Local government can protect citizens from hostile feds

Credit: Diane Lee/ Credit: Diane Lee/

The American federal government is built on a series of checks and balances. While the president is the most visible person in the American government, thier job is merely to enforce laws passed by Congress in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution.

However, politics are becoming increasingly polarized. Even politicians opposed to their party establishments might vote against their party only once every three or four times, as in rare cases like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who opposes coal regulation despite his party’s support. But even in the case of the most extreme figures, like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT), the internal opposition to the party still consistently votes with the party. With this in mind, Republican control of Congress combined with president-elect Donald Trump in the White House, where he is able to shape the Supreme Court, seems like it would make the Republican Party an unstoppable juggernaut.

Luckily, American government is intentionally decentralized. Total control of the federal government is a lot of power, but our local governments form a meaningful line of defense from an unimpeded Trump.

Since the election, especially in the past week alone, Pittsburgh has reaffirmed to its citizens that it will serve as this line of defense for them against an administration that campaigned against their rights.

One example of this affirmation happened on Nov. 29 when Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus and Councilman Dan Gilman moved to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors in Pittsburgh.

Conversion therapy is a brutal practice widely reviled in LGBTQ communities. The oft-mentioned electric shocks designed to condition LGBTQ children and teenagers out of their identities in Pavlovian fashion are only one form of conversion therapy, but psychotherapy and groups designed to “pray the gay away” fall under the same category. All of them are considered to be pseudoscience and are known to be dangerous for the mental state of the person subjected to them.

Conversion therapy gained renewed prominence shortly after Trump’s selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his vice president. Pence has supported using federal dollars to support conversion therapy in the past and has not backed off on that stance yet in this election.
According to a quote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette(, Councilman Gilman “think[s] there was a new level of fear that was brought on by this election,” and the Council intendes to respond to that fear on a local level.

For Council President Kraus, Pittsburgh’s first openly gay politician, this ordinance is very personal. He shared in an interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper his memories as a third grader experiencing struggles with identity: “I do remember my parents seeking medical attention to help them understand who and what I was, and help me understand who and what I was.” And though his parents never actually subjected him to conversion therapy, Kraus wants this ordinance to remind parents that, even though they may be confused, no good will come from efforts to change who their child is.

Mayor Bill Peduto also announced last week on Nov. 28 that he had finalized the makeup of Pittsburgh’s new LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council, initially announced in August. The 15-member group, including Carnegie Mellon alumna Satvika Neti (DC ‘16), will meet monthly in order to make policy recommendations to Mayor Peduto on how best to meet the needs of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ constituency. The Council has also been tasked with writing an annual progress report, holding public forums, and serving as a contact point for community members who wish to offer their input.

On Tuesday Nov. 29, City Council also announced a unanimously-passed resolution that strongly recommends health care providers to encourage patients to get tested for HIV during routine doctor’s office visits. The resolution resulted from collaboration between the Council and the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, and the announcement came right before World AIDS Day last week. This measure reinforces that Pittsburgh is not just invested in protecting its community from the outside, but improving it from within.

Furthermore, a PublicSource article published on Tuesday, Nov. 29 reported that City Council intends to formalize a policy that would add Pittsburgh to the list of sanctuary cities in America where local police officers are prohibited from investigating a person’s immigration status, leaving that responsibility to manpower and funds from Immigration and Customs Enforcement since immigration policy is federal law, not local law. Pittsburgh already operates under a de facto sanctuary city policy, keeping local officials out of matters of immigration, but this policy would solidify this commitment.

The sanctuary city movement is the perfect example of local governments upholding constitutional ideals of checks and balances, maintaining a separation of powers that prevents incorrect authorities from unjustly targeting immigrants. In the face of Trump’s promised immigration policy, the move speaks even louder volumes. In Pennsylvania, House Bill No. 1885, which promises to put economic and criminal sanctions on cities in Pennsylvania that declare themselves sanctuary cities, passed by a large margin in the House. If it passes in the Senate, Governor Tom Wolf’s veto may not matter. Yet, despite these threats, Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia in defying this dangerous attempt to systematize police racial profiling.

All in one week, both the City Council and Mayor’s Office sent a strong message to their constituency with their actions. Pittsburgh’s officials are invested in the health and safety of its citizens, and will go to lengths to protect and defend those who need protection and defense. In the face of an uncertain national future, we can be certain Pittsburgh’s administration remains firmly on the side of its people.

Regardless of national and state election results, Allegheny County voted blue.