June is the month for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) to celebrate nationwide in cities large and small. The recent Pittsburgh Pride 2012 festivities brought together more than 81,000 people for 10 days of celebrating the diversity that makes our region an inviting place for a weekend or a lifetime.
To recognize the importance of LGBT people to the region’s economy and quality of life, ImaginePittsburghNow.com is spotlighting some members of the community who are proud to talk about why Pittsburgh is their destination of choice for living and working. This is the final part of a three-part series. The other installments may be found here.
Jim Sheppard is special assistant to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. A native of Brookline, he attended Seton-LaSalle High School in Mount Lebanon and the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied political science and public policy.
IPN: What kept you in Pittsburgh?
SHEPPARD: I grew up here. My family is here. My partner is here. And I love the work that I get to do. Pittsburgh is really a live-and-let-live kind of city, a place that welcomes everybody. My partner and I bought a house together in Brookline a year and a half ago, and that’s been great. As a neighborhood it’s a really well-kept secret. For being so large geographically, it has a wonderful family-oriented feel to it.
IPN: What does your job at the mayor’s office entail day to day?
SHEPPARD: It’s a very vibrant place to be. There are wonderful opportunities to impact change. I help coordinate outreach to the city’s southern neighborhoods. I’m also on the LGBT Advisory Council, which was formed around 2009. The council has met with all city departments to discuss issues of inclusion, and supports the DiverCity 365 program, which strives for greater equity in all ways when it comes to hiring.
I was recently appointed to the Human Relations Commission, which hears complaints about alleged discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, as well as alleged civil rights violations.
IPN: What do you do in your spare time?
SHEPPARD: I’m president of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats, the largest LGBT political organization in western Pennsylvania. It educates voters about the stances of elected officials. I’m a volunteer with the Delta Foundation, too, so the run-up to June has been incredibly busy. This all might sound like more work, but doesn’t feel that way.
I also volunteer with the Animal Rescue League; I’m a big animal lover. And I’m a bit of a foodie. My partner and I really enjoying trying the many new restaurants that are always opening up in Pittsburgh. I’m a big fan of Burgatory and Salt of the Earth.
IPN: How welcome – or less than welcome, if that’s the case – do you feel as an LGBT person in Pittsburgh – both as a professional and as a resident of the Pittsburgh region?
SHEPPARD: Personally, coming out to my parents – I’d worked it up in my head that it would be awful. But it went fine. Before I came out, I couldn’t have imagined there’d be a time when a partner and I would be going on family vacations with his parents, my parents, his brother and brother’s girlfriend. But we do, and it’s great. We’re just like “Modern Family.”
I’ve never experienced any discrimination professionally or personally. I think that’s not uncommon among younger people.
I’ve certainly heard stories from the older members of the LGBT population about workplace discrimination. I’m completely aware that the fight isn’t over, and that other people do face barriers. That’s why I do the work I do. But Pittsburgh was one of the first cities to have a non-discrimination law, and to specifically mention transgender people, who are not always protected.
IPN: What advice would you give to employers; civic leaders and fellow Pittsburghers about how to make our region and our workplaces more inclusive?
SHEPPARD: In May the LGBT Advisory Council hosted a diversity job far, and I was really pleased with the attitudes of the companies that participated. Companies shouldn’t care who people love – just that their employees do good work. We want workplaces where LGBT individuals won’t have to go back into the closet in order to get a job, but can come as they are, and be who they are.