As a member of a community under constant attack, attending pride celebrations used to feel like a breath of fresh air for me. Pride was always a space to be out safely and celebrate myself with other queer people.
But things have changed. Pittsburgh Pride has been sponsored by natural gas company EQT for the past two years, and the event feels less about the local queer community and more about how corporations can profit off the gay-friendly image they display once a year. Pride was born out of marginalized individuals fighting for visibility and rights, but has since become corporatized and whitewashed — and Pittsburgh’s pride march is a prime example of just how far the queer community has strayed from its roots.
The first Pride was a riot. New York City police entered the Stonewall Inn, one of the few places queer folks could safely be out in the city, in 1969. They arrested multiple individuals who were not wearing gender appropriate clothing, and, fed up with the harassment, trans women of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera began a large demonstration which flared up over the next five days. Modern pride marches can trace their history back to the events of that night.
Subsequent Prides followed suit in highlighting political issues and violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Pittsburgh Pride in 1974 shined a spotlight on LGBTQ+ job discrimination and police harassment, and another march in 1976 paused four times so speakers could talk about LGBTQ+ legislation that needed support at the city level.
But this year’s main pride event was far from that. It featured representatives and floats from corporations such as Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, whose parent company NiSource donates to anti-LGBTQ+ politicians, and Walmart, which had its Human Rights Campaign LGBT perfect score suspended in 2017 after two federal complaints alleged the retailer wasn’t protecting its transgender employees.
Worst of all, EQT, a petroleum and natural gas producer headquartered in Pittsburgh, sponsored the march. While EQT donates thousands of dollars to various foundations and events in the city including Light Up Night, BikePgh and the Pittsburgh Philharmonic, it is not a friend to the Pittsburgh queer community and has actually donated money to explicitly transphobic and homophobic politicians.
EQT donated $7,000 in 2016 to Tim Murphy, the former representative for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District who voted for multiple homophobic bills and publicly misgendered Chelsea Manning. The corporation also donated $15,000 to Republican candidate Rick Saccone, a co-sponsor of legislation to prohibit same-sex unions in Pennsylvania, during the March special election in the 18th District. EQT isn’t participating in Pride because it is dedicated to change — it just wants an image boost.
But EQT alone isn’t to blame. The Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, western Pennsylvania’s primary LGBTQ+ advocacy group and the organizing force behind Pittsburgh’s Pride since 2008, accepted EQT’s sponsorship beginning in 2017, and agreed to rename the event the EQT Equality March. In a statement released in 2017 shortly after the agreement, Delta said the march would feature more than 100 contingents of corporations, local law enforcement, first responder personnel and nonprofits, making it “one of Pittsburgh’s most colorful and diverse marches.”
This move naturally drew criticism — as did other Prides that took similar action. Members of the LGBTQ+ community criticized the organizers of Washington, D.C.’s pride parade, Capital Pride Alliance, for accepting corporate sponsorship — Capital Pride’s main partner is Wells Fargo. San Francisco Pride has also drawn criticism for its inclusion of Google, Facebook and other corporations.
Delta and these other advocacy groups are not fit to run Pride in the first place — not just because of rampant corporatization. Delta may put money toward Pride, but it is at the cost of assisting the community it claims to advocate for. According to Delta’s 2014 IRS form, it made $921,379 that year — and more than $500,000 went to pride festivities. Only $17,058 was put towards LGBTQ+ grants and awards.
And the board itself is overwhelmingly white, with only two members of color out of ten — a far cry from the trans women of color who organized the start of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. And trans women of color are the group that need the most protection — they face a violent reality. The 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 67 percent of LGBTQ+ homicide victims were in that demographic. A better Pittsburgh Pride would be one organized by a LGBTQ+ group more suited to representing and assisting the most vulnerable individuals in its community.
Delta also ignored the safety of members of the queer community this year when the EQT Equality March celebrated Pittsburgh police, featuring a new police car bedazzled with pride decals. This is antithetical to the first Pride, which was a movement against discrimination, violence and harassment from police, not a big party featuring corporations and ignoring serious issues.
Police violence in the queer community is still a large problem — a 2013 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that trans people in the United States are 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to the general population. Police have a long history of abusing the queer community going back to Stonewall, when New York police raided the gay bar and terrorized black and brown members of the queer community.
Welcoming police into pride marches is not showing progress when their presence remains a threat to queer people of color and is an erasure of their experiences. The strides made by police departments do not erase the violence the system has committed against queer people, and they should not be celebrated at Pride.
The People’s Pride March — run by SisTers PGH, a local LGBTQ+ advocacy group run by trans women of color — has gotten it right. When Delta agreed to accept EQT as a main sponsor for Pittsburgh Pride 2017, SisTers PGH began the People’s Pride as a protest. People’s Pride refuses to take on corporate sponsors and is true to the history of Pride, making efforts to be as inclusive as possible and acting as a political call to action.
Pride was born out of a fight to exist. Inviting corporations and ignoring the most marginalized members of the queer community is blasphemous to the origins of Pride. It should be a time to celebrate queer visibility, celebrate our history and celebrate the power of our community in our fight for the future.