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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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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Local community groups seek a memorial for Andre Gray through crowdfunding

Posted By on Thu, Jul 23, 2015 at 2:13 PM

Andre Gray and his dog Boss - CROWDRISE.COM
  • Andre Gray and his dog Boss
The family of Andre Gray, the LGBT community and the city as a whole have mourned the death of Gray since his body was finally discovered in the Ohio River in West Virginia four months ago. Now, they are ready to celebrate and commemorate the life of the young man.

Gray, who identified as bisexual, was set to start a job at Project Silk — an organization that serves young minorities in the LGBT community, before he and his dog, Boss, were killed sometime in late October of last year. Gray was 34.

As a joint effort of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, Lawrenceville United, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and Gray's family and friends, a crowdfunded memorial project has started with the hopes of creating a memorial bench to Gray in the Benard Dog Run in Lawrenceville.

"He was very much like a father figure to lot of people,” Nayck Feliz, a volunteer and former associate director of Silk told City Paper in February. "He wanted to help out even if he wasn’t paid."

Sue Kerr, of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, worked with Gray’s mother and both decided a memorial bench in the dog park was best. Kerr says that Gray “always had animals in his life” and since his dog was killed too, the dog run was the obvious choice.

“The reason we wanted to create the memorial came out of the fact that Andre’s life story was kind of getting lost in all the media attention,” says Kerr. “They focused on his death, not his life.”

The groups are hoping to raise $5,000: $3,500 to acquire permits and construct the bench, and $1,500 to start a project that will maintain funds to provide future maintenance. As of print, $2,180 has been raised.

“Hopefully this sends a message to gay and bi men of color that they will be honored and not forgotten,” says Kerr.

If you would like to contribute to Gray’s memorial fund, visit the crowdfunding site here.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

GLSEN Pittsburgh chapter folds, new organization THRIVE to take its place

Posted By on Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 4:23 PM

After 15 years of serving Southwestern Pennsylvania schools, the local chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has dissolved. The nonprofit was known for working with schools to establish gay-straight alliances, advocating for LGBT youth throughout the Pittsburgh region and running the popular Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom.

A press release was sent out on July 13 that stated the board of directors had voted to dissolve the chapter.

However, no further information was provided by GLSEN as to why the chapter decided to dissolve.

Additionally, no specific information was given about what groups might replace the work of the network. The press release only had this to say: “Our decision to dissolve GLSEN Pittsburgh does not mean that GLSEN’s work is no longer needed in Southwest Pennsylvania. We are confident in our community partners to carry on our legacy locally.”

After contacting the main GLSEN office in New York, Director of Field Services Daryl Presgraves said, “Our bylaws allow for our chapters to vote to dissolve and we respect the [Pittsburgh] board’s decision.”

Presgraves also noted that nonprofit will hold all community assets for a year, in case there is interest in reforming.

“If there is interest in reforming, then we would be interested,” says Presgraves, “but we will respect the wishes of the community for now.”

Former GLSEN Pittsburgh Chair Ian Syphard said he enjoyed the work he was able to accomplish during his 10 years at GLSEN, but he does not see them reforming. He was proud that they were able to grow from working with a few gay-straight alliances, to 50-60 GSAs throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Syphard did point to some disconnect between the Pittsburgh GLSEN chapter and the main office as for the reason to dissolve.

“At GLSEN, we have always partnered with local organizations and our fundraising arm was always volunteer and local," says Syphard, “but we had to pay a charter fee to use the GLSEN name.”

Former GLSEN Pittsburgh Chapter Director Vanessa Davis says that the new organization, THRIVE Southwest PA, will fill the void. Davis says THRIVE, which formed from a community people who have worked with state schools in June, will have more of a local focus and cover a broader spectrum of youth-focused LGBT issues.

“Our intentions were to have a more grassroots projects locally, so we can respond to the needs of the community directly,” says Davis. 

Davis says that THRIVE will work through the Duquesne School of Education and will focus on providing opportunities to youth gay-straight alliances, but she also anticipates working with parents, teachers and educators. THRIVE is currently looking for volunteers and will officially kick-off with a party in September.

Although both sides have appeared mostly cordial, some contentiousness is evident. The former Pittsburgh board never informed GLSEN of THRIVE or any other new plans, and the main GLSEN offices offered no explanation on the decision to dissolve. They even took down the Pittsburgh GLSEN branch website and Facebook page.

“I think the way it was handled was a little funky,” says local LGBT blogger Thomas Waters. “You would think that after [GLSEN] announced the closure, they would stay connected to inform people after the fact.”

