By Brian Conway
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Members of Mayor Bill Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council submitted a letter of demands to the mayor’s office Wednesday alleging a “lack of support from the mayor’s office and the City of Pittsburgh,” as well as “severe structural deficiencies and bureaucratic obstacles that have prevented us from achieving our goals and functioning effectively.”
All seven members of the council signed the letter, including chair, Marcus Robinson, and vice chair, Ciora Thomas.
“It’s just deplorable that we’re here now; it’s been three years” says Thomas. “I hope that we can actually make vital change, because we have a great body of people, as it stands right now, that’s ready to do some amazing things within the city. In order for us to do that, we have to have full support.”
The council, sworn in January 2017, began with 15 members, as well as a representative from the city’s Commission on Human Relations, but the total number of members has dwindled in recent years as members have moved away from Pittsburgh some because of frustration with the council’s perceived impotence.
“We wanted to have a clarification of what our purpose was for having the advisory council,” said Richard Parsakian, a member of the council since its inception. “What we basically want is a bigger voice for our community, if we truly represent our community.”
Thomas said she and Robinson took on the council’s leadership positions within the past month, and that the letter was borne out of conversations “about the direction we need to go, and what we can actually do that we have not been doing for the past three years.”
Many of the council’s demands center around communication. The letter notes that council “has no access to the council email account and council social media accounts,” and cannot directly communicate with or solicit ideas from the public.
They also demand “clear and effective pathways for providing feedback and recommendations to City departments and leaders.” Thomas expressed frustration with the council’s current liaison, Keyva Clark, a former council member and Communication Analyst at the mayor’s office, and said that council is often unable to effectively collaborate on initiatives because of a disconnect between their body and the mayor’s office.
The letter also called for “an annual operating budget for conducting programming and effectively soliciting feedback from City residents,” as well as “on-boarding resources and training to ensure council members are able to be effective in their roles.” All council positions are on a volunteer basis.
The council’s bylaws call for a “written report quarterly to be presented to the mayor,” and members of the council are calling for that to become a face-to-face meeting. Members indicated a frustration that the council has only met with Peduto twice since launching in January 2017, most recently in March of 2018.
While the council is currently comprised of these seven members, they are planning to onboard 4 more in the coming weeks. But Thomas, who is also a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs for Governor Tom Wolf, said she and Robinson made a decision not to start onboarding new members while the structure of the council was in question.
When it was announced, the council was “charged with taking a comprehensive approach to meet the needs of the entire LGBTQIA+ community.” They were tasked to meet monthly and also provide quarterly reports to the mayor, “striving towards a goal of inclusivity and progress within the LGBTQIA+ community.”
The council’s letter was submitted June 26, one day after Pittsburgh city officials marked the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City by announcing a plan to expand the city’s anti-discrimination code to include protections for gender expression and gender identity, and replace gendered language in the code with non-gendered language. Members of the council say the timing was a coincidence.
Tim McNulty, spokesperson for mayor Peduto, could not confirm that the mayor’s office received the letter, and had no further comment.
Cit Councilor Bruce Kraus, the only openly gay member of city council, confirmed that his office received the letter and responded to chair, Marcus Robinson, via email. “I included my personal cell phone and asked him to please give me a call,” said Kraus. “We’re happy to help in any way we can.”
The letter requests a meeting with mayor Peduto within one week’s time.