The first two events at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture were both tied to Pride Pittsburgh '09, and the vice president for programming says that is a critical affiliation the center hopes to maintain. The Downtown venue was inaugurated with a Pride concert on June 11, by Me'Shell Ndegeocello, and on Sat., June 13, was the site of Earthtones, a black LGBT film festival.
Pride, Pittsburgh's annual celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks and their allies, brings thousands of people -- this year, more than 5,000 -- Downtown for entertainment, information and a march through the city.
This year saw performances by Ndegeocello and Jennifer Holliday; a dance party that took over Liberty Avenue; and speeches from city and county legislators, many speaking in favor of proposed county-wide anti-discrimination legislation. And it saw the beginning of a relationship between the city's premier hub for black culture and the biggest LGBT event of the year.
As Pride grows and expands, from what was once a single afternoon's picnic and march, it grows more inclusive. Past years, for instance, have seen more family-friendly offerings.
"I noticed there was a void in the community for GLBTQ [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer] cultural minorities," says Joy Royes, a self-described "Christian lesbian long-term partnered parent" and attorney at K&L Gates.
There aren't, she says, black gay bars, for instance. The city's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival didn't offer anything that jumped out at her as by or for black LGBT people.
In the past, she said, there hadn't been much programming that addressed living life as a sexual minority and a racial or ethnic one. So she approached the August Wilson Center about filling it. "It's a matter of being able to see our lives onscreen, which affirms people," she says.
"I think that the black gay-and-lesbian community is not as active, it's not as organized and traditionally it has felt excluded from mainstream events," says Royes. "But the Delta Foundation [which spearheads Pride] under its present leadership has been very active and vocal about wanting diversity. They've been very clear and very active in trying to make sure that happens. The stars are starting to align just right."
"It's continuing to build bridges," says Delta Foundation President Gary Van Horn. "It was great that the August Wilson Center stepped up and saw the vision -- this is a step in the right direction."
"I had been having conversations with the Delta Foundation regarding Pittsburgh Pride and wanting to ensure there was a diversity of programs," says Shay Wafer, vice president of programs at the Center. "The building was in a state where we could have guests [and] Pride was right in front of our building," she says. "It seemed like a natural fit." The timing was just right. The Center is almost finished, and the theater space -- inaugurated by Ndegeocello earlier in the week -- was ready to go.
And so amid the beautiful madness of Pride Pittsburgh this year, festival-goers Saturday could find something different, tucked away in the not-quite-finished Center: the film festival.
Royes says it's crucial for the LGBT community, which she calls "a bunch of folks recognizing and appreciating differences and creating alliances," to acknowledge cultural diversity too. Thinking back to herself as a 16-year-old black lesbian, she says, she didn't see people out in the community who, like her, were both black and gay, and it was alienating.
"Youth need to be around us, around professionals," she says of young gay people. To that end, the festival included a performance by Dreams of Hope, a performance troupe of LGBT youth and allies ages 13 to 21. Between films, in the Center's theater, they performed skits about the mangling of the word "gay" and clashes with parents and friends.
The festival's headline film, Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom, was a slick, funny romp that tracked a group of black male friends over a weekend at Martha's Vineyard for the wedding of one pair. Other offerings included shorts and documentaries: black gay men sharing stories of negotiating expectations of masculinity; four kids surviving the rocky road of adolescence with the added wrinkle of being queer, and a look at the life's work of black feminist lesbian poet and theorist Audre Lorde. The films were donated by Frameline, the nation's biggest and oldest LGBT film nonprofit, and cable TV's Logo Channel.
"It was a good overture and a good first step," says the August Wilson Center's Wafer. "Next year, we can do even more programming. We're looking forward to continuing the partnership. It's very important for the August Wilson Center to participate in Pride, and to provide a new perspective and some degree of diversity."