A guest post from longtime LGBTQ activist and former Pride committee member, Billy Hileman, in response to a newly published long form piece in Pittsburgh Magazine about the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh. Note that I was quoted in the magazine article and am cited in Billy’s post. He originally wrote this as a Facebook status update, but upon my request fleshed it out to be a guest blog post. ~ Sue
By Billy Hileman
WARNING! Reading this article “A Matter of Pride [sic] …” could kill you! Unfortunately, I had to read it a couple of times (for different reasons that I watched Glover’s “This Is America” several times). This Pittsburgh Magazine article keeps getting worse every time I read it. Thank gawd for Joy KMT, Ciora and Sue who saved the article and, unwittingly, saved me too.
Where to start? OK, first, a mere 10 years ago was not the dark ages for queer liberation. And, a large politically vapid pride party is not the Promised Land. Reporter Amy Whipple writes, “Now, Pride attracts people from all walks of life” (always has), “Teenagers from nearby counties” (yep, not new), “Young adults … Older adults, … LGBTQ families … Straight allies … Community groups” (all sounds familiar) “… Local Companies. National corporations.” Stop right there, Amy. So, we add in some local companies and national corporations and queer people are out of the woods and into the light? I’m feeling feverish.
Stay calm, sip some herbal tea, here it comes:
“… Last year, Walmart brought a tractor-trailer and 483 people to the March, … sponsored by …EQT. Rehumanize International, a pro-life group, sold T-shirts emblazoned with rainbow-colored fetuses at PrideFest.”
Thud! Where am I? How long have I been out? Thank gawd Mikey found me and got me to the ER. I wrote a check to Planned Parenthood and I am feeling better now.
The least of it was, how obnoxiously in the way and out of place the Walmart truck was. Passing out rubber rainbow wristbands with the Walmart corporate emblem on them … at the Parade — that’s what separates us from the Pride events of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s?? Does anti-union poverty wage paying Walmart fly rainbow flags at ALL ITS STORES on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots? Does Walmart pass out rainbow wristbands to ALL ITS CUSTOMERS in Trump country in recognition of queer liberation, the end of sodomy laws, the recognition of same sex marriage, and as a demand that the murder of trans women of color at the hands of cis-gender white men has to end? Nope, they sprinkle indestructible landfill on us at the parade.
LGBTQIA+ liberation is more than sex. Love is more than sex. But, when they discover us doing it or looking like we might … we are in danger. It is about our bodies. Enjoying them. Or being the target of your fists. Cis or Trans it’s still our flesh. Shoved in the school hallway. Shamed. Suicide. It’s about a woman’s body and her right to choose to have an abortion. Keep your fists and your laws off our bodies.
Rainbow Walmart wristbands and rainbow colored fetuses. That’s Delta’s added value to Pride. Amy, why aren’t you challenging that? Are the Pittsburgh Magazine editors stopping you? I feel woozy.
The story briefly turns to the 2017 People’s March where “police in riot gear” stood watch. There was more to it than standing watch. The police with batons in hand threatened to arrest everyone after patience ran out with the marchers. The tail end of the Delta parade had left the area an hour before, and even an Olympic runner couldn’t catch them. The police refused to open the street until the Delta parade was cleared at the other end of the route; unnecessarily creating a standoff that came within a heartbeat of a violent mass arrest of the group led by Trans POC a stone’s throw west of Freedom Corner.
Amy’s pen isn’t done with re-writing Pittsburgh’s queer history—last year’s or 40 years ago. And, the Delta March Chair, Jeff Freeman is ready to help. “We were happy having picnics in the park because it was segregated. They were safe.”
Nope. There were marches. Correctly noted for 1973. But, Amy might not be the investigative news hound her fawning FB friends would lead you to believe. There also was a march from downtown to Flagstaff in ’75. Civic Arena to Federal Building in ’76. Shadyside and Oakland in ’79 and ’80. Civic Arena to the Point in ’91, ’92, and ’93. Smallman St. to Market Sq. in ’94 (when the City lied about construction on 5th Ave.). A route through the business district of Shadyside (Walnut St. and Ellsworth) to Mellon Park every year ’95-’00 (because the Pride Committee wanted to stay close to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the Three Rivers Arts Festival permitted Point State Park the same week. NOT because we want to be segregated and safe at a picnic in the park. Quick, I need some Advil). The GLCC marched in Squirrel Hill to Schenley Oval in ’01, a return to the Shadyside route in ’02 and ’03, and a downtown route to the Northside from ’04 to ’07.