With the loss of the Southwestern PA chapter, there are now no GLSEN chapters in the entire state of Pennsylvania and GLSEN has no current plans to return to Pittsburgh. And though last June’s Pittsburgh Youth Pride Prom was the unofficial send-off of GLSEN’s Pittsburgh branch, Syphard ensures that The Warhol Museum has taken over responsibility for the prom, and that popular event will continue. 

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Check out video from Roots Pride's town hall meeting last night

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 5:36 PM

Last night marked Roots Pride Pittsburgh's first event, a town hall meeting that featured the voices of queer and trans people of color, among others in the local LGBT community.

The meeting came amid controversy over Delta's choice of Iggy Azalea as this year's Pride headliner (since replaced), and sparked a wider conversation about race, class and whether Pride is representative of those who are often left out of the conversation about LGBT rights. 

At the Hill District's Blakey Program Center, about 50 people gathered for a broad conversation about everything from the historical foundation of "Pride" — to the Delta Foundation and its claim to be the leading LGBT organization in the region. Here are some moments from last night's meeting:

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nick Jonas replaces Iggy Azalea at PrideFest

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2015 at 3:38 PM

Pop singer Nick Jonas is the new headliner at this Saturday’s Pride in the Streets.

Nick Jonas
  • Nick Jonas
The Delta Foundation’s annual Downtown dance party on Liberty Avenue has been the subject of controversy ever since it announced its original headliner, Australian pop star Iggy Azalea. Weeks of protest followed about long-deleted tweets by Azalea that critics called racist and homophobic.

The choice of Azalea also had helped re-ignite longstanding displeasure with Pittsburgh Pride organizer Delta Foundation, which critics say caters to only a small segment of the LGBT population, gay white men, and does especially little to involve people of color and transgender people. Read CP's coverage of the issue here.

On Monday, Azalea abruptly canceled her planned appearance. Jonas, an actor and top-selling recording artist, was announced as the replacement last night.

“Nick had heard about Pittsburgh Pride in the media and called us on Tuesday and said he would like to come and perform,” Delta Foundation president Gary Van Horn said in a press release. “He has been a supporter of the LGBT community, and he wanted to make sure that the community and Pittsburgh had a Pride event that they could be proud of.”

Saturday’s event will also feature DJ Digital Dave, DJ Strobe, Thea Trix, Chance Encounters, and Steel Pan Pittsburgh and other performers.

Ticket prices have been reduced to $35. Tickets are available here or by calling 412-322-2800 x 2.

If you’ve already bought tickets, you’ll receive two beverage tickets at the gate. Requests for refunds for Iggy Azalea must be submitted by 8 a.m. Fri., June 12, to

Pride in the Streets will take place from 7 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Liberty Avenue will be closed between 9th and 10th streets for the event.

Roots Pride Pittsburgh, the group that led protests against the choice of Azalea, and criticism of Delta, plans to continue with its own alternate celebration of Pride weekend, which includes a “Shut It Down!” protest of Pride in the Streets. Details are here.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Delta Foundation to host meeting to address Pittsburgh Pride backlash tonight

Posted By on Tue, Jun 9, 2015 at 2:05 PM

Just 24 hours after announcing Iggy Azalea will no longer headline this year's Pride festival, the Delta Foundation is hosting a meeting tonight with many of those who have accused it of excluding marginalized members of the LGBT community, including queer and trans people of color.

But details of the meeting, whose invitation describes it as an effort to "work on potential solutions, and gather ideas on how we can work together now and in the future," have been largely kept secret and initially excluded some of Delta's most vocal critics.

Gary Van Horn, president of Delta's board, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Titled "Finding Common Ground," the invitation describes the event as "an activity to facilitate respectful discussion on topics with parties who have differing views, but actually WANT to work together."

Bruce Kraus at a morning press conference with Delta  Foundation critics - PHOTO BY ALEX ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • Bruce Kraus at a morning press conference with Delta Foundation critics
But at a press conference this morning, Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, the city's first openly gay politician, said he has "not been invited to those discussions." Kraus, who announced last week that he would boycott Delta's Pride festivities, said, "I would be more than happy to serve in any capacity to see that this table that has been set for LGBTQIA people in Pittsburgh is as inclusive as the rainbow flag that represents us."

Also snubbed, at least initially, was "Roots Pride Pittsburgh," an alternative pride event whose supporters have argued Delta does not include queer and trans people of color, among other marginalized groups. Joy KMT, a Roots Pride organizer, says she was invited late last night — "which poses some challenges and barriers to participation" — but still plans to attend.

