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Pennsylvania: A Queer Perspective on Candidate for Governor Dan Onorato

For the past four years I’ve been blogging about Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. I cover political, cultural, and a wide range of general interest topics. I recently spearheaded the second “Blog For Equality Pittsburgh” around yet another attempt to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution to protect marriage for the LGBTQ community (as I write this, the outcome of the Judiciary Committee vote is yet unknown).  Over 20 bloggers, gay and straight alike, contributed thoughts both political and personal on an issue that resonates across the Commonwealth.

The gay establishment in Pittsburgh considers me divisive because I openly talk about how the institutions in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County fail to lead when it comes to LGBTQ issues here in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  I’m generally considered a pain in the ass because I talk and talk and talk about LGBTQ issues which in SW Pennsylvania translate into a lot of admonishing of institutions that fail to lead when we need them. I also like to complicate things by bringing up issues around class, socioeconomic status, gender, race, and so forth.

Given the above, this is my queer perspective on candidate Dan Onorato, currently Chief Executive of Allegheny County. First, the good news about Mr. Onorato. He signed the Allegheny County Non-Discrimination into law in 2009.

Unfortunately, that’s all I got folks. Mr. Onorato has been in office for nearly 20 years, including six at the helm of the County and I can give you one concrete examples of positive support for our community.

It is certainly not for lack of opportunity.

As County Chief Executive, Mr. Onorato had six years to take action. At no point was the creation of a Human Relations Commission on his radar. When the ordinance was introduced in July 2008, it took him until April 2009 to issue a statement of support. I will give him points for attending the signing ceremony!  

Yes, I’ve been told he was working behind the scenes. But that’s easy to say and difficult to prove. He didn’t come to a January 2009 rally that turned out nearly a dozen other elected officials in support of the ordinance. He didn’t respond to questions about it submitted to his cyber town halls.…

Mr Onorato undoubtably touts the County Non-Discrimination ordinance as a sign of his progressive credentials. That would be more credible had he been a leader on this issue, rather than remaining silent for 10 long months. It would also be more credible if he took care of his own house and put domestic partner benefits in place for his team.

The most glaring example of an Onorato leadership fail has been the fact that Allegheny County employees do not have domestic partner benefits. As noted above, Mr. Onorato is not a new County executive; he has been at the helm of county government for six year. During that six years he has not once mentioned offering County employees domestic partner benefits or even mentioned that he wanted to do so but was unable. Six years at the helm and Onorato has steadfastly refused to take action. Yes, it is a complicated negotiation with labor unions involving fair labor practice standards. Still I maintain that he lacked the political will to expend his political capital to make this happen. The Cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia made it happen. The State of Pennsylvania made it happen… . Even the Court system… has made it happen.

Domestic partner benefits are not a very controversial topic in terms of LGBTQ issues. This is precisely why a failure on this issue is a very important indicator of a candidate’s sincerity as an ally. A letter of support in 2009 does not an LGBT ally make.

The last time I heard him publicly speak on LGBT issues, Mr. Onorato took refuge behind his “good Catholic boy” upbringing.  This was his justification for coming along so slowly on LGBTQ issues. That translates as someone who will always play it safe when it comes to our civil rights. In spite of his words, his record does not suggest he would extend his “good Catholic neck” on HB 300, hate crimes protections or other statewide issues that require strong allies to help our community step out of second class status.

His position on choice affirms my belief. Mr. Onorato is anti-choice, but crosses his heart that he won’t take action to change Pennsylvania’s legal status quo for women’s reproductive status. That is pandering, not leadership. Pennsylvania’s women and girls deserve better.

It is all well and good to acknowledge that some “good Catholic boy” politicians need to take baby steps, but that’s not an acceptable mentality from the Governor.

Pennsylvania’s LGBT community deserves an ally who believes that we are equal citizens in this Commonwealth. We are realistic enough to recognize that it will be an upward battle to gain our equal rights, but we deserve more decisive action than Dan Onorato has brought to the table in the past twenty years.

For the record, I'm supporting Joe Hoeffel and I believe you'll find many LGBTQ persons in Southwestern Pennsylvania follow suit.

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