Besides street parties, vendor tents and advocate speeches, Pittsburgh's annual Pride festival offers a lot of things to the city's LGBT population: a coming-out experience, a chance to be out in public with more ease, or to get more involved.
For others, it's just a hell of a party.
There's no doubt that the event has grown in recent years. In the 1990s, the festival was held in a neighborhood park, organized by a small volunteer group. It then fell dormant, until being resuscitated by the city's Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Then Delta Foundation -- a nonprofit that produces LGBT events around the city -- began taking the reins, creating the Pride in the Streets dance party four years ago, and fully taking over the Pridefest/March the following year.
Delta President Gary Van Horn Jr. estimates that 25,000 people attended last year's weeklong festivities. This year, it's getting corporate sponsors such as Chevrolet and Coors, and bigger names like Canada's top R&B performer Deborah Cox.
Opinions vary, however, on whether bigger always means better.
"There are two sides of the community," Van Horn acknowledges. "My thing is, bigger means more support, more people, a bigger political statement. Pride was about action and it's still about action. We just do things a little differently."
As Van Horn conceives it, Pride is about offering "something for everyone" -- from pool parties and pub crawls to discussion forums.
The festival "really gives us a time to ... get everyone out there together to show we're a close-knit community," says Jonathan Baker, a Shadyside resident who's been attending Pride for five years.
"It embraces people in the community who are new and finding out about themselves in a really big way," agrees Victoria Bradley, editor of the event's magazine, and founder of the Lez Liquor Hour, a monthly lesbian happy hour.
But she worries that other important LGBT issues are sometimes overlooked when the event "turns into a glittery party."
Pride is addressing those concerns with the debut of the Advocacy Rally -- a kick-off event featuring longtime activist Cleve Jones -- and various town-hall forums. But others worry that Pride's growth has left behind smaller, less-funded organizations.
Some Delta events "are more geared toward the white, upper-class male, drinking community," says Ehrrin Keenan, administrator of the city's queer events listings on Google. But she credits organizers with "trying to make Pittsburgh on par with the Pride celebrations in other larger cities."
Eli Kuti, organizer of the city's Dyke March -- an annual event to "celebrate the fierce radical spirit of the Stonewall Riots" -- is keeping the event separate from Pride. The march, which takes place June 5 and starts at the Morrow Triangle in Bloomfield, incorporates butch women, dykes and trans people she feels are excluded from the bigger events. Pride, she says, doesn't address that many face discrimination on a daily basis. "We need special attention because these are special issues."
Van Horn welcomes such feedback. "I think all voices are constructive. If someone is interested in Pride, our door is always open."
Pride has also drawn only limited support from the transsexual community, something Willa Koenig, outreach coordinator at Transpitt, attributes to many trans-folk who are "closeted" or "stealth." She notes that low attendance from the trans community "is not unusual given the dwindling membership of the various organizations."
Pittsburgh's LGBT community isn't the only one wrestling with such divisions. Jones observes similar rifts on a national scale [see Conversation, page 9]. He chalks them up to the diversity of people who may have no common ground except sexual orientation. But he worries such splits undermine the solidarity of a movement that needs to fight harder for equality.
"Maybe one of the few things we have in common is our experience with oppression," he says. "Is that enough, though? I'm not sure. I think another part of this is so many of us are so damaged" by homophobia. If the LGBT population "truly believed they were equal, I don't think they'd put up with this crap."