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CN: white supremacy, racial slurs,

John Placek hasn’t lost any time creating billboards about the not guilty verdict in the trial of Michael Rosfeld for the shooting death of then-17-year-old Antwon Rose. It shouldn’t suprise anyone who has been following his trail of racist, White supremacy messaging.

I wouldn’t normally post an image with this word on my blog. But someone has to document how we are failing Black neighbors (including my two nephews) in Western Pennsylvania.

The two latest billboards created by John Placek. Source: Facebook

Earlier in the week, Placek took down the image that violated the copyright of the Peanuts Cartoon Syndicate and replaced it with this horrifying gem:

“Coal Miners had it worse than Slaves” according to John Placek

This is who we are in Western Pennsylvania. We are a community that lets a murderous cop walk free after killing a 17 year old Black male kid. We are a community that values guns more than Jewish lives. We are a community that has no way to stop this atrocious messaging in Worthington, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. We have a public education system that conflates the oppressive conditions of capitalism with enslavement without any real critical thought.

There is literally nothing legal to be done about this monstrous messaging in Worthington – no pressure point, no leverage, no contract clause, nothing. The only thing that has a hope of working will be local folks organizing and pushing back against the messaging rather than just saying “not our problem.”

Meanwhile, a lot of vulnerable folks who don’t have the luxury or safety of speaking out too much have to deal with this byproduct of our white supremacy culture. John Placek is an ignorant, nasty, and racist man. He knows what he is doing and what and how he can get away with it.

The jurors who set Michael Roseweld free just added fuel to that fire, proving once again that white people can get away with literally murdering Black people.

This is who we are.

Previous coverage:

White Supremacist Billboards Disturbing Residents in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania

February 16, 2019 by Sue

White Supremacist Billboards in Armstrong County Refreshes Content with Worse Racist Hate

February 21, 2019 by Sue

‘Take your blog and get the hell out of our town’ – Some Folx from Worthington, Armstrong County Are Not Happy With Me

February 28, 2019 by Sue

Worthington Man Behind Racist Messages Plans to Erect Two Additional Billboards in Armstrong County

March 6, 2019 by Sue

Why Aren’t We Talking About The Ties Between the Armstrong County Billboards, White Nationalism, and Domestic Terrorism?

March 16, 2019 by Sue

Peanuts Worldwide Sends Cease and Desist Orders to John Placek, Worthington-West View Fire Department Over Racist Billboard

March 21, 2019 by Sue

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We are revisiting our Political Q&A series for the upcoming elections of 2019. We’ve reached out to candidates who are pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ, asking them a series of questions about their campaigns. We’ve sent out about a dozen Q&A’s to folks who agreed to participate. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania.

First to respond is Olivia ‘Liv’ Bennett who is running for Allegheny County Council District 13, my district as a matter of fact. She has some thoughtful responses about intersectionality, her work supporting transgender inmates at ACJ, sex work, and air pollution.

Your Name: Olivia “Liv” Bennett

District 13 in the middle of this map

Your Pronouns: She/Her

The Office You are Seeking: Allegheny County Council, District 13 which includes Bellevue, Downtown Pittsburgh, Strip District, Polish Hill, Lawrenceville, Morningside, Garfield, Stanton Heights, Southside Flats & Slopes, Allentown, Beltzhoover, Manchester, North Side, Latimer, Heinz, Troy Hill, Spring Garden, Fineview, Perrysville, Riverview, Woods Run and Brighton Heights.

How do you describe your identity? I am a straight, black woman. I am also a spiritual person and that is part of my campaign because I think we should treat others how we want to be treated and taking care of the “least of these”. My campaign is about protecting the most vulnerable in Allegheny County.

Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Today’s society is not the same as when I was growing up so while I know that people identify as gay, lesbian and other identities in the LGBTQ community now, they did not then. So, I would say probably high school was my first encounter but again, people were not out, and it was not known. I learned that my friend is lesbian a little bit later in life because of this. But I remember her as compassionate and always willing to speak out on the behalf of others and their rights. I went to an all-girl Catholic high school so I am sure there were others but that is the one person I remember the most.

Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. I have worked with activists working around the Allegheny County Jail and trying to get transgender women housed separately so they are not abused by other incarcerated people or guards.

Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for County Council? How will you respond to those priorities? Protecting marginalized people like incarcerated transgender women, making sure people have adequate housing and not allowing businesses in the county to discriminate against people are important. I also support the county-wide conversion therapy ban that Bethany Hallam recently called for and wonder why my opponent did not also back this sooner.

I would also support any kind of legislation for paid sick days county-wide because good health care is important for LGBTQIA+ people and everyone.

Another thing that people are talking about now is sex work. I do not support things like what happened last summer with condoms being classified as weapons. We need to incarcerate less people and I also support things like “ban the box” across the county. The jail is one of the most expensive things for taxpayers in the county and we should pay attention to what is going on there.

How does intersectionality inform your work? I am both black and a woman, so I understand oppression. The issues that hurt these people are often related, too. An example is if we want to make the bus lines better we should make them more accessible for people with disabilities and also end cash transfer fees to help poor folks that may also be disabled since many also have a harder time getting jobs because of discrimination. In the jail it is often black transgender women that are most abused.

The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. How does Allegheny County government navigate this equivalency of personal religious freedom with systemic oppression and control of underserved people? “Religious liberty” laws are usually designed to harm or hurt LGBTQIA+ people. I support a woman’s right to choose and I think nonprofit groups like New Voices are doing good work in this area because they are intersectional. The county government should not allow laws that let businesses or developers to discriminate or prevent people from using the bathroom they need or cut them off from housing they need.

