The Pittsburgh Pride festival is no stranger to controversy. This year marks the 10th annual celebration hosted by the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh.
The event gained national attention in 2015 when it invited controversial singer Iggy Azalea, who had been accused of making racist and racially insensitive remarks on social media. The Australian rapper ultimately canceled the performance.
“EQT has been involved with us for a couple years and have made tremendous strides as a company,” said Christine Bryan, Delta’s director of marketing and events.
Bryan said EQT has done a lot to improve treatment of LGBTQIA employees, and sponsorship is important to keep some events free.
“EQT thought they were just gonna come in here and throw money at everybody, and they could frack in our area, and that’s not OK,” said Ciora Thomas, who is organizing an alternative pride event for 1 p.m. the same day.
The People’s Pride, described by organizers as the natural progression of the alternative event Roots Pride launched after Azalea was announced as headliner in 2015, centers the needs of Pittsburgh's most marginalized. Thomas said that includes those who identify as trans and non-binary.
Roots Pride held its third and final event last week. Delta’s is still the biggest in town. Bryan said it’s grown every year.
“We’re excited to have expanded programming to a full weekend of events and activities,” she said. “Kicking off this Friday with an after-work event featuring MJ Live, the Michael Jackson tribute show.”
There’s also a ticketed event Saturday featuring singer Jennifer Hudson. Tickets start at $45.
“We continue to work to make sure that our board is inclusive of all members of the community,” Bryan said. “We have actually added our second African American person of color to our board this year, who is also a member of the trans community.”
Thomas argued Delta doesn't support the entire LGBTQIA community throughout the year.
“Time and time again, year after year, we give them chances to do better, and that has not been happening,” Thomas said.
As a transgender woman, Thomas said she’s faced long stretches of homelessness and hopes her new nonprofit Sisters PGH will help others dealing with similar issues.
Community Affairs Liaison Corey Buckner said the city’s LGBTQIA advisory council, which Thompson is also a member of, is working to tackle those challenges.
"We had three advisory members who assisted our personnel department in the implementation of our transgender health care benefits,” he said. “We have a few that are working on affordable housing task force stuff, also working on a housing opportunity fund to insure that they’re inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community."
He said the council is also working to connect people with the city's Commission on Human Relations to assist with instances of discrimination.
The advisory council hasn’t specifically endorsed any pride events, Buckner said, but he is planning to stand alongside Mayor Bill Peduto at Delta’s EQT Equity march. The council is also planning its own family-friendly pride event in Market Square on Sunday.
There's momentum right now for alternative events, Thomas said.
“And that’s what Pride is. It’s about shedding light on the marginalized community," she said. "Pride has never been about a huge blowout party. Yes, it's a celebration of our pride, but the marginalized community with our allies with us - that’s the history of Pride.”