The Allegheny West nonprofit has come under scrutiny from a number of LGBT activists that are concerned Delta isn’t doing enough for the LGBT community and inclusion.

By: Nick Eustis

Every year, hundreds of thousands partake in the annual Pittsburgh Pride celebration. Flags are waved, signs are raised, stripes of all colors are seen parading amidst festive supporters. Couples are spotted walking hand-in-hand celebrating their love, marching alongside their fellow Pittsburghers — everyone, being themselves. According to the City of Pittsburgh an estimated 175,000 people packed into downtown last year for Pride in the Streets, a multi-day event celebrating National LGBT Pride Month in June. It’s an event that has increased in popularity every year since its inception in the 1970s.

The driving force organizing these huge street festivals is the Delta Foundation, one of the largest LGBT advocacy groups in Western Pennsylvania. From their home base in Allegheny West, they coordinate Pride in the Streets, the largest Pride event in the region.

While mostly consisting of public festivals and concerts, the event culminates in the Pittsburgh Equality March. On the last day of Pride, the LGBT community and its allies march through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, celebrating the progress the community has made, while also remembering the work still to be done.

Last year, however, the Equality March caused a firestorm among the LGBT community. The ambers are still simmering.

The controversy began when the Delta Foundation announced that the naming rights to the Equality March would be sold to EQT, a downtown Pittsburgh-based oil and gas corporation. This decision angered many in the LGBT community as EQT had previously donated to anti-LGBT politicians like Tim Murphy and Bill Shuster. Environmental concerns about EQT’s involvement in hydraulic fracking fanned the flames further.

Aly Shaw, a writer for online publication QueerPGH, said Delta was used by EQT to improve their public image. Shaw also said that this sponsorship undermines the original goals of Pride.

Photo by Joseph Carreno

“Pride is supposed to be, and started out as, a political march where queer and trans people demanded our human rights,” Shaw said. “I don’t know if Delta’s leadership thinks that that’s unnecessary now, but when trans women of color are being murdered on a regular basis in this country, maybe they should be the focus of our Pride march, not a natural gas company.”

Delta has defended their partnership with EQT, saying that corporate support is important in funding security costs for major events, and that donations to anti-LGBT politicians are not unique to EQT. According to Delta’s board president* Gary Van Horn, Delta is “using the leverage of the dollar” to create a “conversation about inclusion.”

“We could have said no, but instead we felt that, after having a conversation with them, they were very genuine in wanting to help the LGBT community,” said Chris Bryan, director of marketing and development for Delta. “Unfortunately, you’re going to find that there’s a lot of corporations that make donations to politicians that don’t align 100 percent with their views.”

“EQT values the importance of celebrating all members of the community, and helping to increase dignity and respect in corporate America,” said EQT public relations manager Linda Robertson in an email. “When we received the grant application, we decided to take our commitment one step further by communicating our stance with the public, by underwriting an event that demonstrates a strong outpouring of support for the LGBT community.”

In 2016, EQT became the underwriter for the Equality March in 2016. The decision was made after nearly 100 EQT employees participated in the event  and expressed a desire to contribute more. The employees also formed an internal employee resource group called EQT Pride. The group aims to play an active role in the recruitment and retainment of LGBT employees at EQT while actively participating in LGBT community outreach proposals, according to Robertson.

“EQT believes in meaningful engagement with the communities it calls home,” said Robertson. “We are proud to embrace the diversity within our ranks and when we are approached by organizations who need financial support for wonderful events, like the Equality March, that bring people together to celebrate that diversity we are honored and happy to answer the call.”

While the source of their funding may be controversial, Delta does contribute resources to help the day-to-day lives of LGBT people.

In a collaboration with Dr. Stacy Lane at Central Outreach Wellness Center on the North Shore, Delta took a mobile testing van out of city limits to spread the word about PrEP, a once-a-day pill that can prevent HIV.

“We got out of Allegheny County, and went to LGBT bars that are outside of the city,” said Bryan. “It was the first time ever that the bars had ever been visited by an [LGBT advocacy] organization. We did HIV tests right there on the spot, and talked to people about PrEP, and had lines out the door for hours.”

Photo by Joseph Carreno

In addition to wellness, Delta tackles the political side of LGBT advocacy.

In July of 2017, President Donald Trump made statements about wanting to bar transgender people from serving in the military. In response, Van Horn worked with fellow board member Dena Stanley, a transgender woman of color, to organize a protest march.

“Dena Stanley came down and we had a conversation. We were talking about what we should do and how we should do it, and I said, ‘I think you should call for a march,’” said Van Horn.

Stanley publicly called for a march in support of the transgender community on February 22, and by the 24th, a procession of over 800 people marched down Grant Street in solidarity with Pittsburghers and Americans who identify as or support transgender rights.

