It’s Pittsburgh Pride, and the shit is hitting the fan.
Note, I wrote the majority of this in the days leading up to Pride.
First, some background. We start with the Lambda Foundation. Years ago, they were the LGBT organization in Pittsburgh. Delta was a spin-off of Lambda and did the event planning. Over the years, Delta became the prominent organization. A couple years ago, what was left of Lambda was absorbed by Delta under the name “Lambda Giving,” with their goal to facilitate charitable giving (with a separate board).
Delta is headed by Gary Van Horn (side note, I graduated high school with his younger brother, and he’s a decent guy), and years ago he was in a bunch of legal/criminal trouble. To anyone outside of Monroeville, this old news gets dredged up as news whenever there is a controversy around Delta, we just shrug my shoulders: we all knew Gary had some trouble in his past and just sort of expect these kind of shenanigans. There’s more than what’s been reported, and the more I talk with my friends, the creepier interactions I keep hearing about, but suffice to say Van Horn isn’t someone you really want to hang out with, let alone be in charge of such a large organization.
To Delta’s credit however, I feel bad because no matter why they book to headline Pride, there is no way they’ll ever please everyone. Last year when it was Chaka Kahn, there were a ton of people complaining it wasn’t someone more relevant. After Adam Lambert performed, there were complaints his set was way too short. When planning a big event, you’re never going to please everyone, that’s just how the world works sadly, and those who are disappointed by some aspect will be vocal.
Which brings us to this year’s headliner: Iggy Azalea. Personally, I think her music is horrible, but she’s “relevant” (more on that in a moment). However, in her past, Azalea has a history of homophobic and racist comments, particularly on social media. Which again, things don’t go away on the Internet, they’re there forever.
I can almost give her a pass on her homophobic comments, she actually did have what seemed to be a very heartfelt and sincere apology, and I like to believe that people have changed. But her entire career, her entire persona, is based on the appropriation of a southern, African-American rapper.
She’s a white girl from the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.
She hasn’t apologized for her racist remarks, and tries to make a living through stealing a culture that she hasn’t lived and that comes off as offensive. She eventually backed out, in the wake of cancelling her entire tour, she cancelled her appearance at Pride, being replaced by Nick Jonas. Azalea has now gone on to say people are only hating her because “it’s cool.“
The booking of Azalea sparked off a cavalcade of criticism of the Delta Foundation, many of which had been brought up before, but were now all adding up to create a bigger picture of the organization. Bruce Kraus, the first and only openly LGBT member of Pittsburgh City Council (and its president), as well as GLSEN and many faith orgnaizations, pulled out of Pride, not only because of Azalea, but also the direction that Delta has been going for years.
They are inherently dedicated to cis-gendered, wealthy, white gay men. The board has no trans* members, and only two women. Pride in the Street is routinely an expensive concert to go to, especially for a community that is economically disadvantaged to begin with.
Their magazine, Equal, was finally shut down after months of not paying their writers or their printer.
One service they did offer, was small fundraising/banking services to smaller LGBT groups, such as the Gardens of Peace project (much like when banks will be donation locations for non-profits/emergency assistance funds, the Delta Foundation would do the same for other projects), except when they needed to get their money, they got the runaround or were charged interest on it.
This is an organization that last year, during Pride in the Street, shut down the public sidewalks, so unless you had a ticket, you could not get to the business and restaurants that were on the streets that were closed to traffic. This unannounced change led to a lot of people turned away from other events they had tickets to, or were forced to pay an additional fee to get to them.
But I what I think is the most damning of all, is that in the last seven years, the Delta Foundation has given less back to the community than what they contracted Iggy Azalea to play for.
Delta Foundation used to bill itself as the largest LGBT organization in Western Pennsylvania. That language has softened this week to describe themselves as “one of the largest,” finally making room for others, which is a nice change.
As such, they have failed to encompass the LGBT community in Pittsburgh. I don’t expect them to be perfect, no organization is. But these are criticisms that have been ongoing for years. And they had the balls to post on Facebook that this was the first they had ever heard of them, after hosting a meeting to try to address some of these issues:
That’s either entirely disingenuous or proof that their entire board has no clue what they are doing. Or maybe both.
But I think part of the reason we’re at this point is there is less work to do in Pittsburgh than other areas. Pennsylvania has marriage equality, and Allegheny County has ENDA. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done, especially in the rest of the counties that constitute Western Pennsylvania, but so much of the other goals we need to fight for are at a state and national level, beyond the scope of Delta (not that they couldn’t help EqualityPA however).
