The Questions We Should Be Asking About The Delta Foundation

A few weeks ago, the City Paper contacted me about a planned story following up on the Delta Foundation and Pridefest. I offered a few suggestions on whom to contact and asked if they would be including the context of the latest derring-do of the Delta Foundation. Namely, that would be the ruling in civil court on multiple counts that they violated building code with their HQ in the Allegheny West neighborhood AND the decision to engage KDKA on the potential outing of a possible police recruit who was allegedly transgender. (I use allegedly because there’s no clear indication that such a person exists.)

The City Paper article came out this week and it was lackluster. It is true that they were unable to include voices from RootsPride and that left the piece feeling empty and forced. For some reason, the story focused on the entertainment planning for 2016. Delta says that they had an open meeting; community organizers dispute that. It was all very much missing the point of pretty much everything that had occurred and a disappointment.

The objections to Pridefest were clearly “bigger than Iggy” as the protest signs reminded us. But it seems that the article came down to the fact that Delta is chugging ahead while RootsPride organizers are not responding to their calls.

If you buy either of those claims at face value, you are definitely part of the problem and I was disappointed that the City Paper missed some key points.

First, there’s the building code violations.   Delta was fined $25,000 (it could have been as high as $1000 per day in violation or $90,000) and ordered to fix the problems. That’s $25,000, plus repair/replacement costs for violations and lawyer fees. Plus, appeal fees. That’s A LOT of money. And how Delta spends money was a big part of the dialogue this summer. Delta chose to move into one of the most affluent and rigidly historical districts in the City. They invested tens of thousands of dollars purchasing property that still remains unusable. Now, they’ll spend tens of thousands more to be permitted to open the doors.

When I worked in the non-profit sector, there was a general rule – if we cost the agency money, we were held accountable. Sometimes that meant repaying fees or fines or obligations. Sometimes that meant being disciplined. Sometimes it just meant having to explain ourselves to the higher-ups. But every CFO I ever had paid scrupulous attention to these matters because there were ethical and moral principles involves as well as simple dollars and cents. How we managed the money at our disposal mattered.

I don’t understand how the board of the Delta Foundation turns a blind eye to a $25,000 fine. And that’s a question that we haven’t asked very often – why is the board propping up leadership that makes such awful decisions on an ongoing basis? We are more focused on the cult of personality than on the actual people who make it possible. That’s a very Pittsburgh way of doing things – we love our icons, for good and for bad – but it is not a very responsible model of leadership.

$25,000 is a lot of money. It could fund a FT position at one of our many worthwhile community organizations. It could seed a lot of scholarships. The list of possibilities is infinite.

Second, the RootsPride organizers aren’t solely responsible for solving everything, nor are they obligated to talk with the media. Michael David Battle wrote a compelling piece for 1839 explaining where he’s been both emotionally and physically after June. He mentions an incident in which the leader of Pittsburgh Black Pride was quoted as misgendering him in an article in the New Pittsburgh Courier. I spoke with the Courier editor when that piece ran and he stood by the quote, stating that they had recorded the interview. I asked Flecia Harvey if she said it and she denied it, she said someone else standing next to her said it and she refused to identify that person.

That’s a painful reflection of how much hurt this entire situation brought to light. There’s a collective responsibility to look at the messages from RootsPride and work toward solutions. We can’t just sit around waiting for Michael and Joy to lead us into the fray. That’s absurd and patently unfair. It also shows that people haven’t been listening to either of them considering how open they both are about their lives, their struggles, and their investment in the community. We are demanding that they become the new icons of a resistance to Delta and the reign of white gay cis men, but we want to be sure they do it within the framework that makes us comfortable – a 501c3, a plan, a budget, etc. No one asks what they need or how they can be supported. Or who else can be supported.

