An Open LGBTQ Pride Letter to @SenCasey UPDATED

Senator Bob Casey has been working hard to move left and seize the post-electoral mantle of a progressive leader in Pennsylvania. And we absolutely need him to continue his aggressive leadership on choice, healthcare, immigration and more.

So it was quite jarring to come across this the other day. It is a photo from the Delta Foundation of a meeting their rulers and leaders from (I *think*) TransPride Pittsburgh had with Casey staffers in D.C. UPDATE – Rashod Xavier Brown was representing Garden of Peace, New Voices Pittsburgh and the Initiative for Transgender Leadership with no ties to the Delta Foundation. Dena Stanley was representing TransYouNiting as well as the Delta Foundation.

“Pittsburgh’s LGBT community was well represented at a meeting today with U.S. Senator Bob Casey to celebrate LGBT month. #riseUP #BePresent — with Gary Van Horn, Lyndsey Sickler, Dena Stanley, Rashod Xavier Brown, Donald Joseph Ryan and Malcolm Anthony Legacy-Mizrahi at Russell Senate Office Building.”

WTF was the Casey team thinking? They brought Delta to DC to take a meeting? Delta brought along TransPride Pgh folks. Like everything is normal and sane and reasonable in the regional LGBTQ community?

No, no, no, Senator Casey. You just gave a massive photo opp to the proponents of the very deeply sowed divides in the regional LGBTQ community. You are on the side of EQT zip lines and Wal-Mart tractor-trailer led equality marches rather than the hundreds of queer and trans folks who stood toe to toe with riot gear clad police to demand their right to march. ICYMI, that’s the Pat Toomey side of things. I don’t think even Senator Heinz (R) would have picked EQT over the working class queers and QTPOC.

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Your staff fucked this up by not welcoming an actual representative group to meet with them at this reception. Sigh.

I know this photo looks incredibly diverse and it certainly isn’t your typical Delta marketing image. There are some amazing trans, queer and genderqueer folks in this photo, but to be honest – I have NO IDEA what they were thinking to participate in this. Still, their voices are important for you to hear, Senator Casey.

But why would you allocate a seat to a white cisgender heterosexual woman and not a lesbian or bisexual female identified individual? A community elder? A youth? Did you even think about that? How do you have a LGBTQ meeting without a lesbian? Pro-tip: don’t invite allies to LGBTQ centered events. Ask the allies to give up their seat and complimentary glass of Chardonnay to an actual LGBTQ person who might not otherwise be represented in the group.

What’s worse is that this was allegedly a LGBTQ roundtable for Pride Month hosted by Senator Casey!

I know you’ve had meetings in Pittsburgh with top-secret hush, hush invites to certain members of the community. I tried to get myself on the invite list to one a few years ago, but was rejected. I know that anyone in your community could request a meeting if they chose. But I also know that your staff are charged with being aware of what’s going on in the LGBTQ community and there is no way they should have let this happen without including folks from the People’s Pride March or RootsPride (or both.) Alternatively, your team could have reached out to schedule those meetings.

Instead, you allowed yourself to be hijacked into a PR battle to control the representation of the regional LGBTQ community. And it is so utterly significant that I am calling you and the leaders in this photo out for their failure. You all failed the rest of us and shame on you.

Our community is long past the point where self-appointed spokespeople can take all of the meetings all of the time. They need to create space at the table for others if they are serious about allyship within the LGBTQ community. Yet I see the same faces all of the time. They know who they are and I urge them to give due thought to why they always participate. Are they representing or simply defaulting to a 1990’s mentality of when many voices were not visible much less taking public meetings? No one person should run all of the things.

I commend you for welcoming TransPride Pittsburgh, but that organization is tied to the Delta Foundation so this was a meeting of allied groups on one side of the definition of Pride. If that’s what you intended, fine. That’s where you are. Not including RootsPride, SisTers Pgh or Garden of Peace in that meeting shows an inherently flawed grasp on the contemporary dialogue around the transgender community. Not including the GLCC of Pittsburgh is also a serious misstep on your part.

Surely you have a staffer assigned to LGBTQ issues. Surely that person is not a white cisgender heterosexual male. Surely that person spent time leading into Pride month staying on top of statewide conversations in the LGBTQ community, relying on a varied array of source material and not just one or two advisors. Surely that person remembers 2015 in Pittsburgh and was also aware of the fallout from that experience. Surely they use Google to check the veracity of people claiming to represent any one group, especially a group that is marginalized, vulnerable and struggling.

Protestors are acting out in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and Chicago and beyond.

Senator Casey, you should do better by the LGBTQ community if you are going to lend your name and image to an organization in bed with EQT, Mylan Pharmaceutical and so forth. I urge your staffer to reach out and set up another meeting with different leaders to give you (or the staff) a more robust understanding of our current situation.

Pittsburgh LGBTQ community, you should do better than this as well. As Trish so eloquently said, you have to stop enabling Delta if you want to stop the erosion of your personal and professional credibility. How many times are we going to have community meetings with Delta before you accept that they are NOT GOING TO CHANGE? Your support of their work and their leadership gives them perfect cover to continue their wicked ways. They are hurting people and by extension, you are hurting people, too. I don’t think you are listening to your hurting neighbors who keep imploring you to disengage and reinvest your energies.

I’ve been paying attention for decades as well (as has Ledcat – I’m 46, she’s 54) so we have a long view on this. We don’t want to go back, but we also don’t want to erase the good from the past. If you don’t believe me, check out the ‘fine print’ around the ‘First PrideNight at PNC Park’ event in July (organized by Delta) that literally erases the past 13 years since we had the actual first Pride Night at PNC Park in June 2004. I was there along with hundreds of other people. There were plenty more. The Pirates have been good to the LGBTQ community. Why erase that? Who benefits?

If you derive personal or professional benefit from your association with Delta (a car lease, a contract, a sponsorship, access to meetings, etc), it is incumbent on you to take a long hard look at what price you pay for that benefit.  It is a tradeoff for sure which we all make, but how much energy are you really willing to invest in rationalizing and explaining away the discrepancies? Does your public commentary reflect what you say behind closed doors about Delta, GVH and the board? If not, are you comfortable with that? Maybe you don’t get to complain as much personally when you cash that sponsorship check?

If we expect Senator Casey to represent that entire LGBTQ community, it is on all of us to make sure the larger community is represented. Maybe it is time for more of us to give up a seat to others instead of taking on all of the things? Or at least to be more transparent about our allegiances and obligations?

There will always be peacemakers and bridge builders who try with all of their might to be the tie that binds amidst different factions. That’s a personality trait as well as an organizing strategy, but sometimes we all have to pick a side. And sometimes we have to hold our tongues and let the chips fall where they may rather than trying to fix the situation.

Here’s hoping Senator Casey’s team takes steps to address this LGBTQ Reception debacle and honor the work of more than one organization and its affiliates.

UPDATE I was informed by Dena Stanley that the original email invitation was sent out to “all organizations” and “the whole community was invited.” I am in the process of confirming that information, but have not yet had a response from the organizations.


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