Billy Hileman on Pridefest Controversy: ‘I Stand With The Protestors’

Diversity Pittsburgh Pridefest
Photos courtesy of Billy Hileman

Late last week, longtime LGBTQ activist Billy Hileman began posting images on Facebook calling out the Delta Foundation around their decision to invite Iggy Azalea to perform at Pittsburgh Pridefest. Hileman coordinated Pridefest organizing in the 1990’s. He agreed to answer a few questions for me.

“Defending Iggy doesn’t work. Iggy Azalea has no business being at Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Pride. She didn’t earn it. She doesn’t deserve to have an LGBTQ Pride festival on her resume. The Delta Foundation should have been smarter than to do this. But, they’re not. Because the Board is not diverse. There was no one to say, “eeehhh … wait a minute, that’s not a very good idea.” The Delta Foundation should break ties with Iggy and build ties with the people they say they represent.”

 

1. Please tell me about your involvement with Pittsburgh Pridefests (what years were you on the committee, etc)

I was on the committee in 1991-92, 1995-2000.

2. Some protestors claim that Pride has always prioritized affluent white cisgender gay men. Is that accurate/fair? Why or why not?

We have to pay attention to why some persons are saying that. My belief is they are saying that because that is what they see and experience. It is what I have seen in recent years with the Delta Foundation’s control of Pride. In 1991 and 1992 the committee made a deliberate effort to expose the issues of racism, sexism, and biphobia in the community. The Pride Guide devoted most of its ink to interviews–to hear and share perspectives on Pride and experiences in the community. And 50% of the interviews were with people of color. The stage line-up including speakers was diverse. For most of the 90’s we, at a minimum, actively engaged in addressing racism and creating inclusive opportunities. It doesn’t look the same in recent years. Something like Iggy Azalea would never have happened with a Pride committee in the 1990’s. And not just because we had less than 1% of the money available to Delta Foundation.

In my view, today’s protestors say that Pride has always prioritized affluent white cisgender gay men because that is what it looks like when Delta headlines Iggy and produces magazines that have far more white male faces than all other. And those realities created by the dominant organization squanders the progressive efforts from the 1990’s. I have no need to say to the protestors, “Hey, look at our good efforts back in the day. You are wrong that Pride always catered white gay men.” My voice is directed at Delta. “Delta, you have taken on a profound responsibility. Pride is the most diverse and important cultural and political event for LGBTQI people. It is an international movement. It is not a stage show at a nightclub. It is not a business. Your preoccupation with stardom has blinded you to how your unrestrained white privilege affects the people who live in our city.” Stonewall was a riot. I stand with the protestors.

3. Pittsburgh Black Pride celebrates 20 years in 2015. The Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March celebrates 10 years. We’ll also see the first ever Pittsburgh Latin@ Pridefest this year. Ideally, how could Pgh Pridefest and organizers support this increasing expression of diverse voices?

Twenty years or one year, I think that Pittsburgh Black Pride is a far more important cover story than Iggy Azalea. So is the Dyke Trans March and so is Latin@Pridefest. There are over 100 pages in the Pride guide. How much space is devoted to Black Pride? How much space is devoted to Iggy Azalea? The Delta Foundation decided which is more important to them. Far more worrisome is the Foundation’s defense of Iggy. When Azealia Banks (who is open about having relationships with women) called out Iggy for her cultural appropriation, Iggy responded, “Special msg for banks: There are many black artists succeeding in all genres. The reason you haven’t is because of your piss poor attitude … Now! rant, Make it racial! make it political! Make it whatever but I guarantee it won’t make you likable & THATS why ur crying on the radio.” The Delta Foundation is defending Iggy and looking forward to a discussion about race and gender. Azealia Banks is having the discussion now.

4. Michelangelo Signorile describes the threat of “victory blindness” around marriage equality as an internal threat to equality and liberation in the sense that complacency disregards backlash and the price vulnerable people pay for the victories. Do you think that’s a useful lens to analyze the situation with Delta and Pridefest? 

Billy Hileman
Billy Hileman, 2015

Somewhat. But, I see it a little differently than what Signorile appears to be describing. I haven’t read his new book. What I have gleaned is, Signorile is warning against resting on our laurels about identifiably LGBTQI issues, such as bullying in school and suicide, should the U.S. Supreme Court rule favorably on marriage equality. I see a more expanded issue with the Delta Foundation and the LGBTQI community. A black queer teenager might be more connected to what happened to Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown than whether gay and lesbian couples can get married. The LGBTQI movement has to have a pro-choice and anti-racist agenda. This movement belongs to that teenager as much as it belongs to the Delta Foundation. If black lives matter, if women’s lives matter, then the Delta Foundation needs to be a part of a broader coalition. It might help them understand why the Iggy Azalea decision has created such a stir. The Delta Foundation, on its website claims it has “positioned itself as the authority on LGBT news and issues with the members of the media.” Wow, how’d we let that happen?

5. How would you like to see Pittsburgh Pridefest evolve in the coming years?

Whomever is taking care of Pride, I hope, would prioritize diversity in all the communications, activities and events. And I would like to see the words: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex on the parade banner and the cover of the Pride Guide. I have Pittsburgh Pride, but that really is more about the Pirates, the Incline and Dinosaur Hall.

6. How do we strategically hold an organization like the Delta Foundation accountable?

The Lambda Foundation, when it was active, held annual meetings and would release its annual report. Members of the community would be invited, and it was an open meeting. That what foundations do. I don’t know if the Delta Foundation does that. If not, they should. And we should go to the meetings, listen and thoughtfully engage them.

Please feel free to add anything you’d like to emphasize.

The Delta Foundation is not going to cancel the contract with Iggy Azalea. But, they should do this: Call Iggy. Tell her that she has a terrible reputation with the LGBTQI community, particularly with POC, and the Foundation is getting a lot of heat. The tweets about “kinda homo” and the racist comments on the airplane have not helped, let alone the issue of making a fortune by appropriating black culture and telling black artists to not make it racial. But, Pittsburgh can be the place to start to turn it around. Tell Iggy, the right thing to do is to not charge the Foundation one penny for the Pridefest performance and apologize from the stage for the things she has said and done. Then, the Delta Foundation will put into escrow the contractual amount of money that Iggy would have received, plus any additional profits the Foundation makes during the 2015 Pride events. Through a granting process with POC oversight the entire amount in escrow will be given to local LGBTQI groups who propose projects and processes to improve the lives of people of color in the LGBTQI community.


This is the second in a series of reflections on how what some have labeled #IckyGate. I had previously written about Hileman as part of a reflection on how peer pressure is important in the LGBTQ community. This is a photo from that post.

Billy Hileman
(From the left, starting Bill Clinton: Alexis Herman, straight White House public liaison; and gay leaders Tom Stoddard, of Campaign for Military Service; Tim McFeeley, of HRC; Bob Hattoy, White House staffer; Keith Boykin, White House staffer; William Waybourn, Victory Fund; Billy Hileman, MOW organizer; Nadine Smith, MOW organizer; Andrew Barrer, A-Gay Consultant With Money; Torie Osborn, NGLTF; Phill Wilson, Black AIDS Institute. Official White House photograph. Courtesy of Billy Hileman.)

 

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  • To be honest…I have been wondering what all of the fuss about the Iggy booking was all about. Traditional media just said there was a fuss but never really explained it. Thanks for that. But even more so I love your approach to fixing the issue vs just protesting to get a “cancel.” It’s very realistic

  • Really a tremendous interiew and what an insight from the recent past. My compliments to you both.

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