Contemporary Pride festivals are largely celebrations of personal identity and sexuality born from the start of the gay liberation movement.
"(They're) a time to remember the folks that have fought battles in years past and ... to continue the fight for the community to achieve full equality," said Christine Bryan, director of marketing and development for the Delta Foundation, the North Side-based nonprofit that organizes Pittsburgh Pride.
But as local Pride events kick off Friday, some say that fight still has a long way to go.
Artist and activist Joy KMT said it’s OK to throw a big party to remember that history, “But who gets to celebrate? And how do people get to celebrate? Who accesses that celebration?”
“Pride is a commemoration of a resistance,” KMT said. “We celebrate the fact that we’re here, that we’re alive. And as we celebrate, we must also remember that there are many in our community (who) are still resisting to survive, and if we don’t do that then our celebration is incomplete.”
Last year’s Pittsburgh Pride brought more than 100,000 people Downtown to celebrate the lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual, or LGBTQIA, community. But event organizers faced a firestorm when rapper Iggy Azalea was announced as Pride’s headlining act. Azalea eventually canceled when protestors claimed she had made racist and homophobic remarks and was an insensitive choice.
"We have always worked very hard to make sure we have put on a very diverse celebration," Bryan said.
The discontent sparked a larger conversation in the community, KMT said, about long-brewing concerns that Delta caters to affluent gay white men, and that the organization is disconnected from the needs of the full spectrum of the queer, black and transgender community.
Thus, Roots Pride formed.
The collective, including organizers KMT and fellow activist Michael David Battle, quickly put together their own counter-Pride events. Hundreds of people attended.
Battle said it’s about intentionally making safe spaces and including everyone in decision making – something Bryan said Delta tried harder to do this year. She said the organization reached out to dozens of community organizations.
“If we met with 500 people we had 500 different opinions about what Pride should look like and should be,” she said.
Those suggestions were given to decision makers at Delta; she said this year’s Pride reflects that. Rapper Angel Haze, a black pansexual agender performer, is scheduled to open for Kesha.
"We’re really excited to have her,” Bryan said.
Battle and KMT said Haze's LGBT credentials aren't the point.
“You can’t just decide that because this is a black queer trans person, we’re gonna say, ‘Oh, Delta’s cool now,'” Battle said. “We’re not a monolith. We’re not all the same.”
“You can’t slap blackness on something,” said KMT.
Blogger and former Delta Foundation board member Thomas Waters said he supports Roots Pride and wants greater transparency from Delta. Pride is too commercialized, he said, but organizing the event is a huge endeavor and valuable to a lot of people – especially the free events.
“The parade and then the Pride Fest in the afternoon are tremendous resources to the community,” Waters said. “To lose that would be terrible.”
Roots Pride said organizing has been hard for them as individuals with no institutional resources. Battle and KMT said they need help, and for more people to take on leadership roles. The pair said they want the collective to not just put pressure on Delta, but to bring attention to the needs of trans and queer people, the violence they face and the lack of access to services.
“It’s a gentle challenge to everybody that is operating ... and trying to do good work in Pittsburgh to look at who you’re trying to serve,” KMT said.
Roots Pride is supporting events across the city that coincide with this year’s Pride, including a youth assembly, potluck, prayer service and rally.
Battle, KMT and others have expressed concern with accessibility to Delta leadership and representation opportunities. Bryan said everyone is invited to get involved and be a Pride event volunteer.