burgess who wants to parse the myth of gay affluence to leave us out of his tirades about socioeconomic equality)

· He brokered a meeting between PA State Senator Daylin Leech and community leaders to discuss Senator Leech’s legislation to legalize same sex marriage in Pennsylvania. We (I attended) would not have that access without Bruce’s credibility as an elected official and status in the LGBT community. Bruce made sure Southwestern PA was part of the dialogue around this issue.

· The fact that he’s more well known for quality of life issues on Pittsburgh’s Southside shows that an openly gay elected official doesn’t come with a gay agenda, but can be effective in addressing a range of issues just like any other elected official from a minority group (see below)

· He is paving the way for electing an out lesbian or an out transgender man or women to achieve political office throughout the region (think we have to start somewhere)

· Bruce serves the community as a board member of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh and the Shepherd Wellness Center (think Pittsburgh community institutions)

 · Openly gay elected officials are considered indicators of how LGBT friendly a community can be (Advocate recent City rankings)

The crux of the matter is that Bruce is not the gay City Councilman, he’s a Councilman who is gay. I have enumerated some of his “gay” credentials, but it is important to note that Bruce is a qualified, engaged Councilman who sincerely works to improve the quality of life for his District, particularly the Southside.

Agree with him or not, you cannot deny he is active and that he strives to connect with the residents and the business owners. His volunteer staffed satellite office in an economically struggling neighborhood is further proof of a creative solution to engage his District. He also is embracing social media to share information. (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and more)

On a national level, I think this is exactly the race people should be monitoring. The Mayor of Pittsburgh has tepid at best support for the LGBTQ community and there are few openly LGBTQ individuals in his Administration. Bruce does not vote the Mayor’s way, unless he believes it is the right way, so there is a possibility that the Allegheny County Democratic machine will not support Kraus in the primary (which is where the action is in Pittsburgh’s one party town). This is not the kiss of death the Mayor like us to believe and most of it swirls around the issues of addressing quality of life issues regarding the bars, restaurants and residents of the Southside neighborhood, not the fact that Bruce is a gay man.

But I can’t help but wonder if they will go there? I think the best defense is to put the would be foes, some of whom are gay, that we are watching and we will not tolerate playing the “gay card” in this race. Bruce is rightly proud of his accomplishments as the regiona’s LGBTQ leader (my words, not his), but he’s running this race for all Pittsburgh residents, not just the LGBTQ community. We owe it to him to have his back and demand that the Mayor, the Allegheny County Democratic Committee and any potential opponents in the race denounce homophobic campaign tactics with vigor.

For lesbians and queer women, the question of supporting a white gay male business owner is fair. The truth is that Bruce is a good man who has demonstrated to me that he understands the nuances of gender oppression within the gay community. He’s willing to listen to me discuss how to improve or enhance the Domestic Partner Registry which disproportionately impacts lower income families which, we all know, dispropotionately impacts women. I think Bruce is the type of man to understand and appreciate differences, while striving to represent everyone whether it be in City Council or during a board meeting of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center. He understands the inequity within the community and I think we can count on him to do his best to seek guidance.

Then there is the simple matter that we have to start somewhere. Pittsburgh lore is rampant with tales of closeted elected official, but I say the time for innuendo is done. We need to move ahead to the race where an openly lesbian female candidate is viable. That will not happen if we allow Bruce to lose this race. His fight is our fight. The election of a queer woman is not going to happen on a statewide level. It is going to happen on a school board or some other local level. We need to work hard now to lay the foundation and I am positive we can count on Bruce and his allies to keep it solid.

As a City resident who does not live in District 3 (I’m in District 6 across two rivers), I appreciate the contributions Bruce has made to the City and to the LGBT community. I might go as far as to say that it is imperative we all stand behind Bruce and do our part to support his bid for a second term. You can donate $5, $25 or $100 here. Every bit helps.

I hope this answers the question of “what has he done for us?” for my anonymous commenter. Another anonymous commenter (same person?) came back to challenge my facts which I was able to robustly defend. The fact is that Bruce has given a lot to us in four years and now it is our turn to give back.

Nationally? Eyes to need pay attention to the dynamics within the Democratic party as candidates who are openly gay seek endorsements and funding to attain and maintain their seats at the table. It matters to everyone reading this what the Mayor of Pittsburgh does with regard to Bruce’s election. He may oppose him, but we have every right to insist he does so based on issues, not his sexual orientation.

Thinking long term, Bruce is one a few statewide who may eventually pursue a state level seat as an openly gay man. This foundation of a second term could have far reaching consequences for the future of our Commonwealth on LGBTQ issues. Do we expect much to happen with so much Republican control? Maybe not, but there are issues where we need his leadership now and his access — getting domestic partner benefits at the County level before any further City-County consolidation discussion occurs, continuing to bring a diverse array of Western PA voices to the table on statewide issues that do come up such as strategizing against the anti-marriage equality amendment, solidifying the progressive alliance across levels of government to keep our needs front and center.

Lesbians and queer women should watch this race even more closely. If the race stays focused on issues and qualifications, that bodes well for a woman to step forward sooner rather than later. If the mud is slung, we know we have work to do. Women are suffering from the lack of employment & housing protections, the lack of domestic partner benefits in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh. This is changing one municipality at a time. The momentum will be dealt a serious blow if we can’t mobilize as a community to get involved in this critical race.

Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community are better off with Bruce serving us on our City Council.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *