A Rebirth of Pride in Pittsburgh

In Pittsburgh, for too many years, one organization has been inextricably linked to Pride, the Delta Foundation. But this year, we are seeing Pride in Pittsburgh being returned to the community. In my opinion, and many will not share this viewpoint, Delta wanted to grow Pride to benefit Gay people in Pittsburgh. They had the best of intentions, at least at some point, but did it in all the wrong ways, doing extreme damage, and destroying the true sense of community that once existed here within the LGBTQIA+ communities and the many organizations that used to work so well together.

In the end (and it is possible Delta isn’t fully dead yet), Delta left the community in tatters, divided and broken, all while they smugly were sure it was everyone else’s fault.

This year, Pride in Pittsburgh is reborn, and restarted and hopefully, efforts will re-ignite the community that once worked so hard to work together.

Indeed, this year’s efforts follow in the footsteps of some past efforts to take Pride back to the actual community. I remember walking with Joy KMT, in 2016, down along the river in a memorial vigil to honor those massacred at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, while Delta’s Pride went on, as if nothing had happened to shake the ground underneath every LGBTQIA person in the country. People like Joy and others have been calling out Delta for some time. There is probably a lot that can be said about the past, but I’m more interested in looking at right now, and looking forward. This year, we may see a rebirth of Pride in the ‘burgh.

Today, I received the email “letter,” from Mark Segal of the Philadelphia Gay News. Mark was in New York during Stonewall in 1969, and the first Pride march in 1970. In his letter, he claimed that in 1970, Pride was about “Protest and Celebration.” Its value was in a huge way, that it happened. As he writes: “and that Pride came from walking out of our West Village, Christopher Street Ghetto and marching publicly uptown to Central Park. We were Out, Loud, and Proud!”

Pride was and is all about participation. It isn’t about how big of a headliner some organizing group snagged, or how many vendors are in a festival area. It is all about the people participating, and being out, loud, and most importantly, proud.

I was 12 at the time of the Stonewall uprising, and it wasn’t until 1976, that I set foot within my very first queer activist organization, the OGRC, soon to be renamed, the OGLRC. Yes, some of my first memories of queer organizing involved learning how, simply with naming a group, we had not allowed visibility for the broader community, and so the Ohio Gay Rights Coalition, became the Ohio Gay and Lesbian Rights Coalition.  These lessons about who needs visibility, and who deserves a placemat the table continue to this day. One of the folks I remember best from those earliest meetings, was a transexual woman. Transexual, a term not even really used anymore. My point at mentioning this, is that queer organizing- coming to be community, and be an inclusive community has always been a process of growth. 

I know, I keep getting drawn back to the past.

My earliest memories of Pride in Pittsburgh go way back to the mid or late 80s. I remember my first Pride in the ‘burgh. We gathered up next to the Civic Arena and marched all the way down to the Point. I remember vividly walking past the Three Rivers Artis Festival, us this rag-tag group of queer people, and I remember feeling a sense of pride being so visible in a group of people just like me-some I knew, and most I did not.

For many years, Pride here was organized loosely by an ad hoc group that pulled itself together, often at the last minute to make it work. Some years it worked better than others. Then, at some point, the GLCC (now Equality Center) decided to try and give it some real structure. It had some big successes, while still leaving much to be desired. Pride bumped around, to Schenley Park, the North Shore, and Mellon Park. Every iteration in my opinion, of Pride in Pittsburgh, retained a real sense of community. Until Delta.

A whole book can be written about the ways Delta harmed Pride and the community here, but the most shining illustration, was Delta’s attempt to sell the name of the Pride march itself as if it were a stadium or something. Some detested this outrage as the corporatizing of Pride, and there is some truth to that. But really, it was Delta selling out the community, because as an organization, Delta was thoroughly irresponsible and lousy with money. Like an addict, they’d do whatever it took to feed their habit, and their ego needed everyone to think they were the best organization that could exist.

Over the years, I’ve published multiple times, a list of things I believe one needs to do to get the most out of Pride. Big or small, organized or disorganized, the real value and power of Pride is about participation. And the need for protest and celebration is here today, every bit as much as it was in 1970 for that first Pride march.

This article originally appeared on ThomasCWaters.com. Re-published with permission.