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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

U.S. survey shows transgender individuals in Pennsylvania face disproportionate discrimination

Posted By on Tue, May 30, 2017 at 2:34 PM

The transgender flag - PHOTO COURTESY WIKI COMMONS
  • Photo courtesy Wiki Commons
  • The transgender flag
Scores of political pundits, media personalities and even comedians have commented on how quickly transgender individuals have been accepted into mainstream society. And while the perception of acceptance might be growing with trans individuals like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox emerging into the celebrity spotlight, a new nationwide survey shows the average trans person is far from receiving equal treatment in the U.S.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, released this month, showcases how trans individuals face significantly higher rates of poverty, unemployment and workplace discrimination nationwide. The survey received responses from 1,171 trans individuals in Pennsylvania, and asked them questions about their work status, housing situation, education and restroom access.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Members of Pittsburgh LGBT community criticize EQT sponsorship of Pride Parade

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 3:37 PM

Marchers in EQT shirts at last year's Pride Parade - CP PHOTO BY JOHN COLOMBO
  • CP photo by John Colombo
  • Marchers in EQT shirts at last year's Pride Parade
In January, LGBT nonprofit the Delta Foundation announced this year's LGBT Pride Parade in Pittsburgh on June 11 would be renamed the EQT Equality March.

Almost immediately after the announcement, the new name drew backlash from some in the LGBT community who are concerned about corporate involvement in LGBT activities. And now, a counter LGBT group has announced they're hosting a separate march that day.

"Pride has historically been about resisting. It's about bringing visibility to a marginalized community," says Ciora Thomas, leader of SisTers PGH, a LGBT organization helping to organize the counter march. "That's the history of Pride. We trying to carry on that legacy."

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Ball on the Bridge highlights LGBT ball culture on the Andy Warhol Bridge

Posted By on Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 11:55 AM

Ball on the Bridge, an event highlighting ball culture and the need for improved health-care services for Pittsburgh’s LGBT community, took place on the Andy Warhol Bridge Saturday night. The event had 28 competition categories on the bridge, which was closed down to traffic. The sidewalks remained open and passersby were encouraged to take in the action.

“We want to see you up here on this stage!” the MC hollered to those who stopped to watch. 

Ball on the Bridge, which the Delta Foundation helped to organize, was meant to “bridge the gap” of health-care access for members of the LGBT community. Dalen Hooks, a longtime participant of the Pittsburgh ball scene and the main organizer of the night, told City Paper’s event preview.

“One of the perks of having this outside is [that] it is taking something that it is underground and making it mainstream,” Hooks told CP.

The night also brought a sense of community. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, greeting each other with hugs and kisses. Check out our highlights from the event below.



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Monday, June 13, 2016

Pittsburgh health-care companies looking to improve care for LGBT community

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2016 at 2:25 PM

lgbtq-health-event-pittsburgh.jpg

Last week, City Paper wrote about the issues surrounding LGBT residents in the Pittsburgh area receiving adequate health care. Jason Herring, of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, said stigmas still exist that cause gay, trans and bisexual patients to feel uncomfortable asking doctors for the treatment they need, and that doctors also need educated on how to properly respond when LGBT-specific request are made.

Health-care companies Highmark and Allegheny Health Network are hosting an event that hopes to address these issues. Highmark has hosted “Meet Dr. Right” events before, where potential patients can meet and talk with doctors in a public setting, but internal-medicine specialist Brian Lamb of AHN says this is the first event geared toward a specific community.

“It’s notorious that the LGBT community doesn’t always get the care that they deserve,” says Lamb. “Health care should not just be found in specific clinics. They deserve a family doctor that knows them.”

On June 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., LGBT-friendly doctors will be accepting new patients at the Highmark auditorium on 501 Penn Ave. (second floor), Downtown. The event will also feature information on health, dental and vision insurance. Local LGBT organizations will be on hand, and attendees can make appointments with physicians on the spot.

“Our goal with this event is to let everyone know that there are resources and options available for health care right here in Pittsburgh for LGBT individuals,” said Rhonda Moore Johnson, senior medical director of Health Equity and Quality Services for Highmark, in a press release. “Bringing that information together in one place is a great opportunity for LGBT individuals and their friends and family to learn more about living a healthier life.”

People interested in attending the event can register in advance at www.meet-dr-right.com

Also, the upcoming Ball on the Bridge will be highlighting the need to improve health-care access for the LGBT community. The ball will be held on the Andy Warhol Bridge, from 8 p.m. to midnight, Sat., June 18. Central Outreach Wellness Center will have its mobile medical center onsite and will be providing free check-ups. 

