Pitt denies same-sex partners benefits, contrary to its own policies

Pitt denies same-sex partners benefits, contrary to its own policies

November 03, 2003

The battle for equal status in the university for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees has been a long one here at Pitt, and I wonder if the end is near. I truly hope so, because I would like to compliment my school as an alumnus.

Pitt discriminates against LGBT employees. Pitt decided to make marriage the criterion for granting full healthcare benefits to its employees. This stands in stark contrast to the Pitt’s own non-discrimination policy – a policy which states that the university cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or marital status.

Here in Pennsylvania, it is illegal for two people of the same sex to become married under the Defense of Marriage Act – thank you, Bill Clinton.

This policy does not directly affect me, other than serious allegations that we will lose faculty because of it. Pitt has said that this has happened, and it makes Pitt a less attractive employer, although Pitt considers these losses negligible. I have listened to the powers in the Cathedral of Learning make these excuses for years, and, well, not one of them has been able to convince me.

Another way this affects our daily lives is Pittsburgh’s Human Rights ordinance. The university, in an attempt to defend its homophobic stance, has decided to attack the city.

As you read this, you cannot be discriminated against in the City of Pittsburgh because of your sexual orientation. This may not be so tomorrow. Pitt thinks that Pittsburgh should not be able to protect its citizens from discrimination. It is too bad they do not read their own non-discrimination policy, because it also includes “all applicable laws and ordinances of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Pittsburgh.”

Unfortunately, I was born with a conscience. I see right and wrong, and the university has wronged its LGBT employees. Granting employees the same affordable benefits across the board is not about gay rights or special rights. It is about we, as a society, saying equality is a standard that democracy must subscribe to if it is to be democratic.

Pitt prides itself in working with the State Legislature, and Pitt makes it very clear that granting the same healthcare to everyone would disrupt this fragile relationship. After I paid the increase in my tuition each year I have been here, I could not help wonder why we weren’t attempting to disrupt this relationship. The state cuts our funding every year, and it is not because we are granting domestic partner benefits.

It is absolutely pathetic how late the budget is, but preliminary research shows that Temple University was not punished for taking the first leap to pursue equality. In February, Temple, another state-related university, decided to grant healthcare benefits to the partners of LGBT employees. Nor has Penn State been penalized for its developing a plan to fund healthcare for these families. It seems as though Mark Nordenberg’s blaming of the state is a road incorrectly taken.

Pitt and its affiliates are the largest employers in the western Pennsylvania, and that carries a lot of clout. The state is hurting Pitt by cutting our funding each year. It is absurd for us to continue with this charade of saying that we have a great working relationship. Let Harrisburg know that we are in charge, and we are to be listened to.

If the state is not to blame, then who is making the decisions? I think, after the outcome of the county executive race, we may hear new responses. If Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey – one of the most powerful Republicans in the state – is ousted, where does that leave Nordenberg? If we recall, Roddey sat on the selection committee to choose Nordenberg to bravely lead Pitt into the new millennium.

Many questions arise once we scratch below the surface of the domestic partner benefits issue. Why does Pitt pretend its marriage with Pennsylvania is fine? Or is it that everything is fine and the power does not lie in the center of Pennsylvania but in the western part? Who is making the calls on domestic-partner benefits: queer-hating legislators, scared Pitt officials or an uncompromising administration? One thing is for sure – Pitt actively discriminates against LGBT employees.

Josh Ferris, a former organizer for this issue, thinks he knows a lot.


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