Asked why she would attend the meeting, despite calling it a "PR move" in a press conference moments earlier, she says,  "We will represent our community in all spaces and speak truth in all spaces."

Representatives of New Voices Pittsburgh, GLSEN, Cafe con Leche, Dreams of Hope, Judah Fellowship and others have signaled they are attending on the group's online invitation list.

But even among those who were invited from the start, concerns were raised about Delta setting the parameters of the conversation. In a discussion board connected to Delta's online invitation, Dreams of Hope executive director Seth Rosenberg wrote: "Disturbingly, it appears none of the coordinators of Roots Pride were invited. Given that, I think we all have to wonder what the point of this meeting is. I understand that there is always someone who gets missed when you create an invitation list, and those who were invited have the opportunity to invite others, but when you omit all of the most vocal critics, it is hard to think it was not intentional."

Still, Rosenberg is listed as a "yes" on the event's online guest list.

The "host" of the event seems to be UPMC's Candi Castleberry Singleton, whose phone number is listed in one post on the event's discussion board under the handle, "Dignity & Respect (host)." Her UPMC bio notes she "launched the UPMC Center for Engagement and Inclusion. Her recent efforts include the Dignity & Respect Campaign."

"Because the of size of the group we are trying to coordinate a professional mediator," a post under the "Dignity & Respect (host)" handle reads. "I intended to call individuals from the initial list to find out who else should be invited," but an unexpected "family emergency" initially slowed that outreach.

Moments ago, an update was sent out to attendees that reads "we heard your voice" and which changed the meeting location from Delta Foundation's headquarters to the Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church in the North Side. The message also says two professional mediators will facilitate the discussion, set for 6 p.m.

Sue Kerr, who blogs at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, has not been invited to the discussion and is critical of the way it was set up. "It’s important to have dialogue to respond to people's concerns, but this has been haphazardly thrown together,” she says. "If there had been transparency in the planning process, I would have more faith in it. But that’s the critique of Delta all along."

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Iggy Azalea cancels Pittsburgh Pride appearance

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2015 at 8:44 PM

  • By Justin Higuchi from Los Angeles, CA, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Iggy Azalea
After significant backlash from the local LGBT community, Iggy Azalea has cancelled her appearance at Pittsburgh Pride.

"This has been a difficult decision as I truly support the event and LGBTIQA communities, however I feel my participation at this point would only serve to further distract from the true purpose of the event," Azalea wrote in a statement.

"I am a firm believer in equality. Unfortunately in the past as a young person, I used words I should not have. The last thing I want is for something so carelessly said to be interpreted as reflective of my character. I meant no harm and deeply regret ever uttering those words," the statement continues. "As an adult I would never use them because I understand they play a detrimental role in the fight for issues that I do truly believe in. I am sorry to anyone I have offended or disappointed & I wish all my fans and friends participating in Pride the best of luck.”

That statement came via a press release issued by the Delta Foundation, whose pick of Azalea to headline its Pride Festivities has led to several high-profile boycotts and the creation of an alternative "Roots Pride", built partly on the critique that Delta caters mostly to affluent, gay white men. 

"Since our initial announcement," Delta's statement reads, "we have been working very closely with Ms. Azalea’s management, publicists and agent regarding the concerns of some of our community. Pittsburgh Pride is about our community and allies coming together and showing how diverse and accepting we are as a city. Over the years, we have seen many hearts and minds change including support for marriage equality, treating all with dignity and respect and most recently the support for Caitlyn Jenner. We’re sorry that our headliner choice caused a division within our community but we believe that change happens through conversation. We are meeting with key LGBT leaders to start a discussion that will make our collective community even stronger.”

Delta is working on securing new entertainment, which "we hope to announce shortly."

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Post-Gazette responds to readers over Caitlyn Jenner editorial

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 5:06 PM

Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial on Caitlyn Jenner whose headline proclaimed: "Jenner is still a mister."

Authored by columnist and associate editor Jennifer Graham, the piece argues in part that Jenner "would have headlined the tragic freak shows in carnivals of old." The piece predictably generated a shitstorm on social media and has been criticized for needlessly dehumanizing trans people.

Today, Human Rights Campaign foundation director Jay Brown penned a letter to P-G executive editor David Shribman calling the editorial "hate speech" and asking for Graham to be fired. Graham "not only failed to offer any information of value to your readership," the letter states, "she openly spewed lies and misinformation about transgender people—a community that disproportionately experiences harassment, unemployment, discrimination and violence."
A Screen Capture of the P-G's column
  • A Screen Capture of the P-G's column

Reached this afternoon, Shribman largely declined comment, saying he does not oversee the paper's editorial pages so he can remain an objective leader of the paper's news content. Of the decision to publish the editorial, Shribman says, “It simply is not my responsibility." He referred me to the P-G's editorial page editor Tom Waseleski, who did not immediately return a call.