So for now, Delta serves as a glorified party planner. Van Horn won’t step down (why would he, it’s a cushy job, and he still owns a bar I believe), and I’m afraid not much will change at Delta. But for the first time, there were Latin Pride events held in Pittsburgh (not that we’re known for our Hispanic population, but it’s more than I imagined, sitting around two percent), and what was formerly Black Pride, now Roots Pride, seems to be really taking off, both as a protest to Delta and as a fully inclusive and minority-oriented series of Pride events.
I don’t necessarily think splitting apart is the way to go, but at least right now, here in Pittsburgh, it seems to be the only way to get things done. And if this forces Delta to actually make systemic changes and listen to the greater queer population in Pittsburgh, so be it.
I hope we can all reconcile and reconnect, and maybe that will even happen for 2016 Pride, we’ll have to see where this conversation goes, and we have to hold Delta accountable to keep having the conversation and to actually listen.
This however, is not just a problem that plagues Pittsburgh: this is a national problem. The HRC was recently described as a “White Man’s Club,” and it has every appearance as such, and a recent UK poll of gay men shows a shocking rate of racism.
This is something that lots of us, myself included, want to make better (and are probably guilty of ourselves). We can’t just sit on the sidelines and allow this to be our community. Especially when there are so many external forces at work.
Which brings us to the second part of this sad article, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For those unfamiliar, there are two daily papers in Pittsburgh (not counting the Business Times), the PG is larger by itself and leans liberal, the Trib (which has better coverage of Westmoreland County and owns the weekly neighborhood papers), leans conservative.
However, the PG published an utterly shocking, bigoted and harmful article in their editorial section about Caitlyn Jenner recently. I won’t repost it, it’s that’s bad, not only from a hate standpoint, but just flat out lies.
The City Paper has an excellent take down:
In case you didn’t catch it, yes, Graham used references to the “good ol’ days” of carnival freak shows to refer to Ms. Jenner, or as Graham so sensitively calls her: “Brucette.” Brucette?!? Really? Why not just call her “fruity,” “fairy,” “queer” or “fag?” I’ll tell you why. Because you know those words are hateful, disgusting and inappropriate. So you try and be cute and clever with “Brucette.” Guess what? It’s just as disgusting, maybe more so.
And what is most shocking, is, as City Paper notes, the PG was recently awarded a GLAAD award and had a great speical feature covering the lives and stories of six trans* individuals here in the city.
The PG has defended the article, the Editoral Page Editor responded:
As an editor, I found Jennifer’s piece well-written and worth publishing.
The HRC (yes the one above I just called out for being a white man’s club) did their job and also had a fantastic rebuttal to the horrific article.
Consider the facts:
• 20 percent of transgender people have lost a job simply on the basis of their identity;
• 50 percent have been harassed on the job;
• Transgender people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty;
• And so far, at least 8 transgender women of color have been murdered across the country in 2015.
Another rebuttal did get printed in the PG itself:
By Ms. Graham’s logic, I’d be forced to use a women’s bathroom — despite being a short, bald man who, if I’m being honest, looks like a slightly more svelte version of George Costanza.
Whatever Caitlyn Jenner decides to do with her life (yes, HER life) will little affect Ms. Graham. You know, every major professional organization — from the American Medical Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Psychiatric Association — believes not only that I and Caitlyn Jenner and our likely 1 million or more fellow transgender Americans exist, but also that we should be supported by the medical community. And there’s widespread support for laws that protect transgender people from discrimination.
Pride is a celebration. We remember the Stonewall Riots and everyone who came before us. We remember those who have fought for our very right to exist. To love. To be free. Pride is a time when all the beautiful facets of the queer community (and our allies) can rally together, enjoy a celebration, take stock, and see what our next move is.
Pride is always inclusive. Even when the organizations that run the events and parts of the greater community turn their backs on us. We will continue to fight, to make the world a better place.
Not just for ourselves, but for those coming after us.
I still marched in the Pride Parade (I’ll probably have a post about my Pride experience later this week). Yes there was drama, both internal and external, but Pride belongs to the community. Not to a non-profit, and certainly not to those who would make us believe we’re somehow broken.
Wherever you are, I hope you celebrate(d) Pride, and I hope you’ll join the queer community and our allies at Decision Day Rallies when the Supreme Court announces their decision sometime in the next two weeks.
But most of all, I hope you can celebrate Pride in your own way. Safe, and with the knowledge that you’re worth it, and part of the greater community.