In 2010, Easter co-founded True T PGH, “a community platform for LGBTQ resource sharing, queer art, activism, and entertainment.” In its decade of service, the organization has paid special attention to Pittsburgh’s relationship with ballroom culture, which Easter defined as “a Black and Brown queer community created in the 1960s, responsible for the birth of the iconic Vogue dance and other pop culture phenomenons.”
“Pittsburgh has a thriving underground ballroom scene where socialization takes place and culture is exchanged. Numerous historians and cultural commentators have traced the origins of today's house ball scene to the notorious culture of Harlem drag balls in the 1920s and 1930s New York,” he says. “Black queer people were not welcome or accepted in the local drag queen circuit due to racism and segregation. Thus, we made our own space and culture which has lasted for decades and has spread all over the world. Ball Culture is like a secret society of LGBTQIA+ people of color [who] embrace each other and themselves while making everyone feel important.”
True T has also invested more than $50,000 back into the city’s local ball scene, provided resources and education, and started an emergency housing program for transgender and non-binary individuals through a new project titled OPTION-U. Since its launch in August 2019, OPTION-U has transitioned 10 people of trans experience into permanent housing and/or full-time employment.
The lockdown and quarantine restrictions instituted to prevent the spread of the virus have impacted True T over the course of the last few months, forcing it to postpone all public events and take precautionary measures where necessary — OPTION-U has temporarily halted its intake process and its new LGBTQIA+ youth-led ballroom experience “The Session” has been paused.
But Easter says there’s still a silver lining.
“Fortunately we have not run into much difficulties with aiding community members in need,” he says. “Through our partnership[s] with the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, Central Outreach Wellness Center, AIDS Free Pittsburgh, Allies for Health & Wellness, and so many others, we have been able to share wellness packages as well as assist folks in getting the proper care needed during these chaotic times.”
Easter says that isolation has breathed new life into the organization’s creative spirit.
“The shutdown has forced us to go back to the basics, back to where True T PGH got its start, back to virtual content,” Easter says.
“The lack of meaningful conversations and interaction in mainstream media from a Black, queer perspective was a major driver of our eagerness to start a podcast,” Easter says. “Unfortunately, local platforms within the City of Pittsburgh that serve LGBT+ people of color are few and far.”
The goal of the podcast series, which debuted on March 26, was to create a space where “dynamic personalities come together and discuss an array of issues.” According to Easter, these issues can include topics related to news and politics, pop culture, entertainment, and local gossip.
“In a time where #FakeNews spreads like rapid wildfire, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to assure that the important details get disbursed to the people that need to hear it, and in a format that’s not only informational but entertaining,” he says.
The podcast is moderated by Easter and Duane Naheen Binion, founders of True T, with co-hosts Coley Alston, Giselle "Barbie" Hilton, Dalen Michael, and Dimmi Winston. Many of their relationships started with “the historical underground ballroom scene” or other involvement within the queer community.
“We each have been involved in the LGBTQIA+ community advocacy through health and wellness initiatives, social justice, artivisim, and safe space making for LGBTQIA+ POC,” Easter says. “It was important to us that we created both an organic panel, but also a panel that reflects the community that we serve that can speak on an eclectic mix of topics that provide a fresh new perspective.”
The podcast hosts a wide array of special guests, ranging from “a young adult who wants to express their freedom to a doctor who wants to give the latest information on HIV medications.”
“Our goal of this podcast is to bring together many different people to discuss anything that would empower, inform, or entertain. Our past guests include Vanessa Carter, Dena Stanley, Jay Yoder, Sarah Miller, and Sarah Rosso,” Easter says. “Some of these guests talked about issues with other local queer leaders, others talked about the latest COVID-19 testing information. We even had guests come on to announce their charity efforts and givebacks to the community.”
They also provide a platform for Black queer artists by playing one of their songs during the show’s opening; Easter says it’s completely free to participate, and any artists interesting in having their songs featured can email their tracks to email@example.com.
Weekly shows are formatted into segments. Each week, they cover “The Weekly T,” which could include hot topics, relevant news in pop culture or politics; a Real Housewives of Atlanta recap with Dalen Michael; a community health and wellness check-in with Coley Alston; local updates; and a gag of the week, which Easter says varies “depending on what shocked us the most.”
“The show is intended for a mature audience, so you should probably listen when the kids are off somewhere playing,” Easter says.
True T also has a new LGBT-themed game show in the works and is accepting donations to supplement programs like OPTION-U, which rely on income generated by the organization’s events, many of which have been canceled or paused indefinitely.
For more information on True T’s podcast, including showtimes and live discussions, check out its Facebook page.