LGBTQ Groups Are Mixed About The Delta Foundation's Future

Aug 17, 2020

Local LGBTQ advocacy organizations have mixed reactions to the news that the Delta Foundation has turned over an internal review to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office and made leadership changes. Delta puts on the annual Pride parade and festival, which was cancelled this year due to COVID-19.  

Dena Stanley with Trans YOUniting sits on the board of Delta and said the group isn’t making space for diversity and inclusion. 

“I'm the only Black trans woman and the only real representation on the board when it comes to Black community and more or less the poor community,” Stanley said. “So when I talk, it's more like, ‘OK, thank you,’ and they move on.”

At the start of 2020, board president Gary Van Horn resigned while facing charges of impersonating a public servant and forgery. Interim president Jim Sheppard then announced the board would conduct an internal review of its finances. That review was completed last week. 

In July, Sheppard said the board would open four seats to new members, with an eye toward crafting a more diverse leadership team. At that time, he said nominations for the seats would be taken until August 10, the same the organization announced the leadership change.

 

“I’m hopeful that we can get four great candidates that can represent diverse voices and backgrounds,” Sheppard said. “We can listen and learn from them. And listening is so important and that’s why I am emphasizing this because I don’t want to ever claim to speak for or know anyone else’s experience.”

Delta also said it would form a youth community advisory committee of five members between the ages of 18 and 30.

Delta has now said it would accept nominations until September 15.

But SisTers PGH founder Ciora Thomas said the actions don’t erase the harm the foundation has done to the LGBTQ community, especially people of color.

“My reaction [to the news about the review] was: we told you so,” Ciora said. “This is something we’ve known for decades.”

Thomas, who a few years ago helped plan People’s Pride, an alternative to the Delta-led Pride, said the foundation’s board has tokenized Black members, including Stanley. She said it would be difficult, in her mind, for Delta to prove it had truly changed at this point.

Prior to SisTer PGH’s People’s Pride, a coalition of Black LGBTQ community leaders organized Roots Pride as an alternative to Delta’s. Duane Binion, co-executive director of True T PGH, was part of that team and said it was a response to Delta’s curating its events to a white, more affluent and often cisgender audience.

“We've never felt comfortable at Pride,” Binion said. “I don't think most people of color that identify as queer have ever felt like Pride was curated with any of our interest in mind.”

In 2015, Delta booked rapper Iggy Azalea to headline Pride, prompting harsh criticism that the foundation was tone-deaf toward Azalea’s prior homophobic comments. The rapper canceled her performance, but the incident was only one among several tarnishing Delta's record on inclusivity. The foundation partnered with the EQT Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the petroleum and natural gas company. Critics said the corporate partnership was not representative of the grassroots nature of Pride, which was started by Black transgender women in New York City. Following a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, transgender activists including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia River are credited with pushing against homophobia and transphobia and inspiring the first Pride celebration.

Heather Broman with the PGH Equality Center said Delta’s decision to change its board makeup and improve diversity in its operations brings hope to the foundation’s future, but notes the future is still very uncertain for the group.

“We hope that ... it will open up a new chapter for the Delta Foundation with greater trust and transparency within the LGBTQ community,” Broman said. “[The board] seems to not have been aware of just quite how much debt they were in prior to that internal review. And they added that Pride made up 90 percent of their revenue, which leaves them with few options to continue at this point.”

The Delta Foundation did not return a request for comment about the internal review, but referred WESA to its Report to the Community, which included the organization’s impact on the community throughout its years of operations. 

*This story has been updated to reflect the timeline for applications for Delta's new positions.