Pittsburgh Pridefest – Part Two

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.

Read Part One.

This second post focuses on the Roots Pride Town Hall meeting that took place on Thursday, June 11 at the Blakey Building in the Hill District. This meeting was open to the entire community.

The Hill House Blakey Program Center is a lovely older building that I’ve never before visited. There was plenty of street parking, elevator access and childcare available. I point these things out because location and accessibility were issues of concern in the meeting held earlier in the week.

I counted about 50 people, most of whom I did not recognize. I always take that as a good sign that I will learn something.

Pittsburgh Roots Pride
Then panel and audience are assembling.

The meeting was structured in three sections – a panel discussion followed by a report back from the Tuesday night Delta meeting and ending with a Q&A with the audience.  The moderator was Bekezela Mguni and the panel included 9 individuals – Joy KMT, Michael David Battle, Aria Copeland, Wooten Gough, Dez, TJ, Julie Mallis, Rashad Xavier, and Billy Hileman. I hope I have everyone’s name correct; please let me know if not. The panelists were a mix of older activists and young, black and white faces, local and national organizers and different spaces within the LGBTQ community.

“We have shook Pittsburgh to the core” Bekezela Mguni

With that, Bekezela launched a conversation about the politics of Pride. Her preparation, deep knowledge of the issues and her articulate, powerful leadership skills were invaluable to guiding a conversation with such a large panel.

Bekezela Mguni
Bekezela Mguni

The panel discussed the political nature of pride with an astute observation by Billy Hileman that statement that pride is not political is an assertion of power against people who are speaking out. Others described the experiences of being black and queer, black and trans in Pittsburgh. The panel discussed how resources are allocated, emphasizing the areas where need is significant – especially in terms of basic needs like housing, health care and employment. Here’s a video courtesy of Pittsburgh City Paper.

“You can’t claim the resources to serve a community if you don’t listen to them”  Joy KMT

Overall, the meeting felt therapeutic and cathartic. It was powerful, engaging and driven by the people – a very different vibe than at the meeting earlier in the week. The missing element was a plan or even a clear-cut set of goals. Maybe it was necessary to walk through this stage before that planning can begin. Maybe I was just jumping the gun expecting specifics.

Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh
This man apologized to the community for serving on the Community Advisory Board of the Delta Foundation without realizing the bigger picture.

One small problem with the evening was the report back – the two people who gave it had left for a portion of the meeting, so it felt incomplete especially as someone who did attend that other meeting. I am not disputing what they did report, but wishing they had included someone else who had been there the entire time. Their feedback felt genuine, but not comprehensive. It might have been helpful to start the meeting with this report back since it really was the elephant in the room.  Note that this pales in comparison to the audacity of Delta to continue to refuse to provide information to the community as promised a few days prior. And I have enough confidence in the Roots Pride organizers that they won’t be angry with me for speaking my truth or try to retaliate because I don’t agree with all of their decisions. Can’t say that about everyone.

There’s clear dissatisfaction and mistrust of Delta, especially current leadership. I’m unsure if that translates into new leadership or somehow redistributing Delta’s actual resources. I find it hard to imagine someone else taking the reins at Delta – there are probably fewer than a half-dozen queer folks in this region who have the skills and experience to run such a large organization, especially in the capacity of a volunteer Board President.

I also struggle to imagine Delta’s corporate and foundation base divesting into more community led initiatives. So it isn’t a simple matter of redistributing $500,000 or more to community efforts. No one was doing that sort of fundraising (beyond Persad and PATF) prior to Delta’s reemergence in the mid-2000’s. Those donors aren’t just going to switch allegiance and see the light – many of them prefer a white gay man and lesbian face on their LGBTQ philanthropy. Those are realities. We still have to create the resources (or attract them) within this reality. That requires a plan.

Perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse. I like plans. I believe every group has to be fiscally sound and transparent in terms of leadership and decision-making. And plans. But I also appreciate that we need to claim space and sometimes we do that by occupying a room with our thoughts and ideas and hopes.

So I left this meeting feeling in closer solidarity with my neighbors, but also wondering what was next. That sense of frustration would change dramatically on Saturday evening. Stay tuned.

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  • Great feedback and reporting. I do want to clarify that though me and Michael initiated the feedback, we did invite other people who were at the meeting to speak. Bekezela, Vanessa, Tara and your partner, I believe, also gave their feedback on the Delta meeting at the townhall meeting. Thank you again for your thoughtful blogging.

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