I’ve lived in Manchester for 14 years and it is rare to see or hear from County government on any matters – my neighbors seem focused on our City Council and State Representative most of the time. What unique role does our County Councilmember fill for residents of the urban neighborhoods of the Northside?  I also lived in Manchester and as a part of my district, have attended a few meetings there recently and yes, many people are focused on the City Council race. However, County Council is important because they oversee the budget. They also have a lot of say in tax grants and enforcement of things like the Health Department and air pollution. This is important to me because I have also been talking about air quality during my campaign.

How would you propose to fund a county level Human Relations Commission including paid investigators? The HRC is important because we need mechanisms to protect vulnerable people. This also relates to things disability advocates or housing activists have been fighting for in order to keep people in their homes for example. Where there is a political will there is a way and I would find a way to fund this. This is also why it is important to elect many people to the County Council that think this is important and can work on these issues together.

Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters. I have been endorsed by a national group, Run For Something, which supports emerging, progressive people to run for office. I have also been endorsed by Steel City Stonewall Democrats. I was recommended by the Young Democrats of Allegheny County. I also have support from Pittsburgh activists like Brandi Fisher and Leon Ford.

Is there anything you’d like to add? None of us are free until all of us are free.

Where can readers find your campaign on social media? My campaign Facebook page is facebook.com/friendsofliv and my Twitter and Instagram accounts are @livfor13. My website is livbennett.com if you want to read more about the issues.

Please get out and vote on May 21!

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Dead Kennedys-Pull My Strings - YouTube

I have sold out and opted into the SheKnows Media advertising network. At least, for now. I’m going to try it for six months.

I’ve tried seeking donations to help with the site upkeep, but the truth is – blogging has grown more expensive.  My webhosting is going to spike up to $50/month because I’m signing up with a WordPress super club that will include some routine maintenance work in that fee. The site and template are so unwieldy at this point that I have no choice.

And the attacks on the site are on the upswing. Dear Lord, the Chick-fil-A 2017 tax foundation filings has almost broken my security software. I didn’t event WRITE about it; I’m just linked from a ton of other sites.

One of my goals is to secure funding to do an extensive overhaul of the AMPLIFY portions of the site and I hope that will improve matters overall.

The good news is that my lesbian blog viewership has market appeal! I’m pretty sure that’s all you (readers) and none of me (content) but at least we appreciate the irony together.

SheKnows has all sorts of other things like sponsored content, etc. If I do that, I will definitely let you know. And feel free to give me some feedback.

The million you never made by Ani DiFranco [with lyrics] - YouTube

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Earlier in the month, we reported that the owner of a billboard displaying racist content in Worthington, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania had added an image featuring characters from the Peanuts comic strip. The image included characters Charlie Brown and Franklin Armstong with altered dialogue in which Franklin described Charlie Brown as a racist after he admitted he liked being white.

Yes, Franklin’s last name is Armstrong. He was given that surname after cartoonist Robb Armstrong.

I’ve learned that outside counsel for Peanuts Worldwide has contacted the owner of billboard, John Placek, and the owner of the property displaying the billboard, Worthington-West View Fire Department, with a cease and desist demand.

The images are ordered to be immediately removed. Here’s a portion of the letter:

Your reproduction and display of the Charlie Brown and Franklin characters are without PWW’s authorization, and therefore constitute the infringement of PWW’s copyright rights under 17 U.S.C. §§ 106 and 501 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

Moreover, your unauthorized display of these characters, which function as PWW’s trademarks, constitutes trademark infringement, false designation of origin, unfair competition, dilution, misappropriation and passing off under 15 U.S.C. § 1125 of the U.S. Trademark Act, 54 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann, §1101 et seq., 73 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §201-1 et seq. and/or under related common law doctrines.

In particular, your use of these characters maligns, disparages, and undermines the values which Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schulz stood for, and which he sought to reflect in his stories and characters– namely, the values of compassion, good will and tolerance.

I was especially struck by the final sentence of the letter – that this is about the values of compassion, good will, and tolerance. It is poignant to think that Charles M Schulz can reach across the decades and from beyond death to offer a gesture of support to residents of Worthington Borough.

Mr. Placek has a lot of power and influence, but nowhere near as much as the Peanuts Worldwide syndicate. So will he comply or will be spin this into his narrative of being an oppressed white man? He won’t win in court, but he can try.

The fire department now faces a dilemma of its own. They state that their leasing contract with Mr. Placek does not have any clauses to address content or invalidate the agreement. So how can they force Mr. Placek’s hand here? And what about the next copyright violation letter? Is Mr. Placek going to start respecting copyright law in order to continue his campaign of white terror unimpeded by legal challenges? Is it worth that much to him?

On July 31, 1968, Charles M. Schulz introduced Franklin as the newest member of the Peanut’s gang. You may remember that he attended school with Peppermint Patty and Marcie and was part of the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving festivities. You can read more about this momentous event via an article on NPR.

Here is the original strip introducing Franklin Armstrong to Peanut’s readers, shared appropriately with attribution and without alteration.

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Sometimes, I think about my parents or my brother or his children. Those thoughts are accompanied by deeply painful, gut wrenching feelings of loss, separation, and grief.

We are not separated by death, but by the truths and transgressions of our lives. I haven’t spoken with my brother in nearly a decade and I last spoke with my parents in 2014. Those are mutual decisions, set in place by all parties to preserve the narratives necessary for our survival.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)” 
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

It is just easier to let people assume I’m rejected for being queer and/or mentally ill when the complicated truths of our stories stretch back decades, into centuries filled with violence, poverty, abuse, neglect, addiction, and other oft-cited characteristics of America’s white working/lower classes. It is about my mental health and my identity, but also my politics, my refusal to toe the line protecting abusers, and my refusal to be ashamed of our working class roots and realities.

