Updated May 25, 2023, at 10:32 AM
“I’ve always created new spaces for communities to thrive and new intersections to different groups of people. In this city of tunnels and bridges, I’m always seeking the ways we can make greater connections.” That’s exactly what Representative La’Tasha Mayes wants to do serving as Grand Marshal for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pride Parade, its golden jubilee, celebrating 50 years. “I’m excited and honored to be Grand Marshal. It’s really incredible to serve as State Representative as the first out lesbian.” Rep. Mayes will be joined by Jim Huggins and Wendy Belly, advocates involved with the LGBTQ community in 1973 during the first Pittsburgh Pride.
La’Tasha Mayes, a self-proclaimed political disruptor, wants to remind us that Pride is a protest. “I hope Pittsburgh Pride is an opportunity for those of us living our experience as LGBTQ+ people and for those who support us to show up for Pride weekend to express our love for our community and also our resistance. The magnitude of what our coalition has been able to do is nothing less than remarkable.”
She reflected on the evolution of Pittsburgh Pride, especially within the past 20 years she has lived in Pittsburgh. “Truth be told,” Mayes said, “I hadn’t been a participant in Pride for a long time.” She felt the former Delta Foundation’s “long history of bad decision making” was more focused on corporate interest and the centering of cis white men rather than creating room for true diversity. “It pushed certain parts of the community to the margins.” As an out black lesbian, Mayes had to create spaces on her own since she felt like Pride wasn’t one that reflected her experience.
However, Representative Mayes attended last year when Billy Porter served as the Grand Marshal and thought the march was incredible. “Now, it feels reflective of the expansiveness of the LGBTQ+ community and is fully grassroots-driven.”
She believes this expression is vital in the face of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation (especially targeting trans people) and the fight for reproductive justice which has been central to her work as an activist before serving in the PA House. Mayes is the Founder and former Executive Director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice which is devoted to the health and well-being of Black women, femmes and girls. “Who you are, what your gender is, and who you love is all reproductive justice.” Recently, Mayes spoke out vocally about the University of Pittsburgh hosting an anti-trans speaker and debated with a Republican colleague introducing anti-trans arguments over House Bill 300 which seeks to expand human rights and civil protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Though our communities might be vulnerable right now with this political trend across the state and country, Mayes believes our community is uniquely resilient and amazing.
Mayes has a signature style, sporting sleek hats, sharp glasses frames, and tailored suits and ties. The evolution of this style has been a big part of Mayes’ own journey of gender and personal expression. She isn’t afraid of bold colors or graphic prints as she uses fashion to impress herself in terms of being, “the gayest, most lesbian, most masculine” that she can be everywhere she goes. She teased her outfit for Pittsburgh Pride saying she was determined to raise the bar after red carpet sensation, Billy Porter.
There are many reasons Mayes feels Pride in the 24th District she serves. From businesses and organizations like Tazza D’oro in Highland Park to True T Studios on Liberty Avenue which provides human services and an insight into ballroom culture for young, black, and queer trans individuals. “Plus, I got the gayest block in the city- Ellsworth Avenue.” Mayes cites Ellsworth as a place she feels safe as an out black lesbian.
Countless people have amplified La’Tasha Mayes’ journey and her own sense of pride like Kelly e. Parker, “her Gay mother”, Bekezela Mguni, her best friend as well as fellow New Voices and Black Unicorn Project Founder, Aya Eliza-Christie, her best friend, midwife, and “general rabble rouser”, Rev. Shanea Bishop Leonard, Carmen Alexander, Reverend Deryck Tines, Judge Hugh McGough and Kris Rust, and Alma Speed Fox, who Mayes describes as “the Mother of Civil and Women’s Rights in Pittsburgh who lead the effort of the City of Pittsburgh to include sexual orientation in the local Human Relations Law.”
This network of support is sure to grow as La’Tasha Mayes and her partner, Heather Reel, are expecting a baby. “The fight for justice and queer and trans liberation is even more personal. This is about the world I want for my child.” And the world Mayes wants is one in which we get to live the truest expression of who we are a community- together.