I’m a proud member of the LGBTQ community. I used to live in New York, then I lived in San Francisco, and now I live in Pittsburgh. In many ways, this city has pleasantly surprised me -- I had no idea how beautiful it was before I moved here almost three years ago and I’ve been consistently impressed by the city's art, food, and political evolution.
So I’m always disappointed when in other ways, Pittsburgh reveals itself to still be painfully stuck in the past. Like this past Thursday, when one of our major newspapers published an op-ed full of transphobic hate speech about Caitlyn Jenner.
The comparatively small LGBTQ community here doesn’t often make national headlines, but over the last few weeks, we have -- in part due to some of the things that make Pittsburgh less-than-awesome, but mostly because of Iggy Azalea. Iggy is scheduled as the headliner at the Pittsburgh Pride celebration on June 13th, and as a result, many LGBT organizations are boycotting the celebrations.
In case you missed it, Iggy has faced a whole lot of backlash from the LGBTQ community over some old homophobic tweets -- including one in which she said, “When guys whisper in each others ears I always think its kinda homo,” and another that said, “Wondered why my butt felt like it was about to grow legs, flip me off & walk away. then I remembered i played soccer yestrdy w 5 dyke bitches.”
Iggy has also been called racist because of lyrics like, “When the relay starts, I’m a runaway slave-master,” (for which she has apologized, sort of), and tweets like “Just saw 5 black men get arrested out the front of popeyes. #damn #stereotypes,” and “This Asian lady on the plane tried to act like she didn’t understand me I told her ass bitch u gone know English today cause that’s my seat!”
The "Fancy" rapper has since deleted all of the offensive tweets, and maintains that they were all just jokes. She recently cancelled her Great Escape Tour saying she had a “creative change of heart.” But she kept Pittsburgh Pride and a handful of other events on the books.
In big cities like San Francisco and New York, it’s common to hear people in the LGBTQ community complain that Pride has gotten “Too commercial". Complaints about how white, gay-male-centric, and expensive pride celebrations are pretty common, too, and even have some members of the LGBTQ community fleeing their cities during Pride.
Thankfully, as a result, countless smaller, community-based, still-political pride events have cropped up in those cities as an alternative. And now, thanks to the efforts of community organizations here -- and outrage over Iggy Azalea -- Pittsburgh will have more of those than ever before.
Groups bailing on Pittsburgh Pride due to Iggy’s presence include the First United Methodist Church, the youth ministry of the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, the local Gay, Lesbian and Straight Network (GLSEN) chapter, and the Garden of Peace Project, among others. Pittsburgh’s City Council President also recently joined the boycott.
Michael David Battle, Founding Director of the Garden of Peace Project, and artist/activist Joy KMT (pronounced “K’met”) have co-founded Roots Pride, an “Intentional celebration of diversity across the entire spectrum of race, class, gender, orientation, and ability in the LGBTQIA+ community,” as an alternative pride celebration in Pittsburgh that aims to celebrate how far we’ve come without losing sight of how far we have yet to go.
I caught up with both of them to discuss how Iggy coming to Pittsburgh to “ruin Pride” might have actually been a catalyst for some really great things.
“People pay attention to things that entertain them,” Joy KMT said. “The jump-off point of these discussions being Iggy Azalea is entertaining to a lot of people. That’s been helpful, because Pittsburgh faces a lot of disparities that don’t get mentioned in the media. They say, ‘Here’s why Pittsburgh is the new Brooklyn,’ or ‘This is the place to be if you’re an artist,’...but we also have a really marginalized, invisible population of people who live here who don’t often get the ability to have this sort of platform.”
Statistically, Pittsburgh is the whitest metropolitan area in the US, and reports consistently show that people of color in Pittsburgh are severely disadvantaged when it comes to access to income, education, and criminal justice. Roughly one third of black people living in Pittsburgh live in poverty.
“People don’t have this kind of outcry just because a celebrity they don’t like is coming to town,” KMT said. “People have this kind of outcry because they’ve historically been unheard, silenced, and exploited. That’s the response we’re seeing now.”
“Pride isn’t owned by any one group,” she continued. “Pride isn’t owned by the people in the community that have corporate sponsors and hold the bulk of the wealth within the community. Pride is a celebration of a resistance that was led by transgender women of color, and includes all segments of the LGBTQIA+ community. ...We can celebrate, for sure. But we can’t disregard the critical issues facing our community at the same time.”
“I think that [Iggy] was a catalyst for broadening the conversations that community activists have already been having here for a long time. It’s helped to shed light on issues like...lack of access to healthcare, housing, and education by queer and trans people of color in Pittsburgh because people are speaking out.”
Battle also noted that the national conversations we’ve been having about police violence and violence against transgender women in communities of color have helped to facilitate these conversations in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve been working in this community for eleven years in this city,” Battle continued. “This is the first time I’ve felt like the community is not just rallying alone. Three years ago we were having these conversations about race and class and disparity within the LGBTQIA+ community, but we weren’t seeing this level of support from the larger community...it’s really been amazing.”
I asked Battle whether he thinks having multiple pride celebrations in Pittsburgh is divisive.
“No,” he said. “In Western culture, we tend to believe that everything can be monolithic and homogenous, but it just doesn’t work that way. ...Maybe we need different types of pride celebrations, because everyone celebrates differently. Not everyone wants to celebrate with 100,000 people at the Delta celebration.”
“This is so, so much bigger than Iggy Azalea,” Battle said.