I’ve been quite clear, that I stand in solidarity with Roots Pride Pittsburgh, and I believe there are significant problems with the Delta Foundation and the way they handle Pride. But I think I’ve also been clear, that the spirit and “meat” of Pride is bigger than, and not limited to an organization. Indeed, in my view, that there has been a controversy, a dialogue, and a tension that isn’t easily resolved (or made nice) is the epitome of Pride. I do not hold that what happened over the past few weeks is about one group versus another, but rather a community being forced to look at and explore, what does Pride mean in the here and now.

I also wrote last week, that I believed there was great value in participating in the Pride March and PrideFest, even for those who support Roots Pride Pittsburgh. Not everyone holds that idea, but I do. In that mindset, I set out on Sunday, to explore PrideFest and I have three unique experiences which I want to write about today.  For me, these are examples of what Pride means, and who “makes” Pride a reality. It is not the organization, but it is the community– the people who are being with each other, and no organization can claim responsibility for that. The community will find a way to “do Pride” regardless of what an organization does or doesn’t do.

HIV Education

I was in a booth learning about some organization, which now I can’t even remember what it was, but I overheard a conversation between a young gay man and his friend. The guy had just come back from where some group was offering free HIV testing, and he was explaining to his friend, why it is important to get tested every three months. The friend wasn’t so sure, thinking a test once a year was more than plenty, but the guy wasn’t having any of it, and firmly kept explaining the value of more frequent testing. I turned around to see these two guys, who couldn’t have been more than 21 or so, and it made me so happy and hopeful. This is a dialogue that couldn’t have happened many other places than PrideFest where you have tons of people, celebration and free testing offered. In fact the celebratory nature of PrideFest makes it easier to do something which is often scary for many– get tested. A win/win for everyone.

Police Mentoring

Last year there was an incident involving the Pittsburgh Police and a PrideFest participant. This year, cops were visible everywhere, and I’m sure there was plenty of discussion about how they should act to be the most useful.

I went looking for where the protesters were and eventually found the Christian zealots with their anti-LGBT banners. As I got closer there was an exchange happening between a PrideFest participant and one of the protesters, and a police officer was quickly moving in to get on the side of the barricade where the protester stood. All of a sudden, a lieutenant stepped up to speak with the officer. It appeared as if he was offering the officer instruction or explanation, and as the officer nodded as if he understood, and he moved back  away from the protester who was still involved in a close conversation with the Pride participant. Nothing bad was about to happen. And I may be interpreting this all wrong, but I believe what I saw was a more experienced officer mentoring and assisting another officer.

I said hello to the lieutenant, and shook his hand, and after realized I should have looked at his name badge and let the police chief know what a good cop he has in this lieutenant, but at the time, I was just glad to see such good policing. These officers, were keeping a comfortable space where free speech was flourishing and everyone was safe. Again, a win/win for everyone.

(The real) Pride in the Street

So much attention is placed upon an event which costs tens of thousands  (hundreds of thousands?) dollars for only a small percentage of Pride attendees, and Delta treats their headliner performance as if it is the pinnacle of Pride. It isn’t. It is an overpriced party that serves a small portion of the whole LGBTQ community. But at PrideFest everyone has a chance to dance and celebrate in the truest meaning of the phrase, ‘Pride in the Street.’

As I was getting ready to leave, I paused at the 10th street stage as another band was getting set up. Recorded music was playing, Born this Way by Lady  Gaga, and a diverse group of about 50 or so was singing and dancing in the most joyous way. They were mostly all young queer persons– some guys, some girls and some who may identify differently, many covered in glitter. But there were some older folks too, and even a person in a wheel chair. No where else, will you see this mixture of ages, genders, orientations, abilities and whatever other identity factor you want to name, all celebrating together. This, is Pride in the Street, and not a one of these persons had to pay $45 for a ticket.

I’ve heard numerous people, some close supporters of Delta, and others not, who have all asked the same thing: why the need for some big headliner and high priced party? A few good DJ’s who represent various parts of the rainbow community could turn out a party to beat out all parties for far lower expenses and probably far higher profits that would help cover the costs of the rest of the Pride events. A tunnel vision need for the big headliner is the root cause of many of the problems dogging Delta and Pittsburgh Pride.

As much as I can articulate the myriad problems with Delta and Pride overall, in my opinion, PrideFest is one event that Delta gets mostly right. Magic happens at PrideFest; community happens at PrideFest; empowerment happens at PrideFest.

Yes, there are complaints of the cost for a booth for non-profits, and this is an issue that deserves more consideration, but I truly believe Delta’s need to charge high booth fees comes from the failure to have a really cost effective Pride in the Street event.

Just my opinion.

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