Pittsburgh PrideFest 2014 and Beyond: Five Things to Consider

We were on 5th Avenue at 11 AM to line up for the Pride Awareness March and hung in until the very end of the day, trekking our way back to our car after 6. The march was terrific – we ended up at the bend where 5th turns into Liberty and so we had a great view. It was one of the best marches ever. The festival did very well in spite of the rain – we ran into all sorts of old friends and met some new ones.

Folks gathering along the march route near Market Square.
Folks gathering along the march route near Market Square.

Highlights for me

  • Riverset Credit Union employees wearing “Friends With Benefits” shirts – that made me smile. 
  • The Pgh Gay Bowling folks’ dunk tank. Fun, festivalish and amusing.
  • Briefest speeches ever by elected officials. Also, presence of elected officials Bill Peduto, Rich Fitzgerald, Bruce Kraus, Natalia Rudiak and Dan Frankel. I could not see who else was there because of the rain. But nicely done.
  • Hundreds of people I’ve never met before, wearing emblems of LGBTQ identity (shirts, rainbows, hats, etc.)
  • Clustering the faith booths together – it made a powerful visual statement about the allies among us and that resonated with me.

We owe the event organizers (The Delta Foundation) and the legions of volunteers a big round of thanks for their hard work and effort to create this space and these events. I hope they are getting some well deserved rest today.

Natalia Rudiak, Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, Dan Gilman an Corey O'Connor - Pgh City Council
Natalia Rudiak, Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto, Dan Gilman an Corey O’Connor – Pgh City Council

 

But I was also listening closely to what people were saying would make Pride even more fabulous. So here are my suggestions for the Universe to consider:

But wait – first, let me remind you that it is sooo easy to toss ideas into the Universe and expect others to do the actual work. That’s uncool. So I’m going to commit to contribute more of my time & energy to PrideFest 2014 – a little early to say what, but I do want to practice what I preach. If you are someone who planted a bug in my ear about these issues & ideas, I challenge you to roll up your sleeves and make something happen. Contact the Delta Foundation to volunteer (planning for 2014 starts in early July) OR contact your organization and start a dialogue about what you can to add even more fabulous to the Pittsburgh Pridefest. 

Green Space – a glaring omission is the lack of green and environmental groups. Rather than set up more booths, I’d propose partnering with Pittsburgh Parking Day folks to set up a park on one of the side alleys. Literally create a park and invite the environmental groups to integrate their exhibit space into that theme. Make it non-smoking. Put out a ton of recycling containers (they were not very visible at the festival unfortunately) and have some fun. BikePgh, GASP, Breathe Project, Penn Future, Sierra Club, and more. Create the “park environment” people miss from yesteryear – a space to flop down and soak in the day. There’s a green stripe in the rainbow right?

Pop Up Park in Yarraville, Australia
Pop Up Park in Yarraville, Australia

Transit – We have Dykes of Bikes, how about a Flock of Cycles contingent in the March? And a greater emphasis on bikes – bike parking was a big challenge with so many other bike friendly events going on. If we can set up temporary ATMs, surely we can create temporary bike parking – perhaps a valet service utilizing an empty corporate lot for that day only? There’s sufficient downtown Parking, but a lot of folks didn’t know how to find it – we always suggest the garage on Blvd of the Allies. How about some pedicabs running from that space to the parade for folks who need a mobility assist? And I would LOVE to see big sidewalk rainbow chalk “This Way!” indicators from the major garages to the march.

Advocacy Area – Remember when speakers would get up and make political speeches at Pride? Not just politicians – they weren’t there yet (except for Peduto) – but actual advocates speaking. So how about another “pop up populism” idea – set up a temporary Freedom Corner on one of the side streets. Give them a bull horn, put out some chairs or benches or something. Put the advocacy booths there so people can ask the HRC and ACLU informed questions about the opinions being expressed. I’d grab a cold beverage, sit down and listen to a series of speakers (brief) talking about issues. Or maybe again do this inside a vacant space as a pop-up occupation. Anyone can talk. No opinions reflect the organizers or sponsors. They can still have a booth or be in the parade or distribute flyers or whatever else they would normally do – this would be an add-on event, not a way to corral dissent. But how about 5 minutes of Jessie Ramey explaining why public education reform is a queer issue? Or the ACLU discussing a case? Or “Council on the Go” at Pridefest? The potential is endless.

Control Corporate – The corporatization of Pride is almost inevitable, especially if you want Melissa Etheridge and Adam Lambert concerts. Still, it was a bit disappointing to have an aluminum siding vendor practically assault me to capture my email address. Really? Perhaps it would be useful to put some constraints on this trend & ask more from the companies than the exhibition fee – why not set up a mini Home & Garden exhibit and invite related business to sponsor and exhibit there? I’d love to find a list of reputable LGBTQ owned or friendly companies, but their willingness to pay a vendor fee is not a good vetting process. Tap into an empty storefront and set up a “Pop Up” exhibit for the day, inviting LGBTQ designers and decorators to participate and show us what they’ve got.

Aside to the “only” vendor from a certain industry – its not a sellable point to tell me pointedly that none of the other businesses in your industry are gay friendly because they aren’t at PrideFest. Can you prove that they were specifically invited and chose not to participate? Do you have a record of their policies, trainings and affiliations with LGBTQ orgs? No? Then don’t say that because I don’t think a booth at Pride is a litmus test for anything.  We aren’t just a market, we are a community.

Imagine!
Imagine!

 

Health Insurance Mud Wrestling – So this is only in (half) jest, but the sight of UPMC & Highmark marching together in the parade was like that awkward moment at the wedding where your divorced parents pose for a few “family” photos – ouch! And their respective mega-booths were a little overwhelming. I’m glad to get as much health care information in front of LGBTQ folks as possible, believe me. But the net impact on many people I spoke with was negative – anger at UPMC for playing games with Highmark subscribers, anger at Highmark for the historical unfriendliness of WPAHS, just anger & annoyance that OUR festival was another ground zero for their ridiculous battles with our lives. A free tote bag and drink koozie don’t offset my deep fear about losing access to my doctors in 2015. What can we do about this? Well, just contain it I suppose. Its not like either company actually LISTENS to the public anyway right?

The beauty of Pittsburgh Pridefest – 40 years after the first brave souls took to the streets in 1973 – is that it evolves. And its always exciting to see what comes next.

Happy Pride! See you at the Dyke March?

Miranda leads the Dykes on Bikes contingent every year. She'll see you at the Dyke March!
Miranda leads the Dykes on Bikes contingent every year. She’ll see you at the Dyke March!

 

 

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  • This is great Sue. How cool would it be to have one of the stages be more of a soap box to rally about real issues? I would love to see Pride connect more with TRAF, bike and environmental groups. And what about (gasp!) charging LGBT community organizations little to nothing to be present at Pride Fest? Isn’t it all about the LGBT community anyway? Then charge McDonalds $5,000 if they really want to be there.

    • To be fair, I think the green groups can show their interest by reaching out and working together to set something up at Pride – its probably going to take a point person to make it happen. It would be great if the biking groups said “hey we’ll take care of making the event bike friendly” so that LGBTQ folks who ride can enjoy their own celebration. Or

    • In the 1990’s, speakers could request stage/mike time to speak their minds.There were some constraints of course. In the current format, I honestly don’t think that will work. I think creating a more intimate experience will draw in more people. I also think that creates the realism of a populist experience rather than a corporate sponsored speech.

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