Pittsburgh Pridefest – Part One

More than a week has passed since Pittsburgh’s Pridefest and I’ve used a lot of that time to reflect on my experiences in what has been quite an atypical Pride experience. I’m going to share my thoughts in a four-part series, built around four distinct events – a face-to-face meeting with Pridefest organizers, a community town hall meeting organized by Roots Pride organizers, the protests at Pride in the Streets on Saturday evening and, finally, Pridefest itself on Sunday. These are events I personally attended/witnessed as a middle-aged, white, cis gender lesbian identified woman with middle-class privilege.

If you want the backstory, I suggest reading the excellent post by my colleague Trish Mifflin.

I first saw a reference to some sort of “healing mediation” type meeting on Facebook after all hell broke loose around Iggy Azalea. Iggy was the straw that broke the camel’s back and her decision to withdraw from Pridefest did not mean the camel was suddenly healed. It was still right there on the ground with a broken back.

The meeting was apparently by invitation only. When I read that it was spearheaded by UPMC’s Dignty and Respect Campaign and taking place at the Delta Foundation HQ, I was like “oh no …” Then I learned that Roots Pride organizers weren’t invited. That’s when Ledcat and I decided that we would try to attend the meeting along with others. We felt it was important given all these cards stacked against QTPOC in this scenario that allies be present to show support and listen. Note: I did touch base with several attendees about our plans and received a thumbs up to attend.

The contortions around planning logistics for this meeting were disheartening. The meeting was moved, but to a basement of a nearby church that was inaccessible for people who could not manage steep stairs. That was barely an improvement and did not set a good tone considering how many accessible spaces are available nearby.  On the bright side, the pastor told us he wasn’t going to ask us to leave so that did make the meeting more accessible in other ways. Of all the players involved in the logistics, the church members probably had the most genuine of intentions.

The meeting ended up including 37 people. I can’t say it was productive or constructive because it was built upon a foundation of misinformation, defensive posturing and seeming cluelessness to the real situation. The only thing real about the meeting was the anger and pain expressed with eloquence and intensity by the QTPOC who were present. They did not all agree with one another, but they used this opportunity to lay out some significant concerns that have been simmering for years, decades even.

The points I took away include

  • Pittsburgh’s Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) need resources.
  • Delta does not support QTPOC and other marginalized groups in any substantial manner. This was demonstrated  by the choice of Delta to publicly claim they were supporting events like Latin@ Pride when the organizers plainly said that was not the case.
  • The failure Delta to understand white privilege, the impact of racism on their institution or the realities of QTPOC here in Pittsburgh and an unwillingness to commit to anti-oppression work. This extends to other LGBTQ organizations whose leadership does not reflect the community.
  • The lack of transparency on fiscal issues beyond the bare minimum required by the IRS. How can we spend so much money on Pridefest while basic needs go unaddressed?

I was disappointed that allies were so quiet. I expected more active participation, but I suspect that reflected both the stranglehold Delta has on so many groups and the poor planning for the meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the gathered who were still present (some walked out of the meeting and did not return) agreed on two requests of Delta. Delta agreed to take the requests to their Board.

  1. Provide a detailed accounting of their financial resources, including income and expenditures beyond the level of detail available in the 990s and the public audit.
  2. Provide a detailed explanation of how Delta has supported LGBTQIA organizations, especially those serving QTPOC.

As of today (nearly 2 weeks after the meeting) Delta has not shared this information. They simply reshared the 990s and the audit.

I think it is important to examine this meeting on its own because of the resources available to both Delta and UPMC who called and organized the meeting – the defensive quibbling over that set of facts took up 20 minutes, Dear God. They had the wherewithal to arrange for lovely catering, but not to invite people with a vested interest in the process? I didn’t believe for a minute that the Dignity & Respect Campaign lacked access to the names & contact information for leaders in the LGBTQ community and I didn’t for another minute feel sorry that people piled on to them for how they handled this. That’s how corporations operate when they control things, not how community leaders hold themselves accountable to the people they serve.

So 37 people + 3 facilitators sat for almost 3 hours discussing the situation. The conversation exposed some truths to a higher level of scrutiny than in the past, but the unwillingness to work through personal discomfort to acknowledge the very real pain in the room is a huge barrier to any further progress.

However, this meeting will prove useful because the community stepped forward. 37 people were not invited to the meeting, but many of us took it upon ourselves to be there. Roots Pride reported out at their own meeting on Thursday. Concise demands were crafted, even if ignored. Allies spoke out. And agendas became clear. People left, but came back to the table. Others opted out entirely.

UPMC’s Dignity & Respect Campaign blew their opportunity to create a safe, healing environment to address serious issues, but is anyone really surprised that UPMC was behind all of this – they won’t accept mediation with Highmark to prevent tens of thousands of people from losing access to healthcare, but they initiate a dialogue FOR the LGBTQ community? Please. The money spent on catering could have been invested in Roots Pride or Black Pride Pittsburgh to fund an entire event. I can’t think of two entities less trustworthy than UPMC and the Delta Foundation or two entities less willing to commit to the transparency and anti-oppression work necessary to regain our trust. Delta’s only employee rolled her eyes throughout the entire meeting when I’m pretty sure she was the only person actually paid to be present – that’s telling.

This meeting was very political in all of the painful and important ways that the current situation requires. It was one of the most honest meetings I’ve ever attended even with the deflections and dismissals. While I’m not confident change will be forthcoming soon, change has been demanded in a clear and concise manner – a manner no white LGBTQ critics of Delta have managed over the past decade, including me.

Moving forward, Delta has been asked to provide two types of information to authentically engage in dialogues built upon trust and a genuine effort to address grievances.

  1. Provide a detailed accounting of their financial resources, including income and expenditures beyond the level of detail available in the 990s and the public audit.
  2. Provide a detailed explanation of how Delta has supported LGBTQIA organizations, especially those serving QTPOC.

These are my opinions with a little seasoning from Ledcat. I have been targeted by Delta and Delta board members over the past years so I’m by no means objective.

I’m also no longer alone. I never was.

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