I dislike the phrase “chosen family” much like I despise the bastardization of the “Island of Misfit Toys” analogy. I didn’t choose my family, but they made most of the formative traumatic choices defining my life. I don’t want another family. I want my family to do better. I want my extended family to reach out. I want my partner and I to be considered family by the whole world, not just people who indulge us.

Not that I’m a stickler for blood and legal ties. I grew up with strictures about my “real” cousins versus adopted cousins, distinctions that made little sense to me. I tended to categorize cousins by their behavior during our annual swimming parties – the realness of kindness over the cruelties of a cousin who shamed and derided me because her family had more of everything. Fast forward to the present era and you can guess who quickly blocked me on Facebook and who did not.

I learned that family relationships can be forged by more than DNA or legal documents. But I don’t try to replicate parental or sibling roles. My two nephews are in my heart, but their moms are not my sisters. That would be weird. And unneccessary. We just are family without labels and it works.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” 
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

I don’t choose family because the one I’ve got has not set the bar high. I choose my friends and colleagues and neighbors and comrades. I hope to find peace of mind around all of these things one day, but I don’t count on it. Being an out-law to my partner’s family is nice, but my hardness and rigidity make it a challenge to fit in … I am fortunate to have loving, supportive people in my life.

“Generally the rational brain can override the emotional brain, as long as our fears don’t hijack us. (For example, your fear at being flagged down by the police can turn instantly to gratitude when the cop warns you that there’s an accident ahead.) But the moment we feel trapped, enraged, or rejected, we are vulnerable to activating old maps and to follow their directions. Change begins when we learn to “own” our emotional brains. That means learning to observe and tolerate the heartbreaking and gut-wrenching sensations that register misery and humiliation. Only after learning to bear what is going on inside can we start to befriend, rather than obliterate, the emotions that keep our maps fixed and immutable.” 
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

But I miss having parents, at least the idea of parents. I also resist the idea that I am obligated to fix what was broken long before I came to be. And that just leaves me occasionally crying unexpectedly over a memory or fragment of the past.

As I prepare to begin trauma processing therapy, I realize it might be years before I see and feel the world differently. And I realize I may not have a chance to reunite with my family during that time.

The difference is that I know taking the time to overcome the traumas of my childhood and youth is something I can control. It is more likely to succeed in helping me than the adults in my young life who overwhelmingly failed me and each other. I can’t fix that. I can’t even begin to think about forgiveness until I am no longer haunted and tortured.

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.” 
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

I wish it could be different, but I can’t see that path right now.

Invest in local blogging and invest in the voices of your neighbors. 

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Picture: Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) zips up the dress of a Parisian drag queen. (Screenshot from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)

– – – – – – – – –

So I just finally started watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime.

I was resisting, because the reviews were so glowing, and I thought, “Meh, nothing can be that good.”

And then it kept picking up awards — Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys, Screen Actors Guild — and so finally, one night, I started watching it.

Now I’m almost done with Season 2, and OK, I’ll admit it: It’s pretty darned good. (It’s also seriously flawed in a lot of ways. I’ll get into that in a minute.)

But what struck me recently was how much of an LGBTQ allegory the show is, and I’m wondering if any other queer people have noticed.

Hear me out on this. (Spoilers follow — if you want to watch “Mrs. Maisel” and haven’t yet, you may want to stop reading.)

Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”), “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the story of an Upper West Side socialite, Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), whose comfortable life in 1950s Manhattan gets turned upside down when her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen) has an affair.

Joel has been pursuing — not too successfully — a stand-up comedy career, mostly by doing open-mike nights in a Greenwich Village club. When he leaves Midge, she gets drunk, goes to the club, and gets up on stage to bare her soul, hilariously and profanely. The enthusiastic reaction of the audience and club manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) leads her to pursue her own career in comedy.

I find the acting and writing wonderful, and the production values are superb — Brosnahan’s wardrobe is to die for. And even more surprising to me — Brosnahan’s monologues are mostly pretty funny! (Movies and TV shows, for some reason, often have a hard time depicting comedy. Remember Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” which was about a fictional “Saturday Night Live” type show? I found the fake sketches really unfunny, which hurt the realism of the show, for me.)

I also love seeing real-life comedians of the era (especially Lenny Bruce) being integrated into the world of “Mrs. Maisel” as flesh-and-blood characters.

But what I really didn’t expect about “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was that I would relate so strongly to Midge Maisel’s experiences, and I’m wondering if any other LGBTQ people are having the same experiences.

Here’s what I connected with:

Living a lie: At the beginning of the series, Midge Maisel has been forced to be a person she doesn’t want to be — a shallow socialite, a passive housewife and a doting mother. And she’s living her life to accommodate other people — her parents, their social circle and her estranged husband.

How many gay and trans people have felt like we need to “act straight” or pretend we’re a gender we were assigned at birth? How many bisexual or asexual people have been denied their actual existence, and told there’s no such thing as their orientation?

Compartmentalizing: Midge has to maintain multiple lives — she is a sophisticated Upper West Side socialite to some people, a demure B. Altman salesgirl to others, and a foul-mouthed comedian on stage — and finds herself in serious trouble when those personas start to collide.

How many LGBTQ people find ourselves closing off parts of our lives or leading double lives?

Being a workaholic: Because Midge can’t stay in touch with her real emotions, she remains busy, constantly, to avoid listening to her own self-doubt. She bases her own self-worth on being invaluable to her friends, and by seeming to be effortlessly beautiful and charming. (In fact, as we see in some early scenes, she actually has to put a ton of effort into keeping up appearances.)

She’s always operating at a high level of competency and energy, so when she stumbles (like when she tells off-color jokes at a friend’s wedding, or when she bombs on stage), it feels devastating and she beats herself up endlessly. Oh, boy, do I relate to those feelings!

