LGBTQ Events – Volunteer or Participate?

While visiting the booth at the recent Pridefest, a heterosexual ally representing a community of faith told us that we should be in the tent because we attend the church and because she thought we were better representatives.

The problem with that? If you volunteer, your opportunity to participate can be very limited and for some of us, participate in Pride (or whatever event) is important.

As a community organizer, I’ve worked/volunteered at hundreds of events – setup, takedown, supervising shifts, fetching things, etc. Including multiple Pridefests – when the GLCC organized Pride, I was a daylong volunteer three years in a row. I spent two other years working a booth for my non-profit employer. And those were great – I met people, I chatted, I had some help so I could take a break.

But the past few years, we’ve pulled back (Ledcat has a similar history although she actually slept overnight at Mellon Park to guard the supplies.) One of the key benefits has been a chance to enjoy the march – this year, that was the absolute highlight of the month. We were at the kickoff rally in 2004 when then-Governor Ed Rendell announced his support for marriage equality and we’ve been camped out at various locations ever since. For what its worth, I’ve never seen a politician enjoy a Pride march like Doug Shields. 🙂

John volunteered with his team at Starbucks
John volunteered with his team at Starbucks

So I’d be hard pressed to give up the march – unless I was needed. But I disagree with our friend above who thought the event should be staffed by LGBTQ volunteers – part of the gift our allies bring to the table is allowing us to enjoy OUR Pridefest, right?  And it means something to me to witness so many allies give up THEIR day to create Pride, to share Pride.

And that’s the dilemna – of course we are needed. I believe if you are at Pride – the tens of thousands of you who are there – you should give back. There’s a phoneline or an event or a support group or a training with your name written all over it. You are needed and you are valued and your talent is a unique opportunity to create more Pride.

It doesn’t have to be at Pride itself. There’s always prep and take down. There’s being the first one in the office Monday to keep the ship running while people recover from a long day in the sun. And even more long term needs – write a letter to the editor, submit your photos to the Community Center, tell people about your experience.

But if you are looking for a concrete volunteer experience, here are a few.

BlackPride/TransPride – smaller scale events, just as important.

Working With Youth – Persad, Dreams of Hope, GLSEN and the GLCC all work with youth of all ages. You can pitch in by working at summer camp, cooking meals, becoming a trainer, supervising “safe space” events for older youth, stuffing envelopes, collecting much needed supplies and morer.

Working with Seniors – Persad has become the Western PA SAGE representative. As our elders age, they face new challenges to living out and proud and healthy. Become a visitor, a driver, a donor. Commit to visiting an HIV+ elder who has out lived their family and friends. Organize an event, set up for a tea dance.

Special Events – from designing flyers to setting up tables, ALL events need help. If you like an event, ask someone how you can contribute. Everyone loves the person who volunteers to do the dishes and/or take out the trash. Pride itself requires hundreds of volunteers.

Fundraising – does your employer offer a match? do you have a holiday team project? is your employee affinity group looking for a project? I’ve lined up 4 events that will each generate less than $500 – not a vast amount of money, but it has other outcomes like sending a message about equality, creating new friends, connecting people with an organization. You can set up a “ChipIn” and ask your friends to donate $10 through PayPal. You can pass the hat. You can join the development committees at the higher end fundraisers that are essential.

Things – did you know that the GLCC needs deodorant, toothpaste and power shampoo for homeless youth? Or that the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force has a food pantry and needs donations?  Many of the groups can use gently used furniture, housewares, even office supplies. You can rehome your gently used items, organize a drive, indulge your yard sale passion by looking for needed items OR you could help with the distribution end.

In the end, we can all find ways to express our Pride as volunteers and participants.

And it will continue to be a pleasure to walk up to a Pride booth and meet an ally.

To get started, contact the GLCC  412.422.0114 or use Google to explore volunteer needs.

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