It’s one of the few tributes to a civil-rights legend to incorporate a drag show.
But that’s entirely appropriate at this week’s Bayard Rustin Centennial Pittsburgh Festival and UN-Masked Conference.
Rustin was the very influential — if still little-known — strategist and activist who mentored Martin Luther King, Jr., in nonviolence and who organized the iconic 1963 March on Washington.
He was also an openly gay man from the 1940s on, a courageous stance that resulted in physical beatings, imprisonment and more. J. Edgar Hoover branded him a “suspected communist and known homosexual subversive.”
Rustin’s life was detailed in the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. Rustin died in 1987; this year marks the centennial of his birth.
The Pittsburgh festival includes a series of mostly free events. It begins with Thursday’s opening reception at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The 6-9 p.m. event includes a candidate’s roundtable with LGBT-rights group Equality Pennsylvania and the Steel City Stonewall Democrats.
There will also be a performance by the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and a turn by Pittsburgh drag royalty Kierra Darshell as Diana Ross. (Consider it a preview of Darshell’s Nov. 4 Miss Tri-State Pageant, at the Cabaret at Theatre Square, an annual event also being touted as part of the Rustin fest.)
Finally, there’s a screening and discussion of Brother Outsider.
Following the reception, activities continue into the weekend.
Other highlights include Friday night’s musical tribute to Rustin at Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the Hill District, featuring local artists, choirs and groups. The event starts at 7 p.m. Eddie Hawkins hosts. Ebenezer Baptist is at 2001 Wylie Ave.
On Saturday, also at Ebenezer Baptist, from noon-3 p.m., radio host Bev Smith leads a town-hall meeting on the role of the black church.
That’s followed, over at the University of Pittsburgh Student Union, by the UN-Masked Conference, addressing HIV, homelessness and homophobia. Guests include Earl Fowlkes, president of the Center for Black Equity, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for black LGBT equality. The conference runs from 4:30-9 p.m. and admission is $25.
Saturday’s events wrap in the Pitt student-union ballroom with SALON: Bayard Rustin, a 10 p.m.-midnight program of performances by artists, musicians and poets.
For more information on the Rustin Centennial, call 412-983-8895 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note, Oct. 31, 2012: Due to weather-related travel problems, this festival has been postponed until Nov. 29-Dec. 1.