Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As threats increase nationwide, Pittsburgh's Pride organizers spend more on security this year

 A pride flag affixed to a traffic cone in Downtown Pittsburgh waves in the wind.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA

As the LGBTQ community finds itself caught in political crosshairs — targeted with escalating violent rhetoric and a slew of bills nationwide designed to restrict LGBTQ rights — Pittsburgh’s Pride organizers are paying more for event security this year. Organizers for Pittsburgh Pride Revolution, a three-day festival taking place across the city, will spend nearly one-third of their total budget on private security and security planning this weekend.

That’s up from a mere 5% of the budget in previous years, according to Dena Stanley, co-founder of Pittsburgh Pride Revolution. She said that although she’s not aware of any credible threat against the events in Pittsburgh, adding more security will help attendees enjoy the festivities.

Pittsburgh Pride Revolution organizers are also working with the city and its Bureau of Police, but Stanley said she hired private security for additional peace of mind.

“There has been an increase of attacks and just hateful bigotry … that pertains to the queer community as a whole,” she said. “We just want to make sure that it's a safe, fun and free event for everybody.”

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Still, private security isn’t cheap: The group will spend about $75,000 to protect event attendees.

Community groups have been fundraising to help cover part of the costs. Social media posts encouraged those with the means to chip in to ensure a safe environment.

Stanley said another security measure organizers took this year was waiting to publicize and promote events. “We intentionally waited until now to start having conversations … because we’re so close to the event, it won’t give people time to plan for something crazy,” Stanley said.

“But that does not mean that [LGBTQ foes] are not going to come out,” she added. For many years, Pride marchers have been confronted by protesters along the parade route, though Stanley notes that it doesn’t typically escalate to violence.

“I'm okay with it," she said of previous interactions. "Let them come and spew their Bible to us. Go ahead. Do your thing."

The parade kick-off point has also changed this year. Marchers will gather at 11th Street and Liberty Avenue Downtown instead of the City-County Building along Grant Street as in years before. The parade route will follow Liberty Avenue toward 7th Street and cross the Andy Warhol Bridge to Sandusky Street before turning onto South Commons to march into Allegheny Commons Park West. Marchers are asked to begin gathering around 10 a.m. Saturday.

The extra safety measures were highlighted by city officials Wednesday at a press conference to mark the start of Pride month.

When asked about increased security precautions, City Councilor Bruce Kraus, council’s only openly gay member, referred to the need for security — plus recent backlash about Pride merchandise at Target and anti-LGBTQ legislation — as “spiritual murder” of the community.

“I don't know that you would have asked that question 10 years ago, but you are today, and that scares the hell out of me,” Kraus said. “What really terrifies me is this pervasive belief that somehow violence in all its forms has become acceptable.”

Mayor Ed Gainey’s office said the city is aware of the increased need for security at Pride this weekend.

“We've been working with the organizers of the events to make sure that there's adequate security plans in place,” said Gainey spokeswoman Maria Montaño. Montaño said city police will be working Pride events in addition to the Three Rivers Arts Festival also kicking off this weekend.

City leaders stressed that despite the climate elsewhere, Pittsburgh is a “welcoming” city for LGBTQ people. Montaño, who is herself a trans woman, said she’s proof of how far the city has come in supporting the LGBTQ community.

“In Pittsburgh, we don't just say ‘We support you.’ We live it with our values,” Montaño said. “We put people into positions to make choices and changes. And to challenge when so many other people have said that people like me should never be at a podium like this.”

Pride month and the city’s LGBTQIA+ commission were recognized by council members with a proclamation Wednesday, led by Kraus and City Council president Theresa Kail Smith. Commission members cited staggering statistics that illustrate the mental health crisis among LGBTQ youth.

On average, 45% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year, according to The Trevor Project. Nearly one in five transgender youth attempted suicide.

“It’s on us to do everything we can to protect trans youth, to protect all LGBTQ youth, and to remember to do that every day as we walk through our celebrations and our tragedies,” said Sue Kerr, co-chair of the LGBTQIA+ commission.

Kraus argued political and religious groups working against the community are better organized than before, and he described the current political climate as one of the most “difficult” periods in the community’s history.

“I thought those times were behind us, but somehow it has become acceptable in this … society to invoke or perpetrate violence,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Kraus said he would like to be able to celebrate the progress made by LGBTQ people.

“My greatest hope would be that we take the time to just ban the noise and ban the chatter and let pride be what pride is,” Kraus said. “[It’s] a moment for us to gather, be together to recognize one another. To take to the streets, to laugh, to dance, to sing, to celebrate, to recognize who and what we are, and all that God intends for us to be and to become.”

A full list of Pittsburgh Pride Revolution's Pride weekend events can be found here.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.