2002 Year in Review
by Michael Mahler
2002 Was in many ways an amazing year that saw some unique events and developments of great interest and importance to the local GLBT community. Let's review!
Human Relations Commission Ordinance
This actually began in late 2000. The Erie County Human Relations Commission (ECHRC) had handled all discrimination claims in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. Due to some problems with the wording, the ordinance needed to be rewritten. ECHRC Advisory Board member Reid McFarlane and his wife, AnnDrea Benson, contacted several local groups, including PFLAG, about the proposed ordinance and efforts to include sexual orientation/gender identity. Councilmember Mark DiVecchio was an early supporter, but other council members seemed undecided or opposed at first. Throughout the entire process, many different segments of the community at large (religious, labor, straight, GLBT, etc.) worked hard to get the law passed as worded. In Fall 2001, it looked as if the HRC Commissioners would be pressured into dropping the sexual orientation clause until County Councilmember Joe Giles spoke at a meeting on September 10, 2001 and urged the HRC commissioners to let County Council decide. Republican Rick Schenker defeated incumbent Judy Lynch for County Executive in November 2001 and indicated that he would veto the bill if the sexual orientation clause remained. At a County Council meeting attended by around 100 people on January 8, Councilmember Joy Greco announced that after much research and thought, she had decided that she would vote for the full HRC, including the sexual orientation clause. Councilmember Fiore Leone also announced his support at the meeting. On February 26, 2002 County Council members passed the full HRC ordinance by 6-1. The lone no vote, David Mitchell, asked Schenker not to veto the bill, but sign it into law. Rick Schenker signed the bill into law on March 8.
About 225 people, attended the 10th annual Pride Erie Picnic on June 8 at Presque Isle Beach 11. This was the largest picnic yet. Photos from the picnic are at the Erie Gay News website.
2nd Parent Adoption Win
In another victory, on August 21 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the unmarried partner of a legal parent could adopt the partner's children. One of the 2 couples in the case were local dads Jeff and Joey. Jeff was seeking a â€œ2nd parent adoptionâ€� for the children the couple had been raising since infancy. Jeff and Joey have been together for 20 years. This was noted in national media. Currently, no families have as yet gotten a hearing to test the new ruling. We will bring you coverage as this develops.
A first for this year was an organized large scale multiple event Pride Weekend September 6-8. The primary organizing groups were Trigon and PFLAG. The events included parties at the Village and Zone on Friday and Saturday. About 100 people participated that Saturday in the March for Equality from the Village down Peach St. to a Pride Rally in Perry Square, where about 200-300 people gathered. Sunday featured a Dykes vs Drag Queens softball game (won by the Drag Queens) enjoyed by at least 60 people, and a PFLAG Jazz Brunch fund-raiser at the Village that had around 195 people. The local mainstream coverage was quite positive. Kudos to the many people, particularly Abbey Atkinson and Maureen Koseff, who made this such a success!
Scott Park Arrests
In September, local media covered arrests of men in Scott Park for indecency/open lewdness. Millcreek Police sent letters to vehicles that had been spotted in the area informing them of efforts to enforce the law. Condoms and paper towels had been left littering the park. GLBT community reaction varied in that some supported efforts to contain this illegal behavior and some believed that in some cases men were being entrapped. One local man hired a lawyer and had the charges dropped/reduced.
New/revitalized groups in 2002 included the Mercyhurst Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), and an informally organized GSA at McDowell High School, which is believed to be the first local group at that educational level. The Erie/Crawford County Chapter of PFLAG added a Straight Spouse Network in October that is meeting monthly. There were also a few combined Menspace / 10% Network social events.
A welcome trend was increased cooperation between the owners/managers of Erie's 2 local gay bars, the Zone and the Village. Also there was a thread on a local message board about area dance clubs and many people, including many straights, praised both establishments as fun places to dance and hang out. It was heartening to see straight people commenting how unfortunate it would be to let homophobia prevent people from enjoying a predominantly gay space.
Several local GLBT folks were involved with AnnDrea Benson's Green Party campaign for US Congress against Republican incumbent Phil English. Benson made a very good showing for a candidate who turned down PAC money, but did not prevail. Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell reached out strongly to the GLBT community, and had even hired what was probably the first paid campaign liaison to the GLBT community. The Philadelphian, Mike Marsico, organized a few voter registration tables in Erie. Both the Democrat Party and Green Party of Erie County both did outreach to the GLBT community. Erie County Democratic Party Chair Ron DiNicola had a session at party headquarters to specifically reach out to the community. The Greens also welcomed GLBT members and actively encouraged participation.
EGN Resumes Publication
After an almost 3 year hiatus, Erie Gay News is now resuming publication on a monthly basis. After Erie Gay News ceased in December 1999, there was a separate publication called PRIDE News put out by Heather and Gary that ran from early 2000 through fall 2001. The decision to begin publishing again was announced at the September Pride Rally. The original staff (Mike A Miller, Michael Mahler and Deb Spilko) are working on both the print publication and will also continue the web site and email list.