Finding a chosen family: Midge’s real family can be controlling and, at times, cruel. So she finds a chose family (Susie, Lenny Bruce, her friends at the Stage Deli) of people who accept her for who she is.

When Midge’s father finds out she’s doing comedy, he’s ashamed, angry and confused. When she finally “comes out” (as a comedian) to her family on Yom Kippur, she’s met with confusion, anger, rejection — and some very limited acceptance.

How many queer people have felt this rejection from family and friends — and have replaced those people with a “chosen family”?

Now, to be honest, to enjoy “Mrs. Maisel,” you do have to be willing to surrender yourself — and overlook some pretty serious problems.

For instance, there are a lot of anachronisms — characters use slang from our era, not the 1950s and ’60s.

Midge Maisel leads, in many ways, a fairy-tale life of privilege which she rarely examines. As her comedy career blossoms, she all but abandons her two small children with babysitters, nannies and her parents.

And as Rokhl Kafrissen wrote for Alma.com, the entire show seems to take place in a version of 1950s America where “anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and even sexism are barely a whisper.”

From an LGBTQ standpoint, there are other problems with “Mrs. Maisel.”

Take the character of Susie — who I love. As portrayed by Alex Borstein (who is a delight — she has won an Emmy and a Critic’s Choice award for her work on “Mrs. Maisel,” and rightfully so), Susie is a hard-drinking, hard-talking butch who lives in Greenwich Village, wears men’s clothing and has little to no interest in their flirtations.

Yet as Sonia Saraiya, reviewing Season 2 for Vanity Fair, noted recently, “Mrs. Maisel” never addresses the obvious question: Is Susie a lesbian, or what?

And when Midge meets a group of drag queens in Paris, she can’t believe her eyes.

Really? “Female impersonators” were certainly playing clubs throughout New York City in the ’40s and ’50s. Hell, had Midge never seen Milton Berle? Christine Jorgensen would have been contemporary fo her, too.

Like I said, “Mrs. Maisel” is full of anachronisms, and for all of its charms, it’s far from perfect.

It’s kind of like a 1920s-style gown I bought from Amazon for a party last year — it looks great from a distance, but up close, you can tell it’s a fake, and if you start pulling any loose threads, it starts to unravel.

Still, I had low expectations for “Mrs. Maisel.” All I was expecting was some pastel-colored fun set in the 1950s.

I didn’t anticipate there would be a deeper level to the character of Midge Maisel. And I certainly didn’t expect her life to be a reflection of my own. For now, I’m eagerly awaiting Season 3.

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We have used housecleaning services since 2006 or so, finding that having someone to do the ‘big jobs’ on a regular basis (for a fair wage) was very helpful for our relationship and lives. It was worth the financial sacrifice in our budget. We’ve worked with professional firms, under-the-table cleaners, friends, friends of friends, green cleaners, and more with mixed results.

When Ledcat and I decided to find a new housecleaning service this winter, I was referred by several people to Self Care Housekeeping. I wanted a company that was LGBTQ competent, reliable, and respectful of clients’ mental and physical health needs, including accommodations. I had worked with Shanon on a community project in the past, but we had never met face-to-face. We had an initial consultation online via Facebook Messenger and I scheduled her. She’s been to our home twice so far and both encounters have been positive.

I was deeply affected by the way she moved through my home. She asked questions and listened to me. She didn’t pop in earbuds or carry on a stream of conversation. She noted my sensitive areas and made a point to reassure me – I didn’t have to clean or organize for the cleaner, she said. We had an interesting conversation, but I felt like she was professional and set good boundaries around our many shared community interests.

Shanon has made me radically rethink my understanding of housekeeping (including cleaning) as a tool for social change and community building. It was more than simply being respectful of my preferences and constraints; she actively focused on how my space should reflect how I move through the world, not how others believe I should move.

I asked Shanon to do a Q&A with me to offer you insight into her business and business values. You’ll notice my questions are wordy, even for me, because this topic is so important to me.

Your Name: Shanon Williams

Your Pronouns: She/Her/Hers/They

Your Company Name and Role: Self Care Housekeeping; Founder/CEO

How do you describe your identity? The static parts are Black, female, woman, neuro-atypical, artistic, logical.  The fluid or malleable parts I’d say are disabled, oppressed, marginalized, invisible, traumatized.  I say these are fluid because they are wholly dependent on societal factors, which change all the time.  Some much slower than others, but changing, none-the-less.

How does housekeeping connect with self-care principles? Space plays such a huge role in our lives.  Like, a huge role. There are buildings, places, experiences many of us cannot engage in because of the physicality of the space.  It differs for everyone but it’s so real. When it comes to our space, it’s an extension of us. When our external space is in disarray to our liking, it causes stress.  Likewise, when we are in crisis internally, it makes it difficult to maintain our routines to keep up with our space. It’s cyclical and can be very difficult to come out of.  The state and function of my home is the litmus test for whether I am doing well or not.

When it comes to how we keep our homes, there are a lot of “shoulds” and social expectations. Two that come to mind are 1) our houses must be tidy and clear or we are failing somehow and 2) if we welcome people in spite of clutter or disorder, we are still accepting that standard and just choosing to turn a blind eye. Why do these expectations have such a hold on us? We are taught to clean and keep from very young ages and in our society, we are taught that a home is not clean unless it’s cleaned a certain way.  I think because we are all taught these rigid things and so early on and since space is something that anyone can spectate, the expectations drilled into us become a basis for judgment for others and a source of shame and anxiety for us when we aren’t able to or don’t feel good adhering to those rules.  What we are not taught is that everyone’s brains, bodies, and minds process differently and need/want differently. We are not taught how to spot when someone might be in crisis by the state of their homes. We’re taught to judge and put down. That’s not ok. I’m hoping to help change that narrative.

