Statewide Gay Rights Group To Honor Persad co-Founders At 4th Annual Conference

Domestic partner benefits, the fight against discrimination at the University of Pittsburgh and transgender empowerment will be among the topics of several workshops to be offered at the fourth annual “Transformation at the Roots” conference sponsored by the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition Oct. 26 in State College.

The scheduling of the conference comes at a critical time for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as some municipalities in the commonwealth have expanded civil rights protections and the state Supreme Court has ruled in favor of allowing a lesbian or gay partner to adopt the other partner’s children. At the same time, the state Legislature has stalled on passing a sweeping hate crimes bill.

This year’s conference theme is “Gender and Gender Equality.” Mara Keisling of the Pennsylvania Gender Rights Coalition, who will co-chair a workshop on gender issues, believes that despite some setbacks—including the Aug. 29 ruling by the Commonwealth Court that struck down two of three Philadelphia laws that grant benefits to same-sex partners (see report on page 3)—Pennsylvania has made advances in combating discrimination.

“Pennsylvania is taking a leadership position in gender issues,” she said, citing last year’s 32-15 vote by the state Senate in favor of a bill to amend Pennsylvania’s Ethnic Intimidation Act to add actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, mental and physical disability, and ancestry to existing categories. The legislation is now in the Judiciary Committee of the state House of Representatives, awaiting action by majority leader John Michael Perzel (R-Philadelphia) that could send it to the House for a full vote.

Stephen A. Glassman, SPARC’s co-chair and a member of the state Human Relations Commission, said there are enough votes to pass the bill once it comes up for a vote, but that politics are stalling that possibility.

“Because we are in an election year, Perzel is more concerned with getting Republicans elected,” Glassman said. “It’s not a mean-spirited position. It’s about holding onto his leadership.” Glassman added that Perzel would allow a vote on House Bill 1493 after

the election and that current Gov.

Gov. Mark Schweiker has said he would sign the bill into law.

Glassman said it is imperative that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community voices its support for this bill to ensure its passage. Glassman is scheduled to co-chair a workshop at the Oct. 26 conference that teaches people what they can do to make a difference. “We have techniques and methodologies to guide people through the process,” he said.

Debra Davis, the conference’s keynote speaker and executive director of the Gender Education Center, a Minnesota-based advocacy group, will discuss transgender issues. Davis received national attention in 1998 when she came out as a transgendered person at her job as a media specialist at Southwest High School in Minneapolis. “She is a real icon in the transgender community,” Keisling said.

Two Pittsburgh gay rights pioneers will receive honors at the conference. Randy Forester and Jim Huggins will be presented with SPARC’s second annual Lifetime Achievement Award for delivering mental health counseling to thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people through Persad Center Inc., the agency they co-founded in 1972. The center has also helped many people with HIV and AIDS and their families live with the illness.

Also scheduled for this year’s conference are workshops on recent US census statistics regarding gay and lesbian couples. At least 100 people are expected to attend this year’s conference, set for 8am until 4:30pm. “It’s a networking opportunity,” said Jennifer Storm, SPARC’s managing director. “We are trying to pull together as many people as possible from across the state.”

For more information on the fourth annual Transformation at the Roots conference or other activities of the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition, visit the Web site at www.sparc-pa.org.