My New Thanksgiving Day

July 7, 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous year of change that no one could have predicted. We all experienced it. Everything closed for months. Many people lost jobs. Those who were fortunate to keep their jobs found themselves working from home. You can’t go to the movies and you can’t close up the bars at 2:00 AM.

A more important, impactful and positive change also came. After the tragic murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the world has finally begun to openly discuss the systemic racism that has plagued our criminal justice system and nearly all other aspects of life.

I would be lying if I said I’ve always been the best freedom fighter for racial justice. Now I am far more aware of my white privilege that allowed me to be blissfully unaware of how serious this issue is. I am thankful every day for July 7th, 2020. More than any of the other days this year, July 7, 2020 changed me and the direction I choose to go in life.

On July 7, a collaborative group of mostly queer identified and trans people of color held a protest in front of 911 Galveston Avenue on the North Side. You can read the stories by the Pittsburgh City Paper or WESA public radio to learn why they were there and why I was there.

I stood for more than an hour listening to them share stories about how they weren’t included in the greater LGBTQ community of Pittsburgh. Their stories were passionate, emotional, raw and real. That hour had a great impact on how I saw myself and how I had failed. It led me to ask what more I could do to lift our entire LGBTQ family. That hour changed me.

After listening to their stories and experiences, I was asked to respond. I told the gathered crowd that I was terribly sorry that these were their experiences. I said that I would do everything in my power to make things better for them.

I developed a plan to make that happen — a plan to include more diverse voices and to build more inclusive safe spaces.

Like I said, 2020 has been a year of change. Of course, more things changed, so I wasn’t able to implement the promises made then and there. Someday we’ll tell that story too.

This is where QBurgh comes in. I sincerely hope that through QBurgh we will be able to lift up all the diverse voices and opinions of the LGBTQ Community of Pittsburgh, share our experiences, and understand each other just a little bit better to bring this Community together.

I want all of us to hear the stories we don’t know. I want each of us to experience what I did that summer afternoon when I heard and learned from the different voices and perspectives.

Maybe we can learn from each other, lift each other up, and celebrate each individual in our amazing and diverse rainbow community. Make no mistake, there are those who don’t want to hear these stories.  Some forces try to silence anything outside of their comfort zone. I know who they are and trust me, Jeff and I won’t let them silence anyone.

We’ll have fun too because it can’t be a queer rag without a little camp, drag, and sass. So, we’ll deliver that too.

I want to take a moment to thank Dena, Dalen, Jay, and Lyndsey for helping to open my eyes and for being the fearless community activists and freedom fighters that they are. You’re all pretty damn funny too! If you know them, you are blessed. If you don’t, I hope we can introduce you.

We have big ideas and plans for QBurgh. Come along with us and let’s learn together, join together, and laugh together.

Jim Sheppard is a resident of Downtown Pittsburgh. Jim served as a Commissioner on the City of Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission which investigates instances of discrimination in the City of Pittsburgh and recommends necessary protections in our City Code to provide all people in Pittsburgh with equal opportunities. He has worked for Pittsburgh City Council, the Pittsburgh Mayor, and the Allegheny County Controller. For five years he was the President of the Steel City Stonewall Democrats. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (He / Him / His)