I would suggest all housekeepers and professionals who work directly with people for that matter, to complete a trauma-informed care course and mental health first aid.  I think that would give enough foundation for empathy and consideration that isn’t always inherent, even when someone means well.

Your approach is grounded in mental wellness, including an awareness that you should do no harm to the humans living in the home and touch base with them to reconcile the work. How does that play out and what does it mean for readers who are not familiar with the concepts? Mental wellness is priority.  To maintain focus on mental wellness during a visit, it’s a lot of checking in with the client and also myself.  Every step is in consideration of ‘can this be harmful?’ and ‘does this need to be cleared before you move forward’ even ‘this might make a loud noise, I should announce that this activity is about to start beforehand.’  It’s not uncommon for there to be some reservation with new clients because no one knows what to expect. I’ve found that this approach of constant communication creates an environment of safety and trust for everyone present or will be present in the home.  It also allows me to understand the needs and goals of the clients. By the end of the first visit, the initial anxiety melts away. It’s an awesome thing to experience and be a part of.

Toward the end of your first visit, you intentionally asked me about my experiences with trauma around housekeeping and my eyes welled up. I can trace my source of shame back to my childhood experiences, like many folks. But no one who has worked with us has ever intentionally acknowledged that I carry this with me and that it isn’t as simple as just keeping a cleaner house to heal that trauma. How does trauma-informed care influence your work? Well, that’s because I don’t work with the home.  I work with the head and heart through the home. In order to know what role I should play – what support looks like for each individual – I have to understand.  That happens differently for different people, but typically it happens through conversation – the initial conversation usually being the most descriptive. To be clear, I have not taken any official trauma-informed care courses.  I’m informed by my training at Pitt, work experience, and life. The way you talked about how you were treated through your home was an indication that there has been some harm there. When appropriate, it’s important for me to explore those experiences, because it will inform my actions and presence in your space.  Everyone is different, so it’s important to do quite a bit of tailoring. The easiest way of doing that is listening intentionally and apply the knowledge and language as guides to understand what the space really needs.

You and I spoke quite a bit about “clutter” and I’ve realized that I find it inherently harmful to equate “my stuff” with clutter, a negative term. It isn’t that I am simply comfortable with the clutter or disorganization or chaos, it is that I have made some deliberate choices about how I manage my stuff. In some cases, those choices are based on my disability (keeping our multiple pairs of scissors in a pen holder rather than a drawer so I don’t hurt myself when I reach into the drawer) and in others, they are based on pragmatic needs such as the bucket where we store pet tools or how we stack unread or partially read magazines and newspapers and newsletters. I *could* make other choices, but these work best for me. This is not clutter to me. Clutter is the holiday decor that needs to go upstairs into the attic, the unopened mail, the CDs and books I cannot cram into my storage spaces without a massive overhaul, the unfolded laundry, etc.  But most of the time all of this gets mashed up into one judgemental term. What are your thoughts on clutter and clutter shaming? Self Care Housekeeping’s core values are 1) function and 2) safety.  Whatever that means for our client is what it means for us. That’s why it’s so important to understand the head and heart space because function and safety don’t mean the same thing for everyone (like your description above).  Our role is to never shame or put down. Even when a person is not ready to meet the goals that they’ve set out for themselves – it takes a lot to face our homes head-on, sometimes. Sometimes, it takes a little longer and that is ok.  With everything else, everyone’s idea of what clutter is varies. Our role is to figure out what is clutter through the eyes of the client and figure out what our role is in healing that space.  We try not to inform too much on what works for us as individuals, because that might not work for the people we are working with.  However, some clients do request support through our lens for various reasons, so we adapt to either and all circumstances that do not violate ethical or safety boundaries.

We’ve been working with house cleaners for nearly 15 years. I find that even when we have the resources and flexible schedule, it can still be a struggle. One big issue has been meeting the needs of the cleaners – for example, one person insisted on scooping and changing the papers with a litter box because she could not abide it even though we did not want her to do that or to have anything to do with that space. Another organized my hair scrunchies without asking me which was super annoying. Another insisted we use the rule of 3 to prepare for her to work for us which doesn’t even make sense. If I’m paying you by the hour, how does it matter if I have 5 items for you to pick up and dust versus 3? I wonder if people drawn to this work tend to be folks who are minimalists, declutterers, organizers but not necessarily caretakers. I think almost every person we’ve had has made jokes about “being OCD” as job skill which is actually a bit offensive to me as a person with mental health diagnosis. And now it is a red flag for me. How can cleaners and organizers step up their mental wellness skills to offer more compassionate and effective supports to new clients? I cringed just as much reading this as I did when you told me about your experience.  I don’t want to express everything that I thought and felt of the matter, but it was certainly a shock.  I also don’t have a lens for housekeeping as a singular profession, so this may be my completely uninformed critique with regard to the profession.  My thought on this, unless these are skilled social service professionals, I would suggest all housekeepers and professionals who work directly with people for that matter, to complete a trauma-informed care course and mental health first aid.  I think that would give enough foundation for empathy and consideration that isn’t always inherent, even when someone means well.

It just a mantel with items that we want visible/displayed. It just needs to be dusted, not rearranged.

