Ciora Thomas has spent the past four years working to end homelessness for trans people in Pittsburgh.
It’s a quest that’s personal for Thomas: She’s a trans woman of color who was previously homeless.
Thomas serves as board co-chair of Proud Haven, an LGBTQ youth homelessness organization that’s in the process of opening a shelter, and is the founder of sisTers United, which serves trans people. She’s also working to open a shelter specifically for trans people.
Through this work, Thomas has made a lot of good connections, she told The Incline, which is why she applied to be a part of the mayor’s newly reformed LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council.
“I was thinking it was time for me to make some ground of my own,” she said, “[and to join] this team of people with the same mission.”
“We need it,” Thomas added of the council. “We had it. And it got dismantled years ago. I’m glad the mayor has done this again.”
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill Peduto named the 15 people who will serve on the LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, which is set to meet for the first time in January. A representative from the Commission on Human Relations will also serve on the council.
Corey Buckner, a community affairs liaison in the Office of Community Affairs, said about a year of planning went into reforming the council.
Buckner was Peduto’s special assistant for two years. During that time, he said he raised the idea of bringing back the council a few times.
“Most people don’t really realize that people in the LGBTQ+ community lose jobs for being out,” Buckner said.
Seventy nine people applied, according to Buckner, and from those applicants, a selection group narrowed the field from 38 to 25 to 15.
“Our goal is to strive for inclusivity within the LGBTQ community,” Buckner said of the process.
The council includes eight white members, six black members, one Latina member and one Asian member. Selected participants are cis, trans and genderqueer, and they identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, same-gender loving and queer.
None of the members of the council identify as a straight ally to the LGBTQ community.
That was particularly important to Sue Kerr, founder and editor-in-chief of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, who wrote a post this summer explaining that position:
I continue to cast a skeptical eye on the disconnect between allies who support us, but don’t create a culture where folks are proud to be out. This is a serious problem that opens the door for council that doesn’t reflect who we are – there is no conceivable way a straight cis white person should be on this committee. And real allies won’t try to take up the slots by applying. Don’t do it, allies. Hand over the mic and stand back.
“There are people who cannot come out,” Kerr told The Incline before the council was announced. “There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason people don’t come out.”
One of those reasons is a lack of openly out leadership, which Kerr said can’t change unless we put LGBTQ people in a position “to lead the way.”
Members of the advisory council will also serve on subcommittees: Advocacy & Outreach; Faith Based & Cultural Awareness; Health & Wellness; Homelessness; Public Accommodations & Housing; Workforce Development; and Youth & Young Adults.
Thomas, who works full-time as a community integrated team leader with Community Human Services, said she’d like to serve on the Homelessness subcommittee as well as the one focused on Youth & Young Adults.
“We can end the recycling of homelessness for trans people,” she said, but we “have to provide the homeless with affordable, permanent housing.”
“We can overlook them a lot,” Thomas said of trans people. “We get looked over.”