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

New zine aims to share the voices of the LGBT community living beyond Pittsburgh's borders

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2016 at 4:14 PM

While openness toward the LGBT community has improved in Allegheny County over the years, urban Pennsylvanians sometimes forget there are many other places throughout the state that don’t share Pittsburgh’s pride. (Only Erie and Allegheny counties provide legal protections for LGBT job- and home-seekers in Western Pennsylvania, after all.)

Copies of the AMPLIFY zine - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Copies of the AMPLIFY zine
To that end, advocate and blogger Sue Kerr has chosen to amplify unheard voices in hopes that those LGBT people living in less-friendly communities don’t feel marginalized. Started in 2015 as part of her artist-in-residency with Garfield’s Most Wanted Fine Art, AMPLIFY blog documents the experiences of LGBT people with ties to 18 Western Pennsylvania counties and has already told the stories of about 150 individuals.

Now Kerr is hoping to spread awareness of her project with a print zine that has been distributed regionally . “The zine was part of the plan all along,” says Kerr. “We wanted to provide something tangible. Then when people have safe access to the internet, they can explore [the blog] further.”

The first issue of AMPLIFY includes 11 stories, taken from her blog, that cover a wide range of different LGBT experiences. Kerr plans to print four issues a year and hopes to focus on certain groups, like pansexuals or bisexuals, in upcoming editions. She also hopes to eventually distribute the zine to all 26 Western Pennsylvania counties.

So far, the project has proved popular. According to Kerr, the first 500 copies of the zine were distributed in 12 days, and the Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom has requested an additional 350 copies. A grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation helped Kerr expand her AMPLIFY project, but she says that additionally funding must be sought to print more copies of the zine. (Those interesting in donating can visit the crowdfunding page here.)

Kerr says that some LGBT residents in rural counties are a bit more hesitant of online technology, and so she hopes the zine will provide another avenue for those in the community to tell their stories.

“There is a thirst for print,” says Kerr. “Many people would rather fill out [their story forms] on paper.” 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Kesha announced as Pittsburgh’s 2016 Pride headliner, but Roots Pride says problems still exists at Delta Foundation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2016 at 11:42 AM

PHOTO COURTESY OF BECKY SULLIVAN VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo courtesy of Becky Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons
The 2016 Pride in the Street headliners have been announced, and they are a stark contrast from last year’s Iggy Azalea debacle. Azalea had used what some consider racist and homophobic language on social media in the past, and protest erupted over the 2015 announcement that she would be headlining Pittsburgh largest LGBT pride event.

While on the surface, the controversy seemed to be about  Azalea's selection, the issues went deeper. (Azalea dropped out because of the protests and was eventually replaced by Nick Jonas.) Many local LGBT groups criticized the Delta Foundation, Pride’s organizers, for operating on behalf of one segment of the community — namely white, gay males — and not including all of the individuals who make up the community.

This year Kesha and African-American rapper Angel Haze were selected. According to a press release from Delta, “Kesha has used her music to bring attention to the bullying and harassment that many LGBT people continue to face.” The release also states that Kesha has recently been awarded the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign, which is given to high profile individuals who use their platform to advance and advocate for the LGBT movement.

“Kesha has used her influence and international platform to bring attention to the challenges faced by women and the LGBT community,” said Delta president Gary Van Horn in the press release. “We are thrilled to bring her to Pride in the Street this year, and we know that Pittsburgh’s LGBT community and allies will be excited to welcome her.”

Haze, who identifies as pansexual and agender (having no gender) has also recently been recognized by an LGBT organization when they were nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for their record “Dirty Gold.” (GLAAD, which stands for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is an LGBT rights group focused on the media.) 



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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Labor Union also takes issue with Pittsburgh's Delta Foundation

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 11:27 AM

IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHAWN FOYLE
  • Photo courtesy of Shawn Foyle
  • IATSE's LGBT Pride t-shirt
This week City Paper reported about the apparent lack of progress with the Delta Foundation since the protests at Pittsburgh Pride by smaller, local LGBT groups. Protests were sparked by the selection of Iggy Azalea as headliner (the rapper had a history on social media of making comments that many felt were racist or homophobic), but protesters felt the issues went beyond that (Azelea later dropped out and was replaced by Nick Jonas). Demonstrators demanded more inclusive practices at Delta, particularly the participation of trans and people of color in Pride.

But another, less-reported group also engaged in the protests, calling out Delta for another issue: the exclusion of union stagehands at Delta events, particularly Pride.

Shawn Foyle of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 3 says he has been reaching out to Delta for years trying to convince them to hire union stagehands for their events. Foyle says that union stagehands should be considered for Pride because it is a large event held on public land and because labor unions have historically been allies to LGBT organizations.

Foyle says that despite a “cordial” meeting in April 2012, IATSE has not spoken with Van Horn or anyone at Delta since. “We don’t have a relationship,” he says.