You mentioned to me that you experienced this need yourself which is how you started your company – you saw the gap in service. Please tell us about this gap and how your company is filling it? Are you available to train others? Sure thing.  A few years ago, I was diagnosed with “unspecified bipolar disorder.”  For me, this typically means that I either have way too much energy and talk really fast (lol) or I’m mild to moderately depressed (in my subjective unit of measure).  Sometimes, I can reach severe depression, but that doesn’t happen quite as often. When I’m depressed, I experience anxiety and lethargy. In these moments, in addition to my speech being affected because of the anxiety, I can’t tend to my home.  Like, I’ll know the dishes need to be washed, I’ll know that I know how to wash them, but I can’t bring myself to do them.  My diet goes from food to trash, I’m not keeping up with routine household things like paying bills, managing accounts, etc.  After I was diagnosed I had to figure all this out. I didn’t know what it meant to live with bipolar disorder because I’ve always lived with it.  So, I had to figure out when I was manic (super energized) and when I was depressed and what it meant, behaviorally for both. When I figured it out, I had to establish some safeguards for myself.  When I’m manic, I’m not supposed to start anything new. I’m supposed to wait until I’m down off of that manic “high.” I don’t always keep to that, but it’s the goal (lol.) When I’m depressed, I do things like switch to paper and plastic because I know I’m not washing dishes for a while.  Those things help, but I needed support. After searching with my social work hat on for a number of days, I couldn’t find anything that spoke to my needs with regard to cleaning, organizing and decluttering, nutrition, and keeping the ship in order (bills and such.) When I climbed out of depression and talking to a number of people to find that other folks have similar needs, I got started with forming Self Care Housekeeping.  I wasn’t manic at the time, I should add, though my therapist gave me the side-eye anyway lol.

Self Care’ is currently in a season of growth and training/certification has been in consideration.  I am not currently training, but that very well might be a possibility in the near future.

However, because our society tells us to value capitalism and devalue labor, here we are. I also think our relationship to home chores play a good role in that, as well. The idea that we should be the ones solely responsible for keeping house and when we do not or cannot, it means we have failed, especially if you are identified as female.  Those two things, I think, weigh heavy on us when it comes to paying for home service.

Our supplies ready to go …

You have two price tiers, one where the client provides the supplies and one where you bring the tools and cleaning materials. It was a good fit for me to fill our bucket with the cleaners we prefer, the rags we prefer, make sure we had the dustpan and so forth ready not so much to save money but to assure our needs were met. Most cleaners do not have this flexibility. Why do you use it? I didn’t realize that wasn’t a common option lol. In the interest in being accommodating and should someone want to use specific products or their own, that the option was there.

Do you find that affordability is a barrier for people seeking supports? What would you suggest to someone who really needs support, but doesn’t have the budget to hire someone? Affordability is definitely a barrier.  I’m working on qualifying to become a provider with the Department of Human Services, but it’s a process.  In the meantime, I try to create some space for affordability. I offer a free hour of service for referrals and the person who referred them, run specials – that sort of thing.  It doesn’t solve the problem, but I’m constantly looking for more access points for service. Anyone who really needs the support, I’ve heard of some church groups that help with the home, though I’m unaware of who they are or their parameters.  They can still reach out to us and we can see what we can do. Everyone deserves access to mental wellness.

I’ve found that most cleaning services are priced in the $20-25/hour range which seems pricey but is also averaging out at about $40,000/year before supplies, equipment, insurance, mileage, taxes, and so forth. And it is important and can be physically demanding work. Does our collective unwillingness to pay a fair wage for this work say something about how we value the people who typically clean for us or about our mixed up notions about the importance of the work itself? Or both? I think it’s a mix of things.  Definitely the social devaluation of labor work, which is ridiculous.  You and I talked about that, I believe. I think you said something to the tune of ‘if your accountant doesn’t show up for work, life will go on, but if all the labor workers decide not to show up for work, we’d shut this show down,’ and truer words have not been spoken!  However, because our society tells us to value capitalism and devalue labor, here we are. I also think our relationship to home chores play a good role in that, as well. The idea that we should be the ones solely responsible for keeping house and when we do not or cannot, it means we have failed, especially if you are identified as female.  Those two things, I think, weigh heavy on us when it comes to paying for home service. It is very physically demanding work, but it can also be unsafe in many ways.  I was faced with a dilemma of safety and ethics, recently.

A person recently contacted us for services who is connected to the individuals who have targeted me in the recent past.  This person, to my knowledge, was not directly involved, but the mear request from them was triggering. I also considered the potential of more harm being done through working with them, even if I sent a care agent other than myself to service this particular client.  This is also a person reaching out because they need our services and my want is to provide what I know to be so necessary. This was a really difficult conjecture between my business, ethics, and personal safety. I do not subscribe to sacrificing personal safety and health in order to land a contract.  I think that goes back to the toxic thinking that labor workers are not valued and therefore do not deserve safety and consideration. I settled on enacting our “safety and confidentiality clause,” which is used to ensure the safety and boundaries for the care agent and company. Clients with this clause attached are required to pay an additional good-faith fee and sign an inverse confidentiality agreement (confidentiality is automatically ensured for the client when contracting with the company.)  The fee has the potential of being removed after some time to the discretion of the company, but I wanted to share this here because safety is such an important, under-represented thing. In my experience with and witnessing of violence from physical to social to mental and emotional, safety is rarely prioritized for the individuals before they become victims. Being that we operate in spaces as intimate as the home, understanding what safety is and what it looks like for both our clients and our staff is always mandated.  Though this clause will be a rare occurrence and require proof by the care agent that the potential for harm is present, this is the precedent that we are setting with Self Care Housekeeping, because we are valued and worth safety and protection as well.

So, yeah, a mix of things.

Please describe your full array of services and your service area?

Cleaning – spanning from light to detailed

Organizing & Decluttering – defined by your specifications and needs

Meal Prep – designing menus with recipes, meal prep, shopping, and complete meal delivery

Home Management – organizing for productivity in the home

Workshops – we explore the head/heart space in physical form.  It’s pretty dope.

Is there anything you’d like to add? Life doesn’t demand perfection, only intention.

Where can readers find you on social media?

Facebook: @selfcarehousekeeping

IG: @selfcarepgh

Thank you, Shanon. Thank you for sharing this space with us.  It means so much to be heard.

