TransPride Pgh Changes Annual Conference Schedule to Respect Yom Kippur

This is a simple story, but one that illustrates cultural competency and respect by a LGBTQ organization.

Earlier this year, TransPride Pittsburgh announced plans for their annual TransPride Pride Week and weekend conference, set for the end of September. The weekend conference was scheduled to have a professional day on Friday September 29, a community day of workshops on Saturday, September 30 and social activities on Sunday, October 1.

The problem is that Yom Kippur, one of the holiest day of the year for the Jewish community, begins at sunset on Friday September 29 and continues through Saturday September 30.

Yom Kippur (/jɔːmjmjɒm ˈkɪpərkɪˈpʊər/;[2] Hebrewיוֹם כִּיפּוּר‎, IPA: [ˈjom kiˈpuʁ], or יום הכיפורים‎), also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism.[3] Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

This has been a problem in other regions such as Charlotte, North Carolina which scheduled their LGBTQ Pridefest over this same weekend, the final weekend of September. Charlotte organizers made some accommodations to their schedule, but it took over a month to craft a solution of moving events to the evening which is imperfect at best. Some local Jewish LGBTQ folks in Charlotte have repeatedly asked for the event to be moved to Sunday October 1, expressing frustration and dismay over the entire situation.

It took Pittsburgh TransPride organizers a few days after community members brought this to their attention. The Pittsburgh event schedule now wraps up the professional training on Friday before sunset and moved all of the Saturday activities to another date entirely, the previous weekend’s September 23.

So now TransPride week starts with a community conference day and ends with the professional training day with weekday activities in-between.  You can find the current schedule of events here. Co-chair Lyndsey Sickler told us:

It was an unintentional oversight that we had our original community conference date set on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar year, Yom Kippur . When a community member made us aware of this , we worked quickly to remedy it. It is important that these events be accessible to all members of our community. We will be more aware in the future to make sure we do not repeat the same mistake.

Scheduling conflicts are certainly a reality. Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Film Festival has been running for over 30 years and has still run into other groups organizing competing events, most notably Highmark in 2014 and by Row House Cinema and the Feminist Zine Conference organizers in 2015. No one intended any harm, but fast forward to 2017 and I don’t see Highmark, Row House Cinema or the Feminist Zine Conference investing in the film festival to offset the harm they caused or demonstrate good faith moving forward.

And there’s a world of difference between a scheduling conflict among similar events and a scheduling conflict with a significant religious holiday that will literally prevent people from attending or having to choose between aspects of their identity.

You can argue that scheduling conflicts are in large part due to Pittsburgh having no central calendar resource for event planners to consult.  You can’t argue that about Yom Kippur or other holy days that can be found on almost every calendar. Even Google calendars has a feature to see significant holidays. But even if the mistake is due to ignorance and a lack of malice, there’s a need for organizations to take responsibility for their mistakes – even if that means a financial blow.

This year has been witness to several distressing incidents involving the LGBTQ community and Jewish folks, including a high-profile decision by the Chicago Dyke March.  Recently in Pittsburgh, a white supremacist with a violent background was caught distributing anti-Semitic literature in Squirrel Hill, home to many Jewish people.  This past February, a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was vandalized, causing damage to dozens of headstones.

So it is refreshing to see a Pittsburgh organization hold themselves accountable for a mistake that was hurtful to members of our community, take steps to correct the error, and make a commitment to be more mindful moving forward.

Every group could benefit from a mindful planning process. Taking a look at calendars should be part of the accessible to all component of planning. A tool that could be a big help with this is a centralized community events calendar that is accessible online and well-maintained. It is a lot of work, but why not secure some funding to compensate someone for their time to do this work? 5-10 hours a week at $15/hour (fair wages matter) is about $4,000/annually. Sounds like a good way for Highmark to step in with a multi-year grant that would have obvious health and wellness benefits for the entire community. If its hosted by Persad Center website or the Pgh Center for Equality, there would be minor webhosting fees. I’d offer to host it, but that’s not a good idea in terms of my political bent.

Just a thought on how to invest in a tool to reduce mistakes based on the lack of information, a process that can help us get closer to wrestling with the very real impact of anti-Semitism and other erasures within the LGBTQ community.

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