Since the initial 2012 meeting, Foyle says he has written multiple letters and emails requesting a follow-up discussion on the possibility of including up to four union stagehands for Pride events. After receiving no response year after year, IATSE joined in on the 2015 Pride protests and handed out leaflets detailing their frustration.

Since their protest, there has appeared to be some falling out between Delta and some of its labor support. Adanjesus Marin of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania says SEIU dropped out of marching in the 2015 Pride parade and barred Delta from marching with SEIU in Pittsburgh’s Labor Day parade after he learned Delta had been ignoring IATSE. 

“We [at SEIU] decided to not march in the Pride parade after Delta turned its back on labor,” says Marin. “This is frustrating because Delta has been supportive of labor for years before this.” (Delta marched in the 2013 and 2014 Labor Day parade with SEIU.)

Marin, who is also the co-chair of LGBT union organization Pride at Work, says that SEIU tried to contact Delta with a letter about the IATSE issue before Pride, but Delta president Gary Van Horn ignored the letter. This is when SEIU decided to pull out of the Parade and to discontinue donations to Delta, Marin says.

“The fact is that [Delta] spends tens of thousands of dollars to bring in high-end entertainment,” says Marin. “They should be able to pay a living wage to the people who set up the stage. It would be a simple fix. we are talking about less than a handful of people.”

Foyle says that other IATSE unions march in Pride parades in places like Toronto and Portland and that IATSE Local 3 would be happy to march in the Pittsburgh Pride and donate to Delta, but not under the climate that currently exists.

Delta spokesperson Christine Bryan told CP in an email that Delta does not hire stagehands for their events but instead hires contractors to set stages, lighting and sound equipment. “We have asked [IATSE] to provide us with names of union shops in Pittsburgh that can provide these services and have been told that there are none,” wrote Bryan in an email.

Foyle says the response does not truly address the stagehand issue. He says contractors don’t usually have union stagehands as full-time staffers and that stagehands are hired as needed to assist contractors in preparing the stage and equipment for entertainment events.

Foyle says if experienced stagehands are not hired, then the contractors either put up the stage themselves or use “whatever help is necessary” to put up the equipment. Foyle says in the case of Pride, this extra help is usually volunteers, which can lead to potential problems.

“They don’t want to engage local people who actually do this for a living,” says Foyle. “It is easier and cheaper for Delta to pass the buck.”

Foyle also points out that if volunteers get hurt when helping to put up stages, they typically do not have any legal protections.

Bryan says that recently there have been attempts to improve communications between the feuding organizations. She says that Pittsburgh City Councilman Dan Gilman set up a meeting between Delta and IATSE, but the union cancelled the meeting.

Foyle says IATSE turned down the meeting because they had still not received a direct response from Delta after writing to them around Labor Day, and so they were skeptical of anything productive occurring at the sit down.

“We don’t believe that anything constructive would come out of this,” says Foyle. “We can read between the lines. The sit down was not happening for the right reasons.”

Foyle says IATSE would be willing to start discussions with Delta when the large LGBT nonprofit shows a desire to use some union stagehands for one of their events.

“This is what we do, and we do it right here in the Cultural District,” he says. “We support [LGBT] efforts. It would be nice if [Delta] included us.”

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

LGBT-rights group campaigns for statewide non-discrimination legislation in Pennsylvania

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 2:06 PM

There are currently 32 municipalities and two counties in Pennsylvania that have legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Pittsburgh and Allegheny county are the only local governments in southwestern PA to include such legislation.)

Outside of these 34 government entities, it is still legal to be fired for being gay or trans says Equality Pennsylvania deputy director Levana Layendecker. So, Equality Pennsylvania, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, has started a campaign to inform Pennsylvanians about the PA Fairness Act, which if passed, will update anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A lot of data shows that people believe that this is already a law,” says Layendecker of the PA Fairness Act. “Most people think that it is a no brainer, so they think it is already done.”

The most recent 2015 poll from the Susquehanna Research Group show that 74 percent of Pennsylvania voters support adding anti-discriminatory protections for gay and transgender people.

Videos telling personal stories of fear of discrimination have been released by Equality Pennsylvania to spread this message. Two of the videos include the stories of lesbian couples from Pittsburgh and Gibsonia.


As part of the release, local launch parties were held across the state at six different locations. In southwestern PA, parties were held at a local church and at the Persad Center in Lawrenceville.

“Our hope is that by helping to share these stories of LGBT Pennsylvanians, we will show how real lives are affected and why everyone deserves to be treated equally and fairly no matter who they are and where they live,” said Persad Center director Betty Hill in a press release.

Layendecker is proud of the people in the video who were willing to share their stories. The couple from Gibsonia, Chrissie and Charlotte, has been together for 40 years, but said they lived in the closet at work for decades, fearing that they would be fired for their sexual orientation. When Chrissie’s company added non-discrimination rules based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2004, she “felt like a weight was lifted,” she said in the video.

