Pride is an event that evokes a lot of pretty vivid images. A sea of hand-made signs emblazoned with messages ranging from the scathingly and poignantly political, to the sentimental and supportive, to the wonderfully absurd (lest we forget the beloved mascot of Pride, the Babadook). Extravagantly decorated floats commandeered by often even more extravagantly dressed folks (near-nakedness can be extravagant too). The leather-clad, rugged road-warriors of Dykes on Bikes roaring alongside lithe men in delicate white thongs and massive angel wings (it’s really a more versatile ensemble than you’d think).
And yet, for a celebration that so heavily espouses and promotes the multichromatic rainbow flag (and all that that stands for), modern conceptions of Pride have often looked glaringly white. While Pride Month and Pride celebrations—marches, rallies, concerts, etc.—are intended to be a celebration and declaration of support for every member of the LGBTQIA+ community, more often than not the versions of Pride that are commercialized and mass produced look like stylized ads for body oil and Absolut Vodka starring the scantily clad Swedish men’s rowing team.
Certainly lubricated, chiseled men are perfectly fine in their own right (and certainly a source of great joy to a certain portion of excited Pride participants), but the whitewashing and erasure that has plagued many mainstream Pride events—compounded by the corporate and commercial pandering conspicuous during Pride that reeks of support-by-way-of-monetization—has left droves of folks in the LGBTQIA+ community feeling dissatisfied, further marginalized, fetishized by straight corporations and erased or excluded entirely from the Pride narrative.
A brief history of the People’s Pride celebration
Inexorably fed up with the commercialized Pride celebrations that dominated Pittsburgh which shutout, tokenized, and even criminalized members of the LGBTQIA+ sphere (specifically trans individuals, persons of color, disabled individuals, and genderqueer or nonbinary individuals), local activist and trailblazing founder of SistersPGH Ciora Thomas spearheaded the first-ever People’s Pride in 2017 as a way of providing a safe and supportive celebration for LGBTQIA+ people of every race, ethnicity, body type, gender identity, and sexual identity, as well as to create awareness for the exclusion and mistreatment of trans/nonbinary individuals and others within the community.
People’s Pride, much like other initiatives taken by SistersPGH, seeks to revive and proliferate the legacies and voices that gave birth to Pride. Outside of a small (but thankfully growing) portion of individuals in and adjacent to the LGBTQIA+ community, the names and seismic impacts of people like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera (formative members of the Gay Liberation Front) and others were virtually unknown. The Pride that Johnson–a fiercely passionate crusader who identified as what we now identify as gender non-conforming (Johnson often remarked the “P” in their name stood for “Pay it [their gender] no mind”)—and their peers fought to establish after leading the riots at Stonewall, was a Pride that was fundamentally anti-establishment and ardently inclusive. To have that vision be eroded and erased and be replaced by hyper-corporate events favoring cis-white, predominantly male queerness has done a disservice and injury to the very individuals who were responsible for Pride existing at all.
Thomas, a former sex worker intimately aware of the institutional and personal perils faced by trans/nonbinary persons of color, founded SistersPGH to serve as a palisade for trans/non-binary individuals in need of housing, as well as a center to provide comprehensive education, emergency services (like sitting in hospital rooms, or showing up at Allegheny jail to be an advocate and protector at 2 AM). Through the organization’s tireless efforts to provide shelter and support to trans/non-binary individuals, Thomas quickly realized that a new kind of Pittsburgh Pride, one that revived the spirit of black and brown queer/trans leadership while giving an equal voice to all members of the community, was tantamount to further empowering the most marginalized and overlooked LGBTQIA+ folks.
Peoples Pride 2k19: Pride of the Ages
Now in its third year, People’s Pride 2k19: Pride of The Ages will exuberantly kickoff this Pride Month off with a slew of stupendous events, workshops and concerts that will run from June 7th- 9, 2019.thRanging from reverent and restorative to jubilant, to political, and, ultimately, to bombastic as hell (Spoiler Alert: I’m talking about Big Freedia), here’s a breakdown of the People’s Pride 2k19 lineup, and what to expect.
- Friday, June 7
- 7 PM-1 AM
- 5120 Penn Ave
Starting their Pride off strong with a blend of education and partying (look, I could say edutainment, but we’re all going to have a better day if I don’t), folks from SistersPGH and People’s Pride co-sponsor True T Entertainment will be holding down the fort during First Friday. The crew will build an exhibit showcasing the work of local artists as well as relevant historical/cultural artifacts commemorating black, trans, intergenerational stories. Start by immersing yourself in the exhibit. Then make your way upstairs to “turn up” (is that what youths do now, or did we revert back to “turn down?”) with a dance party featuring DJ Amos, DJ Scotty and the incomparable Mayday Brass Band. Bar is on-site, so get loose for a good cause.
SAT // Our Body, Our Selves
- Saturday, June 8
- 11 AM-6PM
- True T Studios (4623 Liberty Avenue)
- RSVP Required
A key dimension of People’s Pride is preserving spaces and practices that prioritize mental and physical wellness, body-positivity, and, often, an emphasis on sobriety. In an effort to make sobriety and self-care staples of Pride and queer/trans lives when so often problematic systemic substance abuse plagues Pride events, True T will host Self Care Day-Prohibition Style. Participate in positive dialogue and mindfulness exercises, as well as all-ages healing workshops provided free of charge. If you’re going to march on Sunday and hope to survive the mercurial Pittsburgh weather that could turn into a Russel Crowe-drowning Perfect Storm at any minute, you need to go into it with a replenished spirit and mind.