Be sure to visit the Self Care Housekeeping website for more information. 

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Inflammatory question? Perhaps.

Cartoon using Peanut’s characters to satirize anti-racist work.

John Placek denies that he is a racist white man, but spends thousands of dollars ‘trolling’ Worthington, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania with racist, white nationalist content. And as he told WPXI, he plans to erect two more billboards somewere nearby.

“Stand Up Against White Racism!” (I’m not sure this actually means what Mr. Placek intends?)

When we look at the early deconstruction of white nationalism’s role in the terrorist attacks on the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand we see a lot of fingerpointing to the Internet as a portal for haters and extremists to find like-minded individuals.

Lee Jarvis, co-editor of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, says that the internet has provided people with minority-held beliefs a space to connect with other like-minded people in a way that can normalize their world view.
“There are fears that if you have a small number of people with same ideas, the ideas feel more legitimate and widespread than they actually are,” Jarvis says.
The fact that the document is laced with internet in-jokes, references and memes underlines that many white supremacists are radicalized by socializing with each other online, he adds.

John Placek is not alone in his world views about Black people, racial privilege, and white privilege. You need only read the comments on this post to see that many people agree with him or perhaps, many more people are willing to publicly agree with him than are willing to publicly challenge him and his beliefs.

I’ve heard from folks on the ground in Armstrong County who denounce Placek privately and claim that they don’t want to give him attention. I understand that tactic, but in response I remind you that the people who are most impacted by these billboards have repeatedly asked allies to speak out, to put out alternative messaging. No one in Armstrong County seems to be able to figure out how to do that.

I can’t do it because I do not live there. I can continue to signal boot the concerns of marginalized people who are expressing their fear and apprehension. I can push external groups to invest resources in doing anti-racism work in Armstrong County. I can keep saying “Hey, look over here at this situation” and hope my readers will continue to take action.

So even assuming the number of people in Armstrong County who agree with these billboards is small, their impact is outsized because Placek literally controls that largest forum in the entire county. Keep in mind the regional newspaper is behind a paywall and the local paper and public TV station are owned by a man facing multiple charges for sexually assaulting a disabled child. He’s also a pastor and a member of the Kittanning Borough Council.

I wonder if any journalist in this region (and their producer/editor) has the guts to explore the similarities between this racist terror looming over Armstrong County and the shootings in New Zealand? I don’t necessarily think John Placek is going to shoot anyone, but I do think that his billboards and the people who support them are very much a part of the problem that feed the white supremacist terrorism.

I’ve pitched the story a dozen times, but the only response is the typical “gotcha” story, not a nuanced examination. I’ve even suggested that KDKA’s Lynne Hayes Freeland invite the journalist who did pretty excellent work on the local coverage of the story on his show to discuss. I’ve made the same suggestion to WESA The Confluence. His name is Jon Andreassi. He knows the region and can speak about the culture that creates and sustains this level of racial antagonism.

John Placek is a racist. He is not an “alleged racist.” The content of the billboards is racist and hateful, not ‘controversial. He is ignorant of basic US history and unwilling to open his mind to new (to him) facts. He actively engages in choices that terrorize people in his community and then hides behind his grandchildren’s ethnic identities to excuse his behavior.  He’s a coward as well as a racist and a bully.

“I can tell you categorically I am not a racist, but we need to have a conversation about racism,” Placek said.

Placek says he has seven grandchildren. Three of them are black, two Hispanic and two are white.

God be with those children.
No one can force the billboards down. There is no known pressure point with the exception of Placek’s sensitivity to being labled a racist and perhaps some form of social shunning by people in his circle. That’s unlikely to happen.

One local resident has suggested “if the money at the fish fry and the events at the Civic Center (who are advertising on the board) starts to dry up, people will notice and hopefully do the right thing.” He describes this type of thinking as a nuanced connecting of the dots to generate public pressure.

The Fire Department might want to reconsider the leasing agreement in 18 months and perhaps add clauses about this sort of issue. And it would be interesting to know how much Mr. Placek pays the Fire Department – perhaps they would consider donating that amount of money toward anti-racism work in Worthington to offset the harm they are causing? Contact them Phone: (724) 297-3473 Fax: (724) 297-5913 and on Facebook.

Then there’s the matter of zoning. This billboard is reportedly very bright and distracting, but PennDOT does not have any zoning regulations in place. Since Mr. Placek plans to erect two more structures, it might be worth putting a lot of pressure on PennDOT to get some zoning in place. They cannot (and should not) control the message, but addressing the public safety matters around the bright lights is within their responsibilities.

The State Legislators that govern Worthington and surely have dedicated PennDOT staffers is State Representative Jeffrey Pyle. The Senate seat is empty.

Representative Pyle’s offices can be reached by phone (724) 763-3222 and (724) 295-2200 and (717) 783-5327. You can email him jpyle@pahousegop.com and find him on Facebook here as well as Tweet at him @RepJeffPyle

Perhaps there is time to get an injunction in place regarding electronic billboards if PennDOT acts swiftly before the two new structures are erected? It seems worth a shot.

Meanwhile, I’ve shared the latest images in this post. The Peanuts one is ridiculous. The other one is just …  odd. Why would he enourage people to stand against ‘white racism’ (there’s no such thing as white racism, there is just racism)? My suspicion is that he meant to stand against what he mistakenly believes is racism targeting white people versus racism by white people?

We are just unwilling to do the very hard work of examining the impact of anti-Blackness in our lives as well as the consequences of growing up in a society that rests on racist foundations. We can shake our heads and roll our eyes about Mr. Placek’s ignorance and silliness, but that’s not helping people who have to live in the reality where he has most of the power.

The Australian-born suspect who shot and killed dozens of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, has published a manifesto praising US President Donald Trump and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011.

