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Candidate Closes Door Opened at Forum

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The actions of one local judge candidate after a public forum last month show how hard it is for prominent Pittsburghers to be entirely out, say local gay activists.

 

 On Feb. 7, the liberal activist group MoveOn.org held a public forum for mayoral and judicial candidates. Only three of the more than two dozen Democratic candidates for seven seats on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas participated: lawyers Kathryn Hens-Greco and Jon Pushinsky, as well as City Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow.

 

After the candidates gave opening statements, moderator Michelle Belan asked the first question: "What will you do to protect the rights of your gay and lesbian constituents?"

 

Hens-Greco described her work ensuring that both parents in a gay or lesbian partnership could legally adopt the couple's children in Pennsylvania. It was, she said, "the work that I'm the most proud of. ... That's what I will be doing, to be very careful to protect the rights of gay and lesbian couples that have established themselves as parents or as partners."

 

Pushinsky described his defense years ago of a local gay bar and its patrons in a lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh after a raid, which included beatings and criminal charges. "But, the short answer is," he said, "as a judge, I would treat everyone with respect, and make sure that the other people in the courtroom treat everyone with respect as well."

 

Morrow took the microphone next. "All else I have to add to their responses is," she said, "you know, I'm the real gay person in the room, so I think there is some value to that on the bench. That's it."

 

All of which would have been unremarkable -- except that Morrow later asked for her single-sentence reply to be edited from the videotape and transcript of the event (available at http://www.progresspittsburgh.org/DocumentPage.php?blockid=273, minus Morrow's answer).

 

Morrow did not respond to repeated phone messages. The event's videographer, Jason Simmons of Arlington, said there were about 125 people in attendance that evening. "I thought it was a strange request," he says, but he nonetheless edited the footage, an unexpurgated version of which was viewed by City Paper.

 

Local gay activists have mixed emotions about Morrow's request.

 

"I'm a little bit surprised," says Betty Hill, executive director of Persad, a local counseling center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people. In January, as part of a local attempt to set a "gay agenda." Hill had led dozens of local GLBT activists in a discussion of the community's needs. One of the most pressing, members of the Voices for a New Tomorrow gathering said, was for prominent Pittsburghers to be proudly out of the closet.

 

 "What I know of Jacqueline -- she has worked very hard in the GLBT community," Hill says today. "She has been a very positive force." Hill points out that Morrow is a founding member of the Lambda Foundation, which provides grants and scholarships to the local GLBT community. If Morrow asked for her quote to be removed from the record, Hill concludes, "it is more evidence that Pittsburgh is an uncomfortable place to come out."

 

Joshua Ferris, recently active in seeking domestic-partner benefits for employees of the University of Pittsburgh, also attended the Voices session. "The problem is City of Pittsburgh leaders," he told the group. "They're there, they're leaders, they're not out. ...We do not really have someone on the upper echelons of the city who is proud to be who they are."

 

Hearing about Morrow's excised answer, Ferris responds, "That's typical of the way it seems to work here in Pittsburgh. People are kind of out when they need to be, but that doesn't really make a person out. You shouldn't really use it as your pulpit if you're not going to use it as part of your everyday life. It's disheartening that she should do something like that."

 

 "People are really scared," he concludes. Being out is "not easy," he adds. However, "I've only lived here five years but I don't understand the constant fear that a lot of people not in my generation have -- these continual Pittsburghers have -- of being out."

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