Layendecker says it is not very common that people are willing to share their struggles so openly.“It is very difficult for people to talk about this stuff,” she says. “Many people are still afraid to talk about this."

As part of the watch parties, Layendecker said hundreds of attendees wrote letters to state legislators in support of the PA Fairness Act. The act is currently in both the house and the senate’s state government committee.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Second Annual TransPride Pittsburgh Conference comes to Lawrenceville

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 1:10 PM

The trans community in Pittsburgh is growing and TransPride Pittsburgh’s second ever conference exemplifies this trend. To accommodate the growth in number of events, speakers and attendees, the conference has been moved from the First United Methodist Church in Shadyside to the larger (and new) Persad Center in Lawrenceville. The conference starts Friday Sept. 18 and concludes Sunday Sept. 20.

IMAGE COURTESY OF WWW.TRANSPRIDEPITTSBURGH.ORG
  • Image courtesy of www.transpridepittsburgh.org
TransPride Pittsburgh Conference organizer Lyndsey Sickler says the weekend conference will have 22 different workshops and four keynote speakers. She says turnout could be as high as a few hundred people.

“We worked really diligently this year to try to meet the needs of the community and we are super excited,” says Sickler. “This is definitely bigger than last year.”

Workshops will cover topics such as advocacy, makeup and job interview techniques. Free HIV and Hepatitis C testing will also be available.

Sickler says the conference is meant to be inspirational and educational, and converge on the theme of “VisibiliT beyond the body.” Local doctors will provide information on navigating healthcare and speakers will tell stories of transgender history.

“We started as a performance showcase, but as we have grown, people were asking for more on the educational side,” says Sickler.

Keynote speakers, like ex-military trans advocate Brynn Tannehill, have traveled from across the country to speak about their experiences and offer advice to conference attendees. Local trans advocate and performer Alexander Smithson will also speak at the conference.

Not to disappoint anyone looking for some lively shows, Cruz Bar will be hosting the TransPride Showcase starting at 9 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 19, featuring performances by JAC Stringer, the Midwest GenderQueer, Orion Blaze Brown and Tate. 

Organizers are asking for $10 donation, but Sickler says that “no one will be turned away if they do not have the funds.”

“We kind of do this on a wing and prayer, and all the money goes directly back into the conference and related events,” says Sickler.

Visit www.transpridepittsburgh.org for more information or contact Lyndsey Sickler at transpridepgh@gmail.com for questions.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

‘TransView’ discussion explores real-life stories of local trans people of color

Posted By on Fri, Jul 24, 2015 at 4:41 PM

Alice Millage speaks to a crowd about her transition in the meeting room of the Persad Center. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Alice Millage speaks to a crowd about her transition in the meeting room of the Persad Center.
On July 23, Alex Smithson, 42, told the story of his transition from woman to man. He was in a brightly lit room in the back of the Persad Center, an organization that provides counseling and mental-health services to LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities. He told the story of when he was a young woman and was part of a performance where he was set to play a male part.

“I was suppose to be impersonating a guy,” said Smithson to an intimate crowd of  nearly 20 people, “but it felt like I was cheating, like it was too easy. That was when I realized I was trans.”

The talk, titled "TransView," was put together as a joint event of TransPride Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Black Pride. Lyndsey Sickler, of TransPride, says the discussion was to be educational and informal and provide people with first-person stories of transgender Pittsburghers.

“It is so vital that people in our community speak. The voices of trans people can’t just be celebrities,” said Donna Christopher, also of TransPride. “People have different struggles than Caitlyn Jenner.”

Alice Millage, 32, also shared her story of transitioning from a man into a woman. Millage, who served in the Air Force as a man, started her transition about one year ago and says that people are starting to get used to it, but she still receives hateful side comments.

“I have been through so much passive-aggressive verbal abuse, I just laugh it off now,” said Millage.

Both spoke about the specific struggles of being a trans person of color. Like how as black men, people always gave them space, whether it was advantageous, such as at a crowded T stop, or awkward, like when people would avoid sitting next to them on a bus.

Millage added that now, as a woman, she has to be more conscious when going out alone at night than when she was a man.

Christopher, who is trans, added that events like this are really important to TransPride’s mission and that they are helping to change perspectives.

“People used to come up and say to me, ‘Yinz aren’t at all like the people on Jerry Springer.'”

Other Pittsburgh Black Pride events this weekend include The Aggresive-One and Ms. Fem Pageant starting at 6:30 p.m. Fri., July 24, and the Annual Pride Ball, at the American Legion Building in Troy Hill on Hatteras Street, at 7 p.m. on Sun., July 26.

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