2008: The Delta Era Begins.
Here it is. The malignancy in my brain erupts from reading this. The quote that defines Delta.
“‘If we just relied on the LGBT community, we wouldn’t have anything,’ says Van Horn.”
Let that sink in. Then, get some chemotherapy. Stat.
Enter Joy KMT.
“What I am saying you can’t do is you can’t ignore how we got to this place. … For Delta to even make that choice [to have Azalea perform] was, for me, indicative and symbolic of their ability to not engage with the foundations of their own existence.”
Yeeeeaaasssss! I am going to live!
“We have these deep conversations when we are looking at entertainment or whatever,” Van Horn says.
Ciora Thomas correctly rebukes Delta for selling the naming rights to EQT an energy company that donates to anti-LGBT politicians. “…they sold our pride … Our individual pride as human beings and trans folk and LGBTQIA folk.” She is right.
The only way to get “Q” and “T” on the pride banner is to put an “E” in front of it. No “L,” “G,” or “B” to be found. Since 2008, LGBT has been missing from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Pride banner and event.
And then there is the money. And that is a big part of the story.
Once upon a time there was the Tavern Guild. Gay bar owners. Did a lot of good things. And many of us were happy and welcome in the gay bars (not all of us, which is the other part of the story, see above, Iggy, etc.). Every year, the Tavern Guild held picnics at the North Park Lodge on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Charged a flat fee for a ticket. Lots of beer. It made a lot of money for the Tavern Guild. The Tavern Guild handed over the picnics to the Lambda Foundation. Very generous. And the Lambda Foundation made money from the beer picnics. The Lambda Foundation gave the money back to the community via grants. Very good work. One day, Lambda, which had some of the Tavern Guild bar owners on its Board, made a big big mistake. They decided to end the beer at the picnics. Going to be a family event, without the liability of a drunk driving catastrophe threatening the assets of the Foundation. But, when it came time to reserve the North Park Lodge for the Picnics, a member of the group got ahead of them and the permits were already in the hands of a new foundation. Delta.
Amy points out that Pride is the “forth largest special event in the city, competing with Light Up Night, the Regatta, and the Three Rivers Arts Festival.”
If the Lambda Foundation could donate ten’s of thousands of dollars it collected from North Park Picnics, why is Delta not able to do so with their events (including the Memorial Day Picnic)? Last year, 175,000 people at Pride. That’s a lot more than ever attended a Lambda picnic.
The financial information from Delta is harder to obtain than Trump’s tax returns.
Amy is not done trying to kill me. She posits:
“Which brings about a philosophical question: What does the voice of a community owe that community?”
Delta is not the voice of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA community. Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA does not have a unified voice. It is fractured by race and gender issues (just like the rest of the country). Delta is not a large diverse organization. It has a relatively small Board and one employee.
Amy seems to notice something is not quite right when Van Horn replies, “… LGBT plus all the letters you can add to it. Then you add intersectionality to it. Then you add political viewpoints to it, … If we truly are inclusive, what does inclusive mean?” And Christine Byran, “Where is the line?”
Not exactly sure where they going or where they will end up while they stumble over white privilege. But, no matter how inclusive or welcoming, the mere fact that white people are doing the welcoming is a manifestation of white privilege. Inescapable, so might as well face it. But, to dismantle it, we have to both acknowledge it and the organizations or coalitions that take care of and produce central Pride events have to be diverse.
Delta is not representative of the community, and as Sue Kerr said, “…Delta doesn’t want to [be representative of the community].” She is right. Delta does not want to share the power or the money.
Delta works hard on its events. They put on big events. But, regarding the meaning of “Pride,” it is a sham. They are riding a wave that was put in motion by other people. LGBTQIA Pride events collectively are one of the largest social/political/community events on the planet, with tens of millions of people celebrating queer liberation around the world in June every year.
LGBTQIA Pride in Pittsburgh was cared for, but not owned by the Pittsburgh March Committee, the Pittsburgh Pride Committee, the Three Rivers Pride Committee, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. It can’t be owned by anyone. It should not be sold by anyone.
Delta can have its giant event on Liberty (LOL) Avenue. But, the LGBTQIA Pride parade—that is another matter. Delta’s inability to navigate race and gender issues, and as Joy KMT put it, “… their ability to not engage with the foundations of their own existence” make the organization ill-suited to be the care-taker of our collective commemoration of what happened in Greenwich Village in June 1969.
All photos courtesy of Billy Hileman. I’m sharing them because they are evidence, as Billy said, “Clearly, we were not cowering in the park.”