January 6, 2014 ushers in the much-anticipated progressive Peduto administration to the mayor's office, and it also marks another significant milestone for the city with the election of the first openly gay city council president. The vote was 7-2.
In 2007, Bruce Kraus became the first openly LGBTQ person elected to city council. He was reelected in 2011. His tenure has been marked by several LGBTQ-related municipal reforms, including the domestic partner registry and a recent requirement for city contractors to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.
He was a leading presence in response to an assault on two queer women of color in his district in 2013 and has served on numerous boards and committees. Kraus's office also assisted with permitting and police presence at the Pittsburgh Dyke and Trans March.
Kraus's achievements are perhaps most notable in his fight against blight, litter, and related conditions that plague Pittsburgh's neighborhoods, especially those with sizable hospitality businesses. He's often cleaning abandoned lots with his staff and volunteers, literally "redding up" as well as tackling the issues on a systemic level in the council.
Kraus has worked on anti-violence initiatives that generated a safe-schools partnership between the Persad Center and GLSEN. He also notably opened two satellite offices staffed by volunteers, one in the South Side Slopes and the other in South Oakland. Kraus currently serves as chair of the Committee on Public Works.
During his first swearing-in, Kraus had this to say:
"It is my belief that our greatest strength and most valuable resource is our diversity. Pittsburgh is this wonderful hodgepodge of humanity. We come from every segment of society and culture, and yet share in one great commonality: our deep love for, and desire to safeguard and nurture, the neighborhoods in which we live.
"Our ethnic heritages, deep spiritual traditions and unmatched work ethic are an immeasurable wealth of riches. Our varied neighborhoods, world-class cultural venues, winning sports teams, lush parks and internationally-acclaimed universities and hospitals, are all assets that are the envy of many metropolitan areas, and provide us with the tools to continue Pittsburgh's transformation, into one of America's truly great urban centers."
While he prefers to focus on the issues on the table, Kraus does acknowledge the unique significance of being the first openly gay man to serve as council president. He understands that it does matter and it will send a positive message about the diversity he so values. He's often said, "I look forward to the day when it won't matter, but I understand and respect that it does right now."
This attitude is reflected perhaps most sincerely in that Kraus has remained undaunted in the face of ongoing homophobia-laced attacks from his colleague, Reverend Ricky Burgess, councilman in District 9. Burgess's list of egregious behavior is lengthy, but his incessant failure to include LGBTQ families in discussions about diversity, poverty, and oppression is something Kraus repeatedly challenges.
Bruce Kraus recognizes that while he may shake off the vitriol, many LGBTQ residents do not have that luxury and he will continue to take a stance to represent all of the people who do not have a voice or whose voices are ignored.
Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents will be sitting down with Council President Kraus later this week for an in-depth interview and conversation about his vision for Pittsburgh.