Diversity in the City Workforce: A Thorny Question

Naturally enough, some Pittsburghers have been trying to determine whether or not the new mayor’s otherwise successful government diversity agenda has been inclusive of openly LGBTQ persons — and with little success.

Given both the candidate and the administration’s pride in backing LGBTQ rights and all the crowing about government diversity, it’s a fair question.

It’s also a darn tricky one.

The first difficulty is in the timing of when to ask it and to expect a useful answer. When is the new administration fully assembled enough to do so? That’s been the precise trouble in gauging whether or not there has yet been enough progress in the police bureau. In that instance, change can only come at a glacial pace — after hiring a new Director and Chief, letting a few internal reviews work their way through the system, successfully negotiating new collective bargaining contracts, implementing improved rank & file hiring practices over time, and actually altering an entrenched, centuries-old culture of police work.

However in the instance of governmental diversity, six months seems like a relatively sufficient time frame to expect real changes. The first of many.

The second and far greater difficulty has to do with basic human resources. When an applicant for a job or a high-level volunteer post is interviewed, it’s relatively easy to make high-percentage guesses about race and ethnicity or about gender without asking any questions. Whereas if an interviewer asks, “By the way, and this won’t be determinative for you but we’re just curious for good reasons, do you happen to be gay?” that is a great invitation to an expensive lawsuit or three if either honestly or cynically misinterpreted.

Moreover if anyone does “turn out” to be gay, bisexual or transgender and the administration does just happen to know about it, it’s entirely possible those individuals did not sign up to be celebrities on the basis of it. Even if they are “out”, they may not want to be that out. That’s another lawsuit waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, the public’s interest in having the comfort and security of knowing City government reflects all Pittsburghers is important at the same time.

And when important enough questions seem to be overlooked or ignored, corrosive assumptions start leaking all over the good china.

What to do about this? I have no idea. I’m glad it’s not my conundrum. Maybe somebody will ask during tomorrow’s Reddit AMA.

6 thoughts on “Diversity in the City Workforce: A Thorny Question

  1. Almost the 1 percent

    The CDC released results of a health survey today in which 1.6 percent of adults self-identified as gay or lesbian. According to the WP report, that’s a good benchmark.

    “Health survey gives government its first large-scale data on gay, bisexual population”

    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      That’s another good point — although study results differ, and it can be argued that that self-identification percentage ought to appear higher in urban centers than in rural areas.

  2. Sue Kerr (@PghLesbian24)

    Bram – you make excellent points.

    There’s a slew of City employees (and other public servants) that I describe as “quietly gay” in that some people know, but they aren’t willing to be openly identified for various reasons. (These are the people who tend to yell at me the most in private.) The problem is that someone has to be the “first gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans” everything. City Council President Kraus wrestled with this and will talk about how he now understands why it does matter. The fact that so many people remain closeted under the Peduto Administration – with Kraus at the helm of City Council – suggests why it still really does matter.

    Are you familiar with this?


    This was a Peduto bill, dating back to 2005. Note especially the provision at the top of page 3:

    2) The Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh will develop and maintain a database of the age, sex, zip code,
    and optional demographic information, including race, sexual orientation, and disability, of:
    (a) Each individual that submits an application for a City board, authority, or commission and
    (b) Each appointee to all City boards, authorities, and commissions.
    This information shall be tabulated in the aggregate for each board, authority, and commission, and made
    public via a report to City Council on an annual basis

    I’ve asked the Mayor’s spokesteam if they are collecting this data, but had no response. I’d hope by the six month mark they have some system in place because that annual deadline is approaching soon. I’m very interested in both sexual orientation and disability. I’m also quite curious if sex will measure transgender and genderqueer identities.

    I sound like a broken record, but this is why I proposed the LGBTQ Task Force under Talent City – that would have been a great tool to do some benchmarking and best practices to measure this specific component. The task force is very different than the Mayor’s Advisory Committee. Had the Task Force been in place at the six month mark, I think it would be fair to say that progress was underway. The problem is that we have no indicators.

    Thanks for posting on this. I will “at” the AMA, but I’ve already submitted these questions to the Communications Team. That should be a sufficient way to get some answers, no?

    1. Bram Reichbaumbramr101 Post author

      I wasn’t aware of that ’05 proposal. Doesn’t appear they’re practicing it, but even if they did, answering those questions is “optional,” which wouldn’t go far in solving the difficulty.

      As a rule of thumb, questions from citizens, journalists and citizen-journalists should be answered whenever and however they arise — but without knowing the answer to this particular question, I’m not sure how to feel about this. What if there are dozens and dozens of LGBTQ hires and volunteers in the administration, but not a single one is interested in being “that” out / the first / the one potentially to receive hate e-mails from the public? How then would a spokesperson answer you? “Yes we do, but none of them want to say so.” Then that sounds bad, and it potentially blows up around them. I could understand being apprehensive of answering in that case, delaying, trying to “manage” it via backchannels, or hoping it just goes away.

      I’m always in favor of seeking out “best practices”. I hope some exist in this situation, but I have no idea. In an ideal world, they would have found a highly qualified candidate in somebody who wrote, “I was the vice president XYZ LGBTQ club” right in their resume, and that would have enabled them to check off an important box (although I don’t like to think in terms of checking off boxes.)

      I guess I have a question for you too. There are several politically active LGBTQ advocacy groups in the city, which could help amplify your concerns. We shouldn’t have to rely on go-betweens, but that’s life — it’s kind of why those groups exist. What do they say in answer to your concerns?

      1. Sue Kerr (@PghLesbian24)

        There are 2 groups, Gertrude Stein and Steel City Stonewall. I haven’t asked them. I will do that now. As I have written in the past SCSD tends to ignore me after I called them out on trying to lure me to a meeting under false pretenses. Gertrude Stein is not an LGBTQ exclusive organization so I don’t know how they will respond, but I will ask.

        I’m confident best(ish) practices exist because the HRC Municipal Equality Index exists (and has for two years) with lots of indicators, including personnel issues. Organizations like the Victory Fund which elect openly LGBTQ candidates exist, suggesting that openly LGBTQ staffers aren’t far behind. Many cities and municipal governments do have openly LGBTQ employees.

        I am also confident in saying that quietly gay or closeted employees don’t count. They count as human beings and their ideas are valid and important, but they cannot “count” to represent the LGBTQ community in this day and age. There’s no shortage of qualified LGBTQ people to hire or appoint. It might take some different paths and recruitment strategies. The question is why are there so many who won’t come out or be the first? Obviously, six months of a Peduto Administration can’t undo decades of an oppressive work culture – but it is safe to say that hiring a few openly LGBTQ people could go a long way to signaling that the culture has changed.

        If well-compensated white gay cis men don’t want to be outed in the Peduto Administration, how else do you start changing the culture than by acknowleding those who are out and bringing in new people who are out? Then you begin to build the trust for others to be out. Because being out matters.

        This conversation also reinforces my arguement that we need domestic partnership benefits because it is not safe for everyone to get married and out themselves. 🙂

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