In the spirit of accountability, I have reached out to members of the Delta Foundation’s Community Advisory Board for their reactions to the controversies surrounding Pridefest. I already shared the response of State Representative Dan Frankel. This is the response of former City Councilman Doug Shields who is currently part of the staff of City Councilwoman Darlene Harris.
“The controversy over a selection of a performing artist, while understandable, may be somewhat reactive. My wife, Briget, once coined the term “Fear No Art” in a similar situation. I think that line would apply here.
It isn’t as if the Pat Robertson Choir had been invited to perform and I would take exception with anyone who might make any such a comparison with this year’s headliner.
Young performers, particularly rappers, say all sorts of shocking things they may come to later regret. I would certainly resign from the Delta Advisory Board if I thought the selection had some bad intent attached to it. I don’t see bad intent here.
It is no small task to organize this event and I would give the organizers the benefit of the doubt.
The other issues that have been raised as a result of this matter would indicate to me that there is a need for The Delta Foundation to perform a self assessment on these issues and, if need be, make adjustments in its outreach to the community it serves. Taking stock of things is something every organization and individual should do from time to time.
None the less, I do hope that one and all enjoy the celebrations on Pride Day in Pittsburgh. We all have much to celebrate as we collectively work to expand human and civil rights for all in Pennsylvania. That’s what I think is most important. Tomorrow will come and it is up to all of us to make it a better day. To that end you will find me a willing collaborator.”
Frankly, I was a little shocked to read this from Shields who has historically been an ally to the LGBTQ community. It reflects a lack of awareness that I find dismaying. His current passion is fracking and I’ve witnessed his keen assessment of intersectional issues in environmental matters. The Pat Robertson analogy is just – wow?
I’m also intrigued that Shields is suggesting an active Community Advisory Board whereas Frankel claimed just the opposite. Whom do we believe? There’s no documentation accessible to the public to confirm or deny that claim and THAT is part of the problem – that lack of transparency. If the organization needs a self-assessment, why isn’t he pushing that idea internally?
I interviewed Shields in 2013 for this blog.
When I “met” Doug Shields, it was via the telephone – I answered call from unfamiliar number and heard “Susan, this is Douglas. I understand you want to march!” I was driving home from work so I had to pull over (near the Civic Arena) and scribble notes on a crumpled receipt. His 2008 response to hate-mongerer Sally Kern (Oklahoma State Assembly) went viral. He helped to create Pittsburgh’s Domestic Partner Registry. But what really comes to mind is that Doug always seemed *happy* to be at Pridefest – and it wasn’t just a gladhanded sort of politician moment, no a genuine delight that Pridefest was happenening and he was there!
Both Shields and Frankel demonstrate a lack of consciousness about their own white male privilege and how they’ve propped up Delta. Their tone-deaf refusal to respond to the concerns raised by the community, particularly QTPOC is disturbing. It also feeds the Fortress of Good Intentions mentality which turns a blind eye to real harm done in the name otherwise good people.
Why am I interviewing so many white men? Well, that’s whose support has propped up Delta for years. That is who founded Delta in 1996. It is especially the case that the interactions between gay white bar owners and straight white politicians in the Democrat party have been a significant force for decades. I have often wondered to myself “What are they thinking?” when it comes to these decisions. So because they typically do answer, I decided to ask.
It is helpful, if disappointing, to know that there is some education needed among even the most stalwart allies. Long after Iggy Azalea leaves Pittsburgh in her wake, these are the folks on the ground whose power and influence are part of the equation. It is also helpful for the rest of us to realize that the sins of Delta are not about one or two people. A lot of well-intentioned people have been part of that organization for years. Where are there voices now?
I’m hopeful Doug Shields will take a close read of what former Pridefest organizer Billy Hileman had to share and reconsider his position. I appreciate that he had the decency to actually answer my questions, but I can’t hide my dismay at his response.