But Waseleski has been responding to some readers. Several readers forwarded City Paper this response:

Thanks for sharing your opinion on Jennifer Graham's column. I appreciate hearing from readers, even when they disagree with a viewpoint they read in the Post-Gazette.

Obviously, she holds a strong conservative perspective on the matter — and the PG opinion pages are a forum for a broad range of viewpoints. While Jennifer's opinion may not reflect yours, it certainly speaks for others.

 As an editor, I found Jennifer's piece well-written and worth publishing. I am not surprised that it would meet with strong reaction; various pieces in the Post-Gazette typically do. As to your point about violating AP style, we allow columnists occasional exceptions when the material warrants. For instance, Maureen Dowd routinely refers to George W. Bush as "W." We allow that, even though it violates the AP code.

Some readers have used this essay to accuse the PG of some sort of anti-gay perspective; they couldn't be more wrong. Just this Wednesday, we published an editorial cartoon by Rob Rogers that was pro-LGBTQIA. The newspaper's editorial position supports marriage for same-sex couples and advocates state and federal legislation to protect LGBTQIA individuals from discrimination. Last June, our news department published a series on people who are transgender — their joys and sorrows. You can look all this up.

 I invite you to share your reaction with our readers by sending us a letter to the editor, 250 words or less, to Please include name, address and phone number for confirmation. We'd be glad to consider publishing your opinion, in the hopes of airing all viewpoints on this issue. Thanks again for writing.


 Tom Waseleski
Editorial Page Editor
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(412) 263-1422

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Local Activists Form 'Roots Pride' for Queer and Trans People of Color

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 6:30 PM

At a press conference held in the shadow of the Delta Foundation on the North Side earlier this afternoon, a group called "Roots Pride Pittsburgh" announced an alternative set of pride events — pitched as more inclusive of queer and trans people of color.

Roots Pride, which was formed out of protest of Delta's decision to invite Iggy Azalea as its headliner for this year's pride festivities, will include a town hall meeting, an "Intergenerational Paint Party," a protest of Azalea and a "Healing Circle and Riverwalk."

“We wanted to do a protest but also do an after party," explains Michael David Battle, a Roots Pride organizer. "We’re talking about more than just partying. It’s about celebrating our lives and lived experiences.”

Dissatisfaction with Delta's pride celebration has prompted several LGBT-friendly groups — as well as City Council President Bruce Kraus — to denounce Delta's choice of Azalea as well as level systemic critiques of the organization.

But not everyone in the local black LGBT community agrees on how pride should be organized. Members of Pittsburgh Black Pride, who are celebrating that organization's 20th anniversary this year, protested at the Roots Pride press conference and got into a shouting match with Roots Pride organizers as the announcement was wrapping up. "To create a a pride that already exists," says Black Pride founder Flecia Harvey, "it's a slap in the face ... our pride is for the whole black community."

For more from the Roots Pride announcement, here's some video:

Video by Ashley Murray

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

City council president blasts Delta Foundation, joins LGBT organizations in boycott of Pride festivities

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 3:38 PM

City council president Bruce Kraus is the latest to join several LGBT-friendly organizations in denouncing the Delta Foundation and boycotting its annual pride march and related festivities.

"After much thought and careful consideration, I have chosen to stand in solidarity with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Ed
ucation Network, the Garden of Peace Project and many other honorable groups, and not participate in the Pittsburgh Pride activities this month," Kraus wrote in a statement.

"I share their reservations, not only about this year's celebration, but the long-term vision of Pride's leadership team," the statement continues. "I have serious concerns about the direction of the Delta Foundation and the exclusionary choices it is making. Those concerns have only deepened through conversations with former members of the foundation's board."

Kraus, the city's first openly gay politician, could not immediately be reached for further comment. But he joins an ever-growing chorus of critics who say the Delta Foundation's choice of Iggy Azalea as its headliner shows the organization is not inclusive of the wider LGBT community.

The Delta Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. We will update this post if they do.

The Garden of Peace Project is arranging a separate set of pride events — called "Roots Pride" — which includes a protest of Azalea's performance.

"I do not take this step lightly," adds Kraus. "I take it arm-in-arm with the many others who stand ready to make holistic, inclusionary practices and policies the norm for the entire LGBTQIA+ community."

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