Name: Duane Binion (Naheen), South Side
Work: Co-Executive Director, True T Pgh, alongside John Easter (Dez'manian)
What does True T Pgh do?
Celebrates queer people of color through creative arts, entertainment, activism, and community resourcing. We focus on underground ballroom, a community created as a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people back in the day.
What does that mean on a day-to-day basis?
Finding money, grant writing, fundraising. We moved to a space in June. This is a whole new experience for us. Now we come here and have something to do every day, in our office, our space.
And running that space brings its own work.
We have community hours, Vogue and Hip Hop Social, film screenings, Netflix and Chill, American Horror Story watching. We create events and employ people. Our DJs, caterer, staff are people from the community. We try to bring everybody with us and, in the process, teach them professional things that they need to know: how to write a grant, what a proposal looks like, résumé building.
But it’s really empowering to see the strength we already have and make use of it. One of our biggest goals or focuses has been to try to show that the things that you do are art. Vogue is art. You can get paid. You can make a professional career off of doing these things that you do in your house. We give people this platform to do what you already are doing but don’t know it’s something that can be profitable or respected.
How did having a space happen?
Dr. Stacy Lane made a donation, which is how we were able to fund this building. Honestly, from her showing faith in us, others did. We get funding from other sources now. There was a lot of trial and error, then we started proving our worth. People started seeing the benefit of what we were doing.
Did you go to school for this?
I participated in the Pittsburgh Public Allies program in 2013-14, a youth leadership development program. They work with you for a year, then place you at a nonprofit that closely aligns with your big picture. I got placed at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and after graduating, got hired full-time. I was there for five years and actually just resigned. I’ve been in many roles there: senior producer, programming assistant, communications specialist, event staff. I learned pretty much anything through KST and Public Allies.
Rather than college?
I actually didn’t graduate college. I tried! I do have student loans! I went two years and ended up picking work over school because bills were always priority.
As the organization is growing, you have to grow as well. How are you learning to do everything you have to?
Google and YouTube. We do everything ourselves here. We’re our own graphic designers, video [editors], everything. We learned it all on YouTube.
Is it difficult to take something protected in a safe space and open it up outside the community?
It is, and we struggled with that. When we first began, it was really just us. Then we started needing funding and finding creative ways to do that. You have to have sponsors, the sponsors want to be advertised, other people want to come. And it was great, we like a big crowd. But it made some performers uncomfortable here, for everybody else when it’s supposed to be about them.
But over the years, ballroom has grown. It’s not just a little local thing. It’s art, and you’ve got to archive your history. We can keep this hidden thing underground forever and no one ever knows it; or, we can share it with the world but make sure that the story is told and remembered. Where it came from, how it started. I don’t see anything wrong with inviting people into the world, as long as it remains our world.