“I was proud of Pittsburgh that day, because I was concerned if the ‘L,’ the ‘G’, and the ‘B’ were going to show up for the ‘T,’” said Van Horn. “I’m happy to say that over 800 people showed up. Being able to give voice, and seeing allies walk hand-in-hand down Grant Street to the Federal Building was probably one of the proudest days I’ve ever had.”

Stanley is also the founder of Trans YOUniting, an advocacy group for transgender people of color in Pittsburgh, and is currently working to open up a resource center for the transgender community.

“[Delta] has been 100 percent behind me, and has asked for nothing at all whatsoever,” Stanley said in regards to their contributions towards Trans YOUniting.

Many in Pittsburgh’s transgender community, however, feel this is only superficial, and that Delta is not involved enough when it comes to trans issues.

Ciora Thomas, residential program director at Proud Haven, a shelter orientation program helping provide permanent housing for youth members of the trans community within the Pittsburgh region, felt that the Delta Foundation fails to properly represent transgender people of color at their events.

“Delta predominantly serves the white LGBT community, and that’s what Pride looks like every year,” said Thomas. “What they could be doing is working closer with local organizations, especially local organizations helping marginalized communities,” said Thomas.

Samone Riddle, founder of QueerPGH, echoed this sentiment, adding that Delta does not allocate enough resources towards issues affecting the transgender community.

“We all know it costs money to run and organize Pride, but the way they spend money is questionable,” said Riddle. “How is Delta using their money to benefit the lives of queer and transgender people in Pittsburgh, aside from Pride?”

People’s Pride March 2017. Photo by Joseph Carreno

The Delta Foundation answered this question by providing a list of 33 different ways they have worked in the transgender community outside of their contributions with Pittsburgh Pride within the last year. This list included a number of programs, outreach initiatives and projects from collaborations with the Pittsburgh Police Department to help develop a Transgender Police Policy to forming a Trans Task Force with UPMC, to help improve patient-client relationships and understanding.  The goal of these partnerships is to help educate in addition to potentially bringing on sponsors whose goals align with LGBT rights, according to Van Horn. Van Horn acknowledged that Delta has severed ties with sponsors who didn’t align with LGBT advocacy before.

“[We’d] rather have an open door, than a locked and shut door,” said Van Horn in regards to working with larger businesses and corporate sponsors.

However, a number of these initiatives have garnished little media coverage in comparison to Pittsburgh Pride. Consequently, a level of unrest has been fermenting amongst advocates like Riddle and Thomas, who believe Delta just isn’t doing enough outside of Pittsburgh Pride.

Pride 2016. Photo courtesy of Stacita via Flickr Creative Commons.

This lack of involvement led other LGBT advocates in Pittsburgh to create their own competing pride march, the People’s Pride March.**

In a 2017 article from the Pittsburgh City Paper, the first People’s Pride occurred in 2017, as a direct response to EQT buying the naming rights to Delta’s Equality March. Despite being hurriedly planned only a month before Pride Weekend, attendance surprised even Thomas. Thomas founded sisTers PGH in 2013, the advocacy that group would be the primary organizer of the People’s Pride March.

“Within a month, we organized People’s Pride and we were able to get thousands of people to come together,” Thomas said. “I thought there would be 100, maybe 200 people at the most there. When we first got downtown to get to our route, we were already at 500. As we went down to the route, it just kept growing and growing.”

This year, the People’s Pride march will take place directly before Delta’s EQT Equality March. The march will be hosted and headlined by internet personality and LGBT activist, T.S. Madison.

“This will be the first time a black transgender woman has been brought to Pittsburgh for Pride to perform for us,” Thomas said. “That’s amazing, and that’s something that should have happened a long time ago.”

According to Thomas, this is all in the pursuit of making Pride an experience that welcomes and represents all LGBT people, something she says Delta is failing to do.

“We’re moving towards a more inclusive alternative pride event. We’re going to include everyone in this Pride equation in Pittsburgh,” Thomas said. “It’s sending a message to the supposed powers that be of Pride: Pride doesn’t belong to the Delta Foundation. It belongs to the people. Hence, People’s Pride.”

Delta has responded to these criticisms by saying that they work to protect all members of the LGBT community, and support the right of people to attend alternate Pride events.

“We believe that Pride is very personal and we encourage everyone to celebrate Pride wherever and however they choose,” said Van Horn. “Pride is…a time to ensure that every member of our community, including those who are the most under served, are acknowledged and included as our fight to be treated equally and with dignity and respect continues.”

The People’s Pride March will take place on June 10 at 10:30 a.m.

Pittsburgh Pride begins on June 1 and will conclude with the EQT Equality March on June 10 at 12:30 p.m.

 

*A number of Delta’s board members, like Gary Van Horn are volunteers

**Last year’s People’s Pride March was officially called, People’s Pride 2k17.

 

This article was last updated on Thursday, May 31 at 11:49 a.m.