Roots Pride Pittsburgh: Political, Personal, Powerful

By Natalie Adams, Outreach Intern

“Why is Pride political?” Moderator bekezela mguni asked the nine panelists of the first-ever Roots Pride Town Hall Meeting on Thursday evening, beginning an important conversation years in the making. Roots Pride, an “Intentional celebration of diversity across the entire spectrum of race, class, gender, orientation, and ability in the LGBTQIA+ community,” is just three weeks in the making. Last month, a group of local activists led by Joy KMT and Michael David Battle began organizing the nascent event to fill a significant gap: the lack of inclusion of marginalized groups, especially queer trans people of color (QTPOC), in the Delta Foundation’s annual Pittsburgh Pride. While Delta’s announcement that cultural appropriator extraordinaire Iggy Azalea was slated to be the Pride headliner provided impetus for action, both the Foundation and their misguided entertainment selection are emblematic of greater systems of oppression. Azalea cancelled her appearance on Monday, but there are far more important problems to discuss. The powerful discussions that transpired during the Roots Pride Town Hall are a successful step towards a more inclusive Pride movement.

The panelists affirmed that Pride is a combination of love and rage and spoke for three hours about how the love they feel for their communities and the rage they direct towards oppressive systems compel them to fight. QTPOC in Pittsburgh and beyond struggle with discrimination in employment, housing, and healthcare and are often priced out of the city (particularly out of gentrified neighborhoods like East Liberty) and displaced from queer communities dominated by white, cis men. The risks of fighting these challenges are a matter of life and death: trans women of color face a one in twelve chance of being homicide victims. But in tandem with the assertion that “doing this work is terrifying,” the panelists reinforced the necessity of their activism and the love in their communities that compels them to take action. Battle and Rashod Xavier Brown celebrated the impact of BTR (Black Trans Revolution) while TJ Hurt stressed the importance of making a community accessible to all its members and uplifting each other. KMT and other panelists railed against the continual erasure of QTPOC and their stories, urging those present to “lift up forgotten history.” Longtime activist Billy Hileman shared that the Delta Foundation plagiarized newspaper Planet Q and skewed information for their own “Pride history,” notably neglecting to include that a City Councilman of color abstained from voting on legislation concerning the LGBTQIA+ community in the nineties to protest the white supremacy in the community. The legacies of QTPOC have long been obscured by oppressors, but Roots Pride participants are standing up and writing their own.

The panel included a report-back on Delta’s recent meeting to address the controversy the organization generated. While the problems in the QTPOC community are so much greater than one foundation, it is important to hold that organization accountable for the irresponsibility of its leadership and the pain they’ve caused so many. KMT stressed that Delta cannot claim to be the leading resource for the LGBT community in Western Pennsylvania when they cannot answer the question of how they are serving that community. According to those who attended the “secret” meeting—many leaders and organizers in the community were not invited, and KMT and Battle’s invitations did not arrive until the night before—the facilitators did not hold Delta leadership accountable. While emotions ran high for those fighting for greater inclusion, Delta representatives remained stoic and sterilized the conversation, failing to respond to demands for a breakdown of their funding (the Foundation gave $75,000 over the past seven years yet spent $150,000 to book Azalea) and an explanation of how they are meeting the needs of QTPOC. Their corporatized Pride explicitly excludes people who aren’t white, cis, and affluent, hence the need for the inclusive Roots Pride. But the Foundation is not the sole antagonist: just as Delta reinforces white supremacy, white people provide the funds that enable its attempt to monopolize the LGBTQIA+ community in Western Pennsylvania.

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In a world where mainstream media label movements like Roots Pride as “divisive” for resisting white, patriarchal, capitalist norms, solidarity is the most powerful asset. As Hurt asserted, it is “a threat to the system.” An intersectional movement is inclusive by definition and communities are strongest when members are lifting each other up, as the panelists repeatedly affirmed. For accomplices (I prefer this term to “allies” because if the movement is going down, I am going down with it) like myself, there are myriad tangible ways to stand in solidarity with the QTPOC community. Hileman described white privilege as “massive” but encouraged fellow white people to speak out about it and make decisions to minimize it while lifting up people of color. Panelists urged accomplices/allies to ask what solidarity looks like on a regular basis, staying attentive to the needs of the movement. Everyone has something to contribute to the cause, whether it be money, space, emotional support, posting on social media, promoting inclusivity, starting conversations about privilege and oppression with one’s family, friends, colleagues, classmates, church members, etc., or all of the above. The Roots Pride organizers, town hall panelists, QTPOC community members, and accomplices readily embrace Pride as political, as a combination of love and rage, as a way to fight against a system that kills. If the first official Roots Pride event was any indication, Pride is more than political. It is Revolutionary.

 

Natalie Adams
Natalie is a rising junior at Hamilton College majoring in Comparative Literature. As the Outreach, Partnerships, & Liaison Intern, she looks forward to helping further TRCF’s goal of affecting social change in her hometown.

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