For almost 10 years, SisTers PGH has been a small, but vital part of the Pittsburgh LGBTQ community. Found by activist, former sex worker, and trans woman Ciora Thomas in 2013, the local Black- and trans-led nonprofit serves as a welcoming and safe space for area QTBIPOC folks. But it wasn’t until last year, during Greensburg’s first in-person Pride Celebration at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, that J. Trafford, the bassist and vocalist of local dark rock/post-punk band Sommelier, became aware of the organization.
From that moment, Trafford knew he wanted to work with SisTers PGH in the future. So when the opportunity to host an event at Black Forge Coffee House II in McKees Rocks arose, the idea for Sounds for SisTers — an upcoming benefit concert where all the proceeds will go directly to SisTers PGH — was an innate one.
“I have the capability to book a venue, I have friends who are musicians, and I'm able to make new friends who are musicians,” says Trafford. “I think it just comes naturally to me, and it's something that I want to do because I feel it's important.”
Over the past few years, Trafford has played an active role in supporting local LGBTQ organizations through the best way he’s known how: music. In 2020, he self-released a compilation of collaborative recordings in which the proceeds benefited housing assistance nonprofit Proud Haven. Two years prior, his band Sommelier arranged a concert in Greensburg that benefited No More Dysphoria, a grassroots organization started by an artist from New Jersey that provides financial assistance for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals who are transitioning. Sommelier has also arranged concerts that benefited Trans Women of Color Collective (a national organization based out of Washington, D.C.), and Pittsburgh's Persad Center.
But Trafford wants to underline that these endeavors were by no means a solo-effort on his part, or even Sommelier’s. At the end of the day, he says it's about community support and the universal language of music bringing people together.
“I really want to emphasize the organizations foremost,” he adds, “because the only way I found out about them to work with them was either by attending LGBTQ+ events where they were present or by word of mouth from friends.”
The upcoming Sounds for SisTers event will feature performances from Sommelier, emo-grunge band Hearken, rapper Shamar, acoustic artist Thousandzz of Beez, and indie-pop singer Halloway Williams. The team at SisTers PGH approved every ac, to, as Trafford put it, make sure “everyone's on board and everyone's OK with this gathering of human beings coming together to support SisTers.”
Additionally, a framed print of artist and graphic designer Micah Bazant's "No Pride in War" will be auctioned off to provide further funds to SisTers PGH.
“I’m reminded of an explanation by the musician Van Dyke Parks on this subject, which I’ll paraphrase,” Trafford says in an interview with blog Of Music and Mind when asked about the role of music in community change. “Music and lyrics have a tremendous political potency — to be memorable and to unite people. I may be a dreamer, but I believe there’s a value in that which can’t be stolen or compromised.
Sounds for SisTers. 7 p.m. Sat., July 9. Black Forge Coffee House II. 701 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks. $10. Blackforgecoffee.com