Two dozen young women claimed a spot of their own aside outrageously tall drag queens and dogs in skirts at PrideFest's kickoff march on June 18. Their group lacked a name, a gimmick, clever signs and even an official place to march -- they hadn't registered with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh, Pridefest's organizers. But that was part of their point.
"We're not going to ask for space anymore," said organizer Cole Lea. "We're just gonna take it."
The focus of gay-pride events has been on gay men for too long, say Lea and her partner and co-organizer Eli Kuti. Corporate sponsorship and assimilation have muddied the message.
"There's no representation ever in the gay community" for lesbians, Kuti says. "There's no focus on women."
Lea adds that past PrideFests have been similarly frustrating. "There were lesbians marching, obviously, but not by themselves," she says. "No one was talking about feminism. We want to start women doing political activities."
"This year's theme was 'Equal Rights, No More, No Less,'" says Kuti. "People forget about the struggle that led us here. We're happy we have pride, but we need to be political."
The women marched in front of a large contingent from RESYST, the radical queer group affiliated with Garfield's Thomas Merton Center. RESYST marchers carried and later burned an effigy of Sen. Rick Santorum and carried pink and black flags (no rainbows, please). Kuti says that the women agree wholeheartedly with the philosophy and politics behind RESYST, but that they wanted to carve out an all-woman space.
"Before we can have equal rights, the real underlying issues, like patriarchy and capitalism, need to be addressed," Lea said.
Last year's corporate PrideFest sponsorship -- Rolling Rock beer was a sponsor, for instance - still rankled the women. They point out that beer advertising is notorious for using images of women to hawk suds, even though Rolling Rock ads seem to focus more on sports and music than pinup girls. This year's sponsors were local, and didn't include any beer makers.
Lea admitted her group could have been bigger, or made more of an impression, and that they're hoping to grow in the future. For now, at least, she was happy to march with even a small contingent of women. Concludes Lea: "Lesbians need their own space."