The 74-page dossier, which has been described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as a “work of hate”, hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”.

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One of the advantages to donating bags of food to our drop-off either in person or via the Amazon wish list is that the food is in the hands of the caretakers within a matter of days.

Someone recently donated this bag of food

Within a few hours after arrival, it was taken to a 92 year-old woman who has a cat colony at her home. She’s considered one of the best caretakers, but a fixed income is always a barrier to getting everything her colony needs Your donations will help her continue to do this important work.

Our friends and collaborators at CARMAA are working to establish sustainable funding so neighbors like this one will receive some food each month. A monthly donation even of a 5 lb bag can make a huge impact.

Here’s how to help –

  • Donate dry or canned food via our Amazon wishlist (includes other items often needed by caretakers) and the items will automatically be shipped to our drop-off location
  • Bring your donation directly to our drop-offs: Northside – Mr. Sign retail business along Western Avenue near the West End Bridge. You can leave food on the porch/garage area if they are closed. The address is 1316 Western Ave 15233.  Natrona Heights – leave donations on the porch at 41 Sycamore Street, Natrona Heights, PA 15065. Tarentum – HCMT clinic at 207 Allegheny Street, Tarentum, PA 15084. Volunteers are usually there between roughly 3 and 5pm daily, but that is not always a given so if no one is there, please do not leave your items unattended.
  • Make a financial donation via our crowdfund – donations go to the Homeless Cat Management Fund 501c3 and will be used specifically for purchasing food.
  • Follow us on Facebook and share this post with your friends, asking them to contribute what they can.
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Welcome to the slightly-delayed inaugural fish fry Friday review in this #GrandJuryReport era. You can read more about this feature, including our criteria at this blog post.  

‘Name: Riverview Presbyterian Church (Perry North/Northside)

Date: March 8, 2019

Time We Ate: Ordered at 5:20 PM, Order Picked Up at 6:40 PM

In review, the factors we assess include:

  • Location/directions/parking/signage
  • Atmosphere/Volunteer Friendliness/Engagement
  • Accessibility
  • Menu: variety, portions, taste and price
  • LGBTQ cultural competency
  • Ecofactors such as reusable/disposable items, recycling bins, takeout containers
  • Impact of the Grand Jury Report 

For this first week, I was feeling a bit anxious so Ledcat suggested that we try the take-out option of a fry we’ve visited in the past. (Read review 1 and review 2 here) It took us a few minutes to find the right phone number; Google directed us to the main church number which had no information on the fish fry. But I dug up a flyer and that gave us the right place to call.

We opted for a small fish sandwich with two sides, macaroni & coleslaw; a shrimp dinner with a side of fries, cheese sticks, and a half dozen pierogies.  Our order was missing one item – the coleslaw.

The food was packaged in paper trays wrapped in big pieces of paper so that made me happy – no styrofoam. We were able to compost everything because it wasn’t grease stained. The food was still reasonably warm when Laura arrived home.

The fish sandwich was good, but not great. The portion size was good, but it just lacked any special punch. The shrimp were also perfectly fine, a little heavy on the breading. The fries were a bit limp as you’d expect but still tasty.

The macaroni and cheese was delicious; we both immediately put it at the top of our list. The pierogies, however, were just meh. They were mixed in a sea of onion chunks, but it was almost like someone had diced the pierogies, too. Now I need to be clear – the pierogies were prepared by students at the Community Kitchen culinary program in a partnership with Riverview. And I think that’s a solid choice. It is entirely possible that on this first night of Lent and the first night of a new partnership, things didn’t go so well.  It is unclear if the macaroni and cheese came from CK as well, if so – that’s a winner.

Laura reported that the place was packed and a bit chaotic which you’d expect on a first night. They handed her the order and sent her on her way. She arrived home and realized that she hadn’t paid. I contacted the church by FB messenger and arranged to send a check.

Since I did not actually go to the church, I have to make educated guesses on several factors. Ledcat thinks I am far too hard on the fish fry purveyors of Pittsburgh and refuses to offer her input on signage or engagement. “I ordered my fish; they gave me my fish, what else is there?” in her famous words.

Riverview takes fish fry work seriously. They have a dedicated Facebook page, events, lots of flyers, and as I mentioned above – community engagement with organizations doing good work in the community. The menu includes soup choices, fried pickle chips, haluski, and other cheese options. They have desserts and drinks. It is pretty robust. The noticeable missing item is a broiled/baked fish.

For a take out option, it is not bad. We may go back and dine-in, but with Ledcat’s blood pressure issues – she’s reluctant to eat constant fried foods so it is up in the air if we return this season.

As I’ve mentioned, I grew up in a neighborhood where the Catholic parish literally touched both streets leading into and out of our neighborhood. We had predator priests for 24+ years. A few blocks down the street is Lebanon Presbyterian Church which is now a conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church aka anti-LGBTQ.

When I was in high school and growing increasingly disgusted by the leadership of predator John Wellinger, I temporarily sought refuge at the Presbyterian Church. It was already part of our lives – both the Boy and Girl Scouts met there so it was a natural fit to join the youth group. Most of the members were my classmates and friends. I was not the least bit concerned about the theological differences; I just wanted to feel safe and social. I wasn’t the only Catholic kid who made that decision. So I look at the Presbyterian Church as a source of solace and comfort during a terrible period of my life.

It broke my heart to watch the Presbytery rip itself apart over LGBTQ issues, but I believe that fissure is deeply tied to the violence and corruption within Christianity. I’d like to think there can be good churches in the midst of so much harm, but I suspect that is simply wishful thinking.

I am grateful that the members of this congregation claim a pro-LGBTQ space and do so much to build up the Northside. I reached out to the church to ask them to do a Q&A because I’d like to know how they are navigating the post Grand Jury Report era.

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