Holiday Giving Projects makes the season bright for local LGBTQ people | Pittsburgh City Paper

Holiday Giving Projects makes the season bright for local LGBTQ people

The program welcomes donations of gift cards, coats, and other items.

Area nonprofits are hoping people will make the holidays special for certain members of the LGBTQ community.

The 2018 Holiday Giving Projects promotes local groups gathering presents, gift cards, and other items for LGBTQ elders and youth. Launched by Sue Kerr in 2014, the program supports area LGBTQ people while raising awareness about the issues they struggle with, especially during this time of year.

“The reason I do this every year is because the need is there and there are very few existing organizations that have holiday programming … that's openly LGBTQ affirming,” says Kerr, an active LGBTQ-rights advocate and founder of the Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog.

Kerr adds that groups known to provide free meals or events around the holidays tend to be faith-based like the Salvation Army, which has been accused of anti-LGBTQ discrimination by activists and journalists.

“People don’t always have options or know where it’s safe to go,” says Kerr. “It’s not that they will turn you away if they think you’re queer, but a lot of us, we don’t go in places unless we’re certain that we’re welcome. Having to swallow and hide that part of yourself isn’t a very festive way to celebrate.”

Two groups benefiting from this year's program are elderly and youth LGBTQ populations in rural areas, as they often lack access to the transportation, protections, and sense of community their urban peers enjoy. 

“It’s a particularly hard time of year for our seniors,” says Jay Yoder, director of development for the Persad Center, one of the nonprofits participating in the program. “The holidays are a season of love and community, and it can be hard when they’re isolated.”

Persad already collected and distributed gifts for members of its LGBTQ youth program, who Yoder says are often “couch surfing or don’t have a solid or stable home environment.” 

Kerr credits Dok Harris, the son of Steelers legend Franco Harris and a former Pittsburgh mayoral candidate, for volunteering to buy a large portion of the youth gifts. “I’m not surprised that he responded with such incredible generosity,” says Kerr, adding that Harris sometimes consults with her on how to best serve the LGBTQ community. “I think he understands that he has more resources than most people and he tries hard to be an ally.”

However, Persad still needs gift cards for its SAGE program, which serves the 50-and-over community throughout the region. For them, the wish list includes Giant Eagle gift cards they can use to purchase basics like gas and groceries. “We just want to support whatever anyone might want or need,” says Yoder.

While the trans community has always benefited from the Holiday Giving Projects, this year marks the first time two trans-led organizations, SisTers Pgh and Garden of Peace, joined the program. 

SisTers Pgh will collect items for transgender and nonbinary youth, with priority placed on gift cards and Port Authority bus tickets. Garden of Peace will gather backpacks filled with hygiene items and gift cards. The backpacks will be distributed on Dec. 23 to homeless, housing insecure, and transient Black trans and queer youth and their caretakers, as well as Black single mothers, during a special holiday celebration. 

Among the backpack items needed are menstrual care products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and deodorant, as well as new winter gear like hand warmers, gloves, and scarves. “These are things these folks really need and often don’t have access to,” says Garden of Peace founder and executive co-director, Michael David Battle. The group also accepts cash donations to buy more supplies.

To help keep the community warm, True T PGH (formerly True T Entertainment) will hold a winter coat drive over the holidays and into January.

Kerr believes the Holiday Giving Projects are especially important this year given the current political and social climate.

“The LGBTQ community has had a really hard year,” says Kerr, pointing out how LGBTQ organizations have lost funding or completely shut down. “Resources are stretched. The need is pretty significant.”

The program is also about making the season special for area LGBTQ people in need. 

“We want people at the holidays to just receive a little bit of joy,” says Yoder.

See below for details on how to donate:

- Persad will accept Amazon and Giant Eagle gift cards in any denomination for its SAGE elders.

- Garden of Peace will accept filled backpacks or backpack supplies on Dec. 19-20.

- Drop off new or gently used coats for the True T PGH drive at Persad or Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

- SisTers Pgh accepts gift cards in any denomination (retailers along bus lines, please) and bus tickets.