Protestors with an avowed anti-LGBTQ bent haven’t historically been a significant presence at Pittsburgh Pridefest. Yes, here and there. But it was really only in 2014 that they garnered the sort of attention that they craved when Repent Amarillo protested at the City County Building, strolled down the Pridefest route and then set up a temporary street preach station near PNC.
What happened at that point is that a 19-year-old lesbian from a rural county lost her cool and put her hands on a preacher who had been egging her on. The nearby police officer responded and she was arrested. A video snippet of that interaction went viral and the world’s attention shifted from anti-LGBT religious extremists to questions about police using excessive force.
I’d like us to revisit the conversation around protestors, first amendment protections and exactly how the Delta Foundation and the City of Pittsburgh plan to balance public safety with protected speech. I’ve repeatedly asked the Delta Foundation and the Mayor’s Office for a comment. Both have ignored my requests. City Council President Bruce Kraus has been responsive and is trying to get some answers himself.
Here’s the first issue – the rumored plan to enforce “free speech” zones to contain protestors. That seems efficient and tidy until you realize that the free speech zones will ALSO apply to the organizers of Roots PrideFest who are counterprotesting Pridefest. The City can’t say some speech (religious speech) is different from other speech (speech about QTPOC pride.) Will they force both groups to share a free speech zone? Create two zones? Create a third zone for “other” protestors who may show up? How will the City ensure security within the free speech zone(s)?
The second issue is that free speech zones while efficient may be illegal. Repent Amarillo is suing Ft Worth over a similar tactic.
The third issue is that we tend to underestimate the impact of groups like Repent Amarillo. They come off as a sort good ole boy golly gee shucks street preacher group. But they are organized, efficient and well-funded. They travel around the country, they know the municipal ordinances of each place they visit and they are clearly well-rehearsed in their engagement tactics. They target young people, those least likely to have any sort of training or life experience coping with the onslaught of hate.
Finally, Repent Amarillo had a great victory last year when a member of our community assaulted a pastor. But if you watch ALL of their video (I have), you’ll notice that it all ends right before that moment. They told the police investigating the incident that they had not recorded it. Does that seem likely? No, what is more likely according to experts on the religious right is that they used the video privately for fundraising. Video of someone putting their hands on a preacher, getting arrested, video of another teenager throwing a bottle of water at the police officer. That’s all proof that they *won* at Pridefest.
So there really are two angles to security measure for Pridefest 2015 – the public safety element under the auspices of the police AND the community response under the auspices of the Delta Foundation and community elders like the Rainbow Spirit organizers through Equality PA.
Will pastors and congregants and faith leaders give up “their pride” to be present and supportive of community members targeted by Repent Amarillo? Not everyone can just shake it off. Who will help them? And who will be documenting events from our side? This is a perfect opportunity for communities of faith to actively witness their statements of support – by shielding people and supporting people and ministering right there. I also reached out to several faith leaders but had no response beyond “we are marching in the parade” which is not really helpful.
Surely, Delta thought of this and reached out to dialogue months ago?
With regard to the police, that’s a mystery to me. I would *hope* Mayor Peduto would be as transparent as possible around all of this. He’s in the midst of contract negotiations with the FOP which is a delicate situation. On the bright side, he has access to the ACLU and the Women’s Law Project to craft a public policy solution that’s legal, fair and safe. Pittsburgh won a victory on buffer zones for reproductive health facilities so there’s a foundation upon which to build.
The emergence of a vibrant counter-protest to Pridefest by local queer and trans people of color (and their allies) makes this even more complicated and nuanced. They have every right that the Repent Amarillo folks have and every right that the Pride attendees have.
Personally, I’d like to see some transparency on these issues from Delta and the City at the very least.
- How many police officers and how many private security people will be at the events?
- Is there a plan for “free speech zones” and if so, what are the details?
- What has Delta done to support attendees, especially youth, from the vitriol and hate?
The community deserves to know.
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