“Pride of the people will overcome evil!”
This was only one of many rally cries heard from the marchers in Pittsburgh’s second annual People’s Pride March late Sunday morning. The “people” of the chant were members of the LGBTQ+ community who are often overlooked — specifically transgender youth, adults in low income neighborhoods and people of color.
And the “evil” the chant referred to is the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, a leading LGBTQ+ advocacy group, and EQT, a Pittsburgh-based oil and natural gas company.
Separate from Pittsburgh Pridefest, People’s Pride is organized by the transgender- and nonbinary-centered shelter and transitioning program SisTers PGH. People’s Pride offers an alternative parade for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are displeased with the corporatization of Pittsburgh Pride events.
Last year, EQT’s sponsorship prompted Pittsburgh Pride to change its name to the “EQT Equality March,” an unwelcome decision to Ciora Thomas, a transgender woman.
“We have marginalized queer people who are getting ignored in Pittsburgh in corporate events like Pittsburgh Pride that’s run by the Delta Foundation,” Thomas, the founder of SisTers PGH and head organizer of People’s Pride, said. “They get ignored and they’re not heard. So in this space we offer them to be centered and heard in all aspects.”
The Pittsburgh Pride website reports that the mission of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh is to “be a vigilant catalyst for change that produces increased opportunities and a high quality of life for the LGBT community in Western Pennsylvania.”
However, there is a sharp contrast between this statement and the actions Delta has taken since gaining control of Pittsburgh Pride in 2007.
Its partnership with EQT is one of the main points of contention. For many Pride-goers, the petrochemical conglomerate’s history of fracking, congressional lobbying and its support of Pennsylvania state leaders who are weak on or oppose LGBTQ+ rights does not align with their political views.
Open Secrets, a website that publicizes political contributions, reported that in 2016, EQT donated $8,000 to now-former Rep. Tim Murphy, who received a 0 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign across the entirety of his 14 years in Congress. It also donated $10,000 to state Rep. Bill Shuster, who received the same rating.
In the past, the Delta Foundation has also been criticized for its failure to include all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Finding Delta and EQT’s partnership unsettling, rising Pitt sophomores Courtney Smith and Sydney Walter — majoring in psychology and biology, respectively — chose to attend People’s Pride instead.
“We felt [the People’s Pride] was a bit more inclusive and we liked the fact that it celebrated trans women of color, who were the origin of the Pride movement,” Walter said. “And we also think there is [sic] probably some not so great connections between Delta and fossil fuel companies.”
The students felt that a march sponsored by a large corporation could hide the actual intention of Pride celebrations by advertising the company’s name.
“We wanted a march that came from the people, not from big companies that are trying to use it as a way to gain more money,” Smith said. “[They think] it’s trendy to be inclusive.”
As the students spoke, EQT’s Equality March was underway on Liberty Avenue featuring balloon arches, a Highmark float and confetti. The juxtaposition of the People’s Pride in Market Square and Pittsburgh Pride only a block away was evident.
But the diversity and genuine inclusivity of LGBTQ+ community members who are gender-nonconforming and people of color is something positive that Thomas feels set People’s Pride apart.
“Seeing people around us that look like us. Look like all of us, as individuals. Not just white, cis gay folk. Just everyone,” Thomas said. “If you look around here, there’s all types of people here. There’s kids of color dancing in the middle of Pride in the square right now. I don’t think I’ve seen that in Pittsburgh Pride, so that’s a huge difference right there.”
Though differences do exist between the two events — in audience and in supporting organizations — Thomas hoped to bury the hatchet with this year’s event after a heated run-in with a police barricade blocking the People’s Pride parade from crossing paths with Pittsburgh’s Pride downtown event in 2017.
“First year was a protest, this year we are just celebrating the people. And continuing to celebrate the people and center the people, and not the horrible things around us,” she said.
Alina Nehlich — a Pittsburgh resident and member of the LGBTQ+ community — shared her thoughts on the chance to celebrate Pride away from the corporate parade without having to completely protest the event.
“[I’m] not a big fan of the other parade,” Nehlich said. “Just because it affects a lot of the current problems in our current world in general, like the appropriation of identities and things like that to sell problems and such. It’s a disappointment.”
Delta has signed a three-year contract with EQT that expires next year, provided Delta decides to cease its relationship with the oil and natural gas company. With as much negative press as the two organizations have been getting, the LGBTQ+ community may see a change in direction for Pittsburgh Pride in the coming years.
In the meantime, Thomas said that she won’t be holding her breath for Delta to change its relationship with EQT. “I want to center the people … To me [Delta and EQT] don’t exist, and will continue not to exist, and we will continue having these events for the people.”