Stop Blaming Gary Van Horn for All of the LGBTQ Community Problems in Pittsburgh

I’ve seen variants of this rhetoric all over Facebook in the past several weeks, a very intentional effort to hold Gary Van Horn, President of the Delta Foundation, (known as GVH) accountable for the ways in which the Delta Foundation has failed our community and for his own personal alleged crimes.

I think it is bullshit.

Understandably, it would be easier if we could identify one bad guy who is solely responsible for the trauma and damage, maybe add in a few sidekicks and then move on to next week’s episode after he’s brought to justice. But this is a gross misunderstanding of the ways in which institutional oppression and violence have manifested in our LGBTQ communities these past years as well as deliberate attempt to absolve the hundreds of people, including our friends, who have enabled this organization’s behavior.

Now granted, if GVH has committed crimes, he should be charged and have his day in court. I’m not really talking about those rumors or those allegations, but please know I support any victims who speak up.

I’m talking about this institutional forgetfulness of the dozens of LGBTQ folks and allies who have held leadership roles within Delta and Pittsburgh Pride since 2007. I’ve encountered many who are disillusioned, bitter, regretful, and so forth but I haven’t yet met anyone who has sought to offset the damage or set things right. No apologies, no reparations, just a new perspective.

So forgive me if I’m skeptical about this new effort to scapegoat one person. Granted that person has had the most power and influence, but it is untrue that they’ve acted alone. Very powerful members of our community with deep pockets and extended spheres of influence have played a part in the Delta Foundation damage. Where’s the accountability from the MOST powerful supporters?

And that includes the current board members. I’m exhausted by claims that any one person can change things from within. That’s foolish and also likely disingenuous.

If we are going to hold GVH accountable in public (aka Facebook) for the harm Delta has caused, you better list the other board members, too, going back to 2007 and clarifying if you have sort of relationship with them. It is very suspect that current board members are allocating resources to other community groups who have picked up this mantra, but those board members are still on the board. That’s not community accountability, that’s barely ethical.

Delta needs to go. It needs to formally unincorporate and dissolve assets to settle existing debts. The building has to be sold. The car leases terminated. A full and complete reckoning of every single asset, down to the last pen and pencil. The endowed funds that Delta manages should be turned over to the Pittsburgh Foundation since we have no other community foundation. (No, that doesn’t count.)

And whatever is left should be used to incorporate a brand new Pittsburgh Pride Foundation that includes leadership from lots of groups and funds pride activities like Pittsburgh Black Pride, People’s Pride, and the myriad of smaller events that barely get a wink and a nod. Here’s the catch – no one with any tie to Delta should ever serve in a leadership role with his new entity. They had over ten years to get it right and they have consistently failed. So no exceptions for people whom we consider good guys. Good guys who are actual allies will understand how their complicity and association with Delta will taint future efforts. Good guys who want to have control and influence in the LGBTQ community will not acknowledge that and try to pink wash themselves into new roles.

Do we learn from the past 12 years or not?

I don’t expect that will happen for a few more years and only by force of law at some point since public opinion has never been a genuine concern of the foundation.

Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community groups are very much a reflection of Pittsburgh in that most are highly identified with a specific leader. We can make a list of important efforts that failed or dissolved when a key leader stepped away. We do not do a very good job of sharing the mike or the power. We like leaders. We like when people we know and trust are leaders of many things even if that prevents new leaders from emerging. How many people can you say are in leadership roles on 3 or 5 or even 10 different projects? Is that healthy? Is there any way to determine that? Is there any accountability for people who say “I’m doing the best I can?” Is that good enough?

For all that we celebrate our sports teams, we still talk about Ben and Ryan and Syd and Cutch as individuals whose excellence sets them apart. Fortunately, those institutions have paid staff to focus on the team building tools necessary to counterbalance the cult of personality.

Our community groups do not have that luxury. Big personalities need a counterweight. Big moments take their toll on the resources of the individual and big amounts of public attention can bring a host of other problems that require a team approach.

So I get why you want to blame GVH. The truth is that scores of our other LGBTQ neighbors have been unable to change things from within and a lot of that is due to his choices. But if you try to save Delta or roll the resources into another foundation with ties to Delta, you are simply putting lipstick on a pig. I’ve always wanted to work that into a blog post. I can only imagine what my detractors will do with that.

To be honest, Delta has harmed me a lot. But it has never been actually GVH. It has been other board members and volunteers who have harassed and taunted me, threatened me, defamed me, etc. So I have a personal stake in you getting this right. And I suspect a lot of other people do as well.

The time to have it both ways passed in June 2015. I would hope that four years later people in the community would realize that salvaging or redirecting or anything to do with Delta is misguided and only perpetuates the trauma. I personally doubt there’s any pot of gold anyway. I think a LGBTQ organization housed in Allegheny West is a ridiculous waste of resources. I wouldn’t trust any person or organization who participated in anything but the full dissolution.

We can sit back and let it happen, the blow to the foundation of the Foundation by Roots Pride was mighty and will eventually be permanent. And maybe we’ll one day realize that it was leadership by QTPOC that set us on a better path.

We can create supports for individuals who have been traumatized and harmed by the Delta Foundation, inviting those who were complicit to invest their energies in that work.

We can pursue criminal charges, righting a mistake that organizations made years ago when they turned a blind eye to protect their reputation. But that requires evidence, testimony, etc. And privacy and discretion. Not rumors and whispers.

But if we take a “The King is Dead, Long Live the Queen” approach to this, we are doomed to continue along the same path for another generation.

And stop asking me to build bridges with a sinking ship. That’s self-harm at its worst.

We are not one. And it is not one person’s fault.

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