Can the Delta Foundation be redeemed?

(Note: If you want a rundown on the Delta Foundation’s history, read this post.)

A few days ago, I was doing a walk and talk with someone chatting about general LGBTQ community news. They asked me point-blank “Is there anything the Delta Foundation can do to redeem itself?”

My response boils down to this. There are three possibilities.

Ideally, Delta should recognize that the magnitude of the harm of their legacy outweighs the benefits and voluntarily dissolve their corporation, pay their debts, and distribute the remaining assets to a new organization or an existing organization with significant community-wide credibility who can split up the assets among the groups in general. Frankly, I don’t think there will be much in the way of assets so who gets it should not be a significant issue.

One option is a new non-profit emerging that exists solely to operate Pridefest – say the Pittsburgh Pride Foundation – AND to support the other pride events like Pittsburgh Black Pride, Roots Pride, Peoples Pride, etc. All funds raised are spent on Pride. Records and meetings and minutes are open to public scrutiny. Any reserves are carefully made visible. No one gets a leased vehicle or travel expenses above the IRS reimbursed rate. We have the Prides we can afford and that’s that.

Another option would be for Delta to clean house, appoint a neutral caretaker to continue on while the entire Board and every staff person formally resigns. A complete audit is done and a new board recruited, vetted, and put into place. No trace of the existing or former board members should be part of the new formation; those who are responsible enough to renounce their former choices will understand that they would be in the way if they tried to participate. Those who do not “get it” with regard to Delta as it currently operates would have no moral authority to be part of a new effort.

Of course, the second option would mean the trauma and legacy of Delta would always be there. So I am in favor of completely dissolving and starting fresh – it seems the healthiest choice. I would be skeptical of anyone who believed or claimed they could fix it or save it. We don’t need a savior.

That’s a pretty long answer, right?

Well, today I was talking with someone in a relatively new leadership position and they acknowledged to me that they were not really familiar with Delta. My jaw dropped open. Then they said that they wanted to find a way to work with them and ‘harness the good’ which is even more shocking. Finally, they said that Delta has infrastructure that no one else has and by lending the sound system and stage for free to other community groups, they mitigate the harm they cause.

That’s when I revisited the earlier conversation – the infrastructure assets need to be in the hands of an organization that is not using these items to mitigate any harm. The shifting alliances of local LGBTQ organizations with the Delta Foundation is corroding the entire community. People actually hate each other, they aren’t listening much less willing to work with one another and a lot of it is because of that dependency on Delta for a sound system and few thousand dollars.

I thought it was bad that the Pittsburgh Marathon and P3R is willing to accept (allegedly) $250,000 a year for three years in sponsorship dollars for Chick-fil-A, but I realize that within our own community, we commit far more grievous injuries to our own. For a sound system and a few thousand dollars.

Those who cling to Delta and hope for redemption are as much a part of the problem as those who know better, but still take the handouts willingly. And I see that if new leaders are not well versed in the history of these community organizations, we are going to be stuck in this vicious cycle for a while longer until the Foundation’s foundation collapses.

I’m just unsure it won’t take other groups with it – groups like the GLCC, Persad, PFLAG, Dreams of Hope, TransPride, etc.

We’ve lost THRIVE and PFLAG Butler in the past year. Equality PA is on life-support. The GLCC ended youth programming that had been in place for 20+ years and is barely open for any services. PATF struggles to keep LGBTQ folx visible in their new branding.

**Let me be clear that NO Pridefest is worth losing youth programming. Period. It should be front page news that the Pgh Equality Center formerly the GLCC closed one of the longest running LGBTQ youth programs in the nation and we should be doing something about it instead of quarreling about sound systems. That youth program is just blocks away from the location where 12 trans activists and allies were arrested in October for blocking a street. These things are not unrelated; we just aren’t asking the right questions to see the connections.

Perhaps closing the Delta Foundation could be the final straw that reverses this decline in community resources and supports.

The third option is to just continue doing nothing while wasting precious energy trying to fix something that doesn’t want to be healed, battling over alliances, losing connection with history, and creating more trauma. No organization can sustain that in the long run so we can watch it play out and allow people to make their own choices about how they interact with Delta during these final years.

Regarding the assets mentioned above, in reality, I expect Delta has few tangible assets to distribute. The mortgage on their building must be steep – they paid half a million dollars ($511,980) in 2013. We should have learned long ago that there’s no money, no pot of gold. People with financial reserves don’t hide that when questioned about their financial choices. I have no idea if they are operating on a deficit or not, but anyone who thinks there’s a big wad of $$ resources to be disbursed is probably wrong. Of course, I could be wrong because no one knows. But anyone taking on a board role with the existing organization assumes legal and ethical responsibility for what has come before – who would want that?

I’ve been listening to people talking about change and renewal for over a decade. Same conversations, different voices. There’s zero reason to think that suddenly there’s a magic solution to a problem that has haunted our community forever. This didn’t happen because one person is a bad guy. Hundreds of people in our community and allies contributed to this problem. The legacy of systemic oppression, racial injustice, sexism, erasure, economic battles, and internalized homophobia and transphobia have contributed to this problem. New leaders don’t address those problems. I’ve seen very few people acknowledge that trying to reform something from within was futile, much less make amends for the damage their complicity has caused. Most have simply moved on with their lives.

I’ve said repeatedly that Roots Pride struck a devastating blow to the actual foundation of the Delta Foundation. We are watching the fallout continue. I think it makes the most sense to build something new after the dust settles rather than trying to hold onto what is collapsing. But I also recognize that letting go of the myth, the “what could have been” of the Delta Foundation is not just about one board member – it is a choice we have to make collectively and individually. And I don’t see signs that will happen anytime soon.

I could be wrong.

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