SUN // The Reason for the Season: The People’s March
- Sunday, June 8
- Route starts at Freedom Corner (696 Crawford Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219)
- Marchers arrive no earlier than 10 AM
Whether you’re a seasoned pro at stomping around the city leading a chorus of “Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Homophobia has got to go,” or you’ve never strapped on your fanny-pack (you really do need one) and hit the streets before, People’s Pride March is a must. It is every bit as joyous as it is imbued with the agony and anger over the abuse, neglect and bigotry inflicted upon black and trans members of the LGBTQIA+ community (and upon the community as a whole). All ages and identities are welcome, provided they respect the boundaries of everyone involved. I can personally attest to what an unparalleled, enlivening experience participating in one of Thomas’ marches is. Be sure to bring water, break out the Tevas (they go great with the fanny pack!), and start working on your signs, y’all.
SUN // Groove is in the Heart (But It’s Also in the People’s Pride Afterparty)
- 3PM-8PM (Immediately following march
- Sunday, June 8
- West Allegheny Commons Park (at the corner of Brighton Road and Ridge Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15212)
It’s true what they say: good things come to those who march. After you take it to the streets, you’ll get to lounge about (or transition into dancing if you’re not a brittle, decrepit toad like me) in the park, enjoying a feast provided by Love Rocks Café and House of Soul Catering. To address community and visibility concerns, SistersPGH and True T have assembled an impressive array of Pittsburgh political figures and health officials including Metro Community Health Center (4:15), the Commission on LGBTQ Affairs (5:20), Rep. Dan Frankel (6:15), and Rep. Sara Innamorato (6:20).
The Music of People’s Pride 2k19
But let’s talk about the music. A fascinating, somewhat under-researched commonality between cis-heterosexual individuals and LGBTQIA+ individuals is a love for and positive response to music. While we have no idea what the science is behind this shared interest, we do know that the performers that Thomas and the folks at SistersPGH have corralled are the embodiment of ecstatic queerness—sparking as much joy as the do awareness.
Coming off the recent release of her new album, Fire on Venus, local beloved hip-hop performer, visual artist, and activist Brittney Chantele will take People’s Pride by storm. A singer-songwriter, Chantele’s lyrics excavate a range of viseral topics from heartbreak and desire, to the piercing ire and frustration she has experienced stemming from her time in the military. Chantele, like Thomas, is a vociferous activist for marginalized individuals in Pittsburgh—particularly black and queer individuals—and she recently participated in the artist showcase that benefited the family of Antwon Rose Jr.
Joining Chantele on the stellar post-march docket is the PGH-native, Dinosoul. Billed as a dark pop/indie rock outfit, Dinosoul—formed by queer partners Donny Donovan (vocals, guitar) and Carolyn Hilliard (vocals, keyboard)—actively sought Thomas out with the hope of being part of People’s Pride. The duo noted that, “[People’s Pride] is important because we want to make sure everyone feels welcome and safe no matter who you are…[Pride] should not be a huge drunken party. It’s a day that should be inspiring and celebrated mindfully, which People’s Pride captures beautifully.” Donovan stressed the crucial need for Pride, stating “my people have been bullied, mistreated, and even killed. There’s a sadness within me. A sadness for not being able to live my truth completely as a child, and a sadness knowing that some people still do not have equal rights.” Hilliard echoed the salubrious process of forging identity through music, an idea that is crucial when considering the alienation and mistreatment marginalized LGBTQIA+ folks experience. “I’m realizing that I am not a victim but am the future for change and empowerment. We (queer folk) are here to change the way people connect and it is our duty to be fearless. Music has helped me come to terms with my own feelings, and find comfort in being myself with inspiration from other queer artist’s fearlessness and openness.” Dinosoul will hit audiences with poignant, experimental pop with tracks like their latest single “Let Me Go”.
What sounds more righteously chill than a band that bills themselves as queer, indie AND ska?? I truly cannot fathom a group of folks who just want everyone to feel and spread the love more than The Benders, who are returning for their second People’s Pride after their phenomenal experience last year. The Benders seek to engage both body and mind with their sound, getting people to dance while thinking about the integrity of the community they are free to move in. PGH drag phenomenon and radical feminist Morrigana Regina will serve as the local ambassador for the femme, Glamazonian drag queens with her no-holds-barred multi-talented performance. Representing the next generation of queer voices is PGH-native Windafire, a 16 year-old, queer, Afro-Latinx vocal artist who has worked with Onika Reigns and Dreams of Hope in their burgeoning career. Windafire’s remarkable performances blend Spanish and English language, and their art is predicated on the intersectionality that their selfhood represents. Windafire’s recently released, fittingly titled track, “Alive With Pride,” was crafted specifically for People’s Pride, to honor the irrepressible spirit of the community.
The Queen of Bounce: Big Freedia
The pièce de résistance in the already-outstanding, Pittsburgh-centric musical lineup, is People’s Pride 2k19 very special guest, Big Freedia (but you may know her by her royal titles, The Queen Diva or The Queen of Bounce). A New Orleans native, Big Freedia—who has identified as a gay man in drag, as well as being comfortable with either set of gendered pronouns—has been an explosively vibrant and influential force to be reckoned with, pioneering the bounce music genre that originated in New Orleans. Her audacious dismantling of gender, genre, and style has impacted the careers of queer artists, and her irrefutable talent has led to countless collaborations, like her frequent work with Rupaul, and tracks with Lizzo and Drake (oh, and the person on Beyonce’s iconic “Formation” who lets us know that, “I did not come to play you hoes…I came to slay, bitch”—let’s just say Bey owes Big Freedia some merch royalties for that one). Freida is as relentless as her songs’ outrageous beats when it comes to her devotion and investment in the community around her. You’d be a certified fool to miss the chance to witness Big Freedia dominate the stage, with the flurry of ferocious energy that solidifies the message of People’s Pride: “We’re here. We matter. You can’t turn away from us anymore.”
Though VIP Packages are available, all Pride events are free of charge.