Post-Gazette Looks at “Gay-Friendliness” of Pittsburgh without talking to the gays!

Usually, I enjoy MacKenzie Carpenter's articles … sort of like curling up in your bathrobe with a warm cup of coffee and the tattered copy of “Pride and Prejudice” or “The Brothers Karamazov.”  Sure the predictability is there, but you never tire of the artistry, the divine spark that generated such a wonderful read.

So I'm perplexed how she could write a very long piece about Pittsburgh as a gay-friendly destination without talking to any local gays.  You might think — local gays are already here doing their homo-thing so what could they possibly have to add to the need to lure other unsuspecting queers to the 'burgh? 

Well, I'm glad you asked.

According to a study commission by the Travel Industry, gay tourists are seeking: whether a place is safe and free from intimidation and threats; whether it is culturally welcoming and known to support diversity and GLBT civil rights; and word of mouth.

San Francisco, Dallas and Philadelphia have done outstanding jobs creating the right environment and marketing those features. 

The question becomes — is Pittsburgh gay-friendly?  And that's where the local homos should come in to the story.  But instead we go to Visit Pittsburgh  

While Altus Group also published Pittsburgh's City “Navigaytor,” which was unveiled here in 2005, a brochure alone isn't going to have the same kind of impact, Mr. McHugh says. “You can have the greatest ad agency in the world but if the budget and political will isn't there, it won't happen.”

“It's about leadership,” added Mr. Witeck. “A city can't whisper 'welcome.' You have to say it out loud. The cities who say it out loud and get it are the ones that win.”

Beverly Morrow Jones, a spokeswoman for Visit Pittsburgh, the city's tourism information bureau, says the city is prepared to do that.

“VisitPittsburgh is very interested in pursuing the GLBT marketplace,” she said. “We've found tremendous acceptance from that community, who are amazed, once they visit, about how wonderful Pittsburgh is and how welcoming we are.”

I wouldn't exactly count Visit Pittsburgh as indicative of the will of the leadership.  Remember, this is Pittsburgh where the most intrepid gay elected officials are among the city's best kept secrets. 

Here's what the creative force behind Philadelphia's “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay” marketing campaign has to say about Pittsburgh's potential to rock the gay tourist business.

There are the cities that have the attractions and the gay product, but they're not known. Pittsburgh is one of those cities. It may not be high on the radar, but it has what it takes to attract the gay tourist.”

With its great neighborhoods in Shadyside, Lawrenceville and the North Side, with its gay-owned and gay-friendly shops, restaurants, inns and bed-and-breakfasts, “Pittsburgh is definitely ready to take the next step” to attract gay tourists, he said.

That being said, my problem with this whole approach is that the article (or the interviewees perhaps) sum up the “gay product” in terms of bars, shops and hotels.  What about Pittsburgh rather vibrant GLBTQ faith communities — yes, Pittsburgh is the hub of some knock down, drag out battles over the gay place within mainstream denominations but not only does that put us on the map, it demonstrates that there is a strong voice among those who do welcome and affirm us with dignity and respect. 

Let's not forget what is supposed to be the hub of Pittsburgh's gay community — the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Squirrel Hill.  Or our PrideFest in June each year.  Our thriving gay and gay-friendly arts scene — hit the performance venus in Lawrenceville and Garfield almost any night of the week for slam poetry, live music or some other creative experience with a throbbing queer beat.  How about LGBTQ owned restaurants?  We have a gay-focused mental health center for crying out loud. 

There are some other questions MacKenzie missed that aren't so favorable, but are worth a look.  Pittsburgh has few if any gay-women dedicated spaces — mainly, no bars.  What does that say to your cosmopolitan lesbian couple looking to vacate for a few days?  We have very few (if any) openly gay muckety mucks.  A high-profile Pittsburgh athlete uttered the f-bomb heard round the nation and no one complained (except the homos).  We're more famous for the television series that was set here, but didn't film here than we are for just about anything else. 

Does Visit Pittsburgh employee any gays?  Is anyone dedicated to the gay market?    Do they have any gay advisors? Do they talk with anyone who isn't a gay white upper middle class man? 

Perhaps Visit Pittsburgh should be working with the local LGBTQ community to build the promotion tools rather than partnering with a Philadelphia group to write a brochure.

That would be leadership.

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