Do you see the irony? A 501c3, a budget, a plan and a board of directors is part of the reason we ended up here. And rather than investing $25,000 to create space and supports for QTPOC, we’ll be writing a community check to the City of Pittsburgh. And lawyer Dan Regan who apparently is running for judge. I don’t want to end up in the Court of Common Pleas before a judge who defended the Delta Foundation. That’s the height of icky old school white man politics. It is regressive and that’s part of our problem. A former city solicitor defending an affluent gay white men’s group in violation of city code just seems so … obvious? (For the record, I asked Regan to confirm it was him mentioned in the article, but his email address on the campaign website doesn’t work. So maybe it is another Dan Regan, attorney at law?)

Then there is the matter of the story KDKA broke about an unidentified transgender recruit in the Pittsburgh Police Academy. Trans activist Ava Grace O’Brien brilliantly lays out the reasons why Delta bungled this entire situation.  I went looking for answers myself. I started with the police department. They told me that there is no one among the current group of recruits enrolled in the academy who has identified as trans or requested any sort of accommodation. This is specifically what I was told by Sonya Toler

I think you need to understand that at the time Gary Van Horn requested the meeting no one had identified themselves as being transgender. As a result, there was no way to verify the information.

I spoke with Persad Center which has been handing training issues with the police for a long time and has an entire program set up around community policing. They filled me in on their ongoing work to expand training, including working with Commander Eric Holmes to organize a meeting with the trans community. I asked Commander Holmes a few questions, he asked me to meet with him. I asked him to meet with the trans community first (per Ava Grace O’Brian’s letter) and I’ve heard nothing since. Is there a meeting? Who called it? Who is invited? Who knows?

Interesting that Gary Van Horn can request & get a meeting with two police commanders, the lieutenant over the police academy and Ms. Toler relatively easily, but everything goes underground when it comes to meeting with the transgender community. Hmmm.

Obviously, this brings up a whole lotta questions. But in the context of this blog post, there’s just one main point – Delta should not have used the situation to garner media coverage. They should have deferred to Persad Center, the actual experts in terms of institutions, and deferred to the trans community. Period. Every minute of on-air time a white cisgender gay man spent talking about something that he knows absolutely nothing about was harmful.

Now maybe if a trans person had applied to be a building inspector or a code enforcement officer …. (this is a jab at the City which doesn’t actually have any openly trans folks on the payroll. I’m sure you’ve read me complain about that before.) Seriously, no this would not be okay, either.

Anyway, to me both of these situations reflect the truth that Delta hasn’t learned a damned thing and that nothing has changed at all. Perhaps instead of chastising people for not building alternative structures, we should be asking those responsible for Delta – what the fuck are you thinking?

The board, current and former. Mostly affluent cisgender white gay men and lesbians. None of whom are ever named publicly and none of whom have actually stepped up to actively share what they know. All of whom are part of the very system of accountability. Or should be. Delta flagrantly blew off the concerns of some QTPOC and no one can do a damn thing about it. No one.

Stop blaming Roots Pride organizers for not evolving into these people, these structures. And maybe take a closer look at how you (and I) prop up the institutions that are not doing any more anti-racism work since June than they were before. I don’t agree with Michael, Joy and RootsPride on all things but they certainly strive to be transparent.

I wish the City Paper had followed up on a different story, perhaps exploring the issue of municipal equality around gender identity or exploring the actual concerns from RootsPride such as racial equity in local LGBTQ groups. I just think this story wasn’t what we needed. Asking Persad, PATF , the GLCC and Dreams of Hope how they address racial and gender equity in their leadership, hires and programming might be something that we need.

We can continue to sit and wait for Delta or RootsPride to do the work or we can actually do the work ourselves. What I think will happen is a few people will share this, I’ll get some jeers from other LGBTQ folks with historical ties to Delta and then … nothing. The police might set up a meeting, but I’m confident Delta will be involved and transparency will not. PrideFest will not trim their budget by $25,000; they’ll just target more sponsorship monies to offset that fee and hurt the rest of us.

Maybe I’m wrong.

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