March mayhem: Delta’s Pride draws criticism

People march in affiliation with UPMC at last year's Pride celebration. (Photo by Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer)

Pittsburgh gears up for its annual Pride celebration every June by filling the streets downtown with dozens upon dozens of rainbow flags and banners that promote equality and stand out against the monochromatic buildings and oft-dreary skies.

Pride week finishes the weekend of June 11 with PrideFest — a two-day festival celebrating LGBTQ+ identity and featuring entertainment, vendors and a mobile zipline down Liberty Avenue.

For many, Pride offers a way to celebrate identity and unity as a community. And Pride can be found nationwide, its origins stemming from New York City and the 1969 Stonewall Riots, radiating across the country and even the world.

Pride in Pittsburgh has not been spared from controversy, and this year especially, there is more division in how the city celebrates Pride.

In a press statement released January 12, the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit focused on the needs of the LGBTQ+ community that hosts the Pittsburgh celebration every June, announced that Pittsburgh Pride would have its first title sponsor — the EQT Foundation, a philanthropic organization within the EQT Corporation, which is a petroleum and natural gas company based in Downtown Pittsburgh.

“With a new title sponsor, a new starting point at PPG Paints Arena and a new kick-off time of 12:30 p.m., the EQT Equality March will include over 100 contingents of corporations, nonprofit partners and local law enforcement and first responder personnel, making it one of Pittsburgh’s most colorful and diverse marches,” Delta said in a statement.

But numerous LGBTQ+ organizations in the region — such as QueerPGH, SisTers PGH and the Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents — deride the Delta Foundation’s decision to have the EQT Corporation sponsor Pittsburgh Pride. Further, some organizations on campus — including the Rainbow Alliance — have refused to march in the EQT Equality March.

SisTers PGH has planned a counter-march — the People’s Pride March 2k17 — in response to the Equality March that aims to serve as a criticism of EQT and Delta. The People’s Pride March is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 11, Downtown, a half hour after the EQT Equality March plans to start.

Kate Shindle, a rising senior majoring in biology, president of Rainbow Alliance — Pitt’s gender and sexuality organization — said this is the second year that Rainbow Alliance will not be marching.

“We were especially troubled with Delta giving up the naming rights for the parade to EQT, a fracking company,” Shindle said. “We do not support this, and therefore will not be at Pride this year as an official organization.”

EQT’s practices — especially its fracking in the region — have been criticized as favoring profit over environmental protection by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, who sued EQT in 2014 for dumping fracking wastewater into freshwater ponds. The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board fined EQT more than $1.1 million on May 26.

In a press statement, the EQT Foundation focused on the positives of their partnership with the Delta Foundation.

“[The EQT Foundation’s] mission is to foster an environment for inclusiveness and respect for LGBT employees […],” EQT’s statement said. “EQT values the importance of celebrating all members of the community, and is looking forward to having a noticeable presence at this year’s Pittsburgh Pride festivities.”

When asked about the EQT’s history of donating to the campaigns of politicians Bill Shuster and Tim Murphy — both of whom voted in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage and against prohibiting discrimination based on orientation or identity — both EQT and Delta Foundations did not return requests for comment.

In Delta’s press statement, Mayor Bill Peduto was quoted as saying that Pittsburgh Pride emboldens the ideals of the City of Pittsburgh.

“Pittsburgh is a welcoming and inclusive city for everyone and its events, such as Pittsburgh Pride, that make it that way,” Peduto said.

Meg McGill, a rising sophomore majoring in mathematics, said that although Pride offers a way to celebrate life and unity within a community, that she doesn’t think as many people will attend Pride as in previous years because of the controversy surrounding EQT.

“I think [Pride is] a really inspiring thing,” McGill said.“I would see stuff on the news every June about Pride and [think] ‘Look at those people, being themselves, that’s awesome — that’s gonna be me one day, living the dream.’”

Charlotte Lyn Goldbach, a rising senior majoring in communications and political science, is the president of Pitt College Democrats and said that the organization encourages everyone’s self-expression, no matter where or how.

“We hope that everyone is able to celebrate safely and comfortably among other people, whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or as an ally,” Goldbach said. “Though the idea of corporate sponsorship … takes away from some people’s pride, Pitt Dems members look forward to celebrating and furthering pride and inclusion at both events.”

Other groups on campus echo Goldbach’s sentiments — Shindle from Rainbow Alliance stressed that Pride is a season to celebrate, yet also introspect.

“The celebration of Pride allows us as LGBTQIA+ people to celebrate, remember, reflect and rejuvenate ourselves,” Shindle said. “It’s a celebration of who we are, how far we have come [and] the struggles we have faced.”

Ciora Thomas, founder of SisTers PGH — a grassroots organization focused on improving the lives of transgender and nonbinary people of color — actively denounced the partnership between Delta and EQT. According to her, in order for Pride to be truly inclusive, its participants need to stand up to corporations like EQT and others that could have an influence on the impact of Pride.

Thomas said Delta and its practices at Pride celebrations are exclusionary — especially in regards to groups of color. In 2015 Delta announced that Iggy Azalea would be headlining Pride after widespread criticism that some of Azalea’s tweets were homophobic and racist. Local organizations Dreams of Hope and the Three Rivers Community Foundation rebuked Delta’s announcement and Azalea ultimately cancelled her Pride appearance. Delta did not respond to questions about Thomas’ concerns of exclusivity.

“[People need to] stop ignoring marginalized groups for money. [Pride] started with black and brown trans people — we don’t exist to Delta,” Thomas said.

She remarked that the EQT Foundation’s sponsorship — and the EQT Equality March as a whole — is not representative of what the history of Pride stands for. And so, along with friends and colleagues at SisTers, the People’s Pride March was born.

Thomas said that this is the inaugural People’s Pride March, and that SisTers PGH aims to hold Pride marches like these every year. The goal of the marches is to usher in an inclusive environment in Pittsburgh led by trans people of color.

“We​ ​recognize​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of​ ​Pride​ ​as​ ​an​ ​act​ ​of​ ​resistance,​ ​and​ therefore​ ​we​ ​will​ ​march​ ​to​ ​bring attention​ ​to​ ​and​ ​hold​ ​Delta​ ​accountable​ ​for​ ​its​ ​historical​ ​exploitation​ ​and​ ​negligence​ ​towards​ ​our black​ ​and​ ​brown​ ​and​ ​trans​ ​people,” the People’s Pride March event description says.

The controversy surrounding EQT Foundation’s sponsorship of Pittsburgh Pride has taken center stage in the months and days leading up to PrideFest and the marches that are scheduled for this weekend.

To Shindle, Pride should offer the opportunity to focus on groups that typically feel alienated.

“Pride at its best centers the most marginalized of us — LGBTQIA+ people of color, disabled LGBTQIA+ people,” Shindle said. “Pride at its worst continues to ignore these populations.

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