Schism in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Grows

Issues of racism and transphobia within the community have created a growing divide.

By Ren Finkel

Joy KMT, a founder and leader of Roots Pride Pittsburgh, guides a meeting on preparing for the organization’s upcoming festivities.
Joy KMT, a founder and leader of Roots Pride Pittsburgh, guides a meeting on preparing for the organization’s upcoming festivities.

Patricia Mifflin, a transgender woman and writer for Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, feels that the Pittsburgh LGBTQ+ community is too frequently unkind to trans members of the community.

Similarly, Dalen Hooks, a black gay man who works for Project Silk, has dealt with an unfortunate amount of racism within the community as well.

Rising frustrations with racism and transphobia have started to create a division in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ community, especially in light of the amount of violence people of color and transgender people face across the country.

“A lot of interaction these days happens on Facebook or on social media, and some of the things I see from gay men about trans people you could put in the mouths of evangelical Christians and not have to change much,” said Mifflin.

According to a recent report by the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, more transgender people were murdered in 2015 than any other year on record. At least 21 trans people were killed, and the majority of the victims were women of color.

Additionally, Gay Men Fighting AIDS, a health-focused charity for gay men, published a study in 2015 that revealed that 80% of black gay men in America say they have experienced racism within the LGBTQ+ community.

Statistics like these are part of what’s fueling the community’s sense of urgency in their desire to address these problems. Part of many transgender and queer people of color’s frustration is that white, cisgender, gay men seem to be the biggest perpetrators of intra-community intolerance.

“If I am out in the world as a trans woman, when I am going to be misgenderd, nine times out of 10 its going to be by cis, gay men,” said Mifflin.

“Cis” is an abbreviation of “cisgender,” a term that describes a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth.

Organizations like Roots Pride Pittsburgh have sprouted in response to this criticism of this community, in the hopes of creating positive change. According to their mission statement, Roots Pride is centered on a series of values that focus on amplifying the voices of and devoting resources to those “who bear the brunt of systemic inequality, particularly people of color.”

Roots Pride was born last year in response to the overwhelming outcry over white rapper Iggy Azalea headlining the Pride Parade. The community’s anger was not only because Azalea is straight, but more so because of widespread criticism about her having tweeted a series of racist and homophobic remarks a couple of years prior to her commercial success.

Roots Pride was openly critical of the Delta Foundation, and saw their choice of headliner as a representation of the disregard for black members of the community.

Delta was formed in 1996, and is now one of Pittsburgh’s largest LGBTQ+ organizations.  It is currently in charge of Pittsburgh Pride, the 10-day long series of festivities that includes the Pride Parade.

In spite of Delta’s longstanding relationship with Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ community, there has been a recent spike in criticism of the organization beyond Roots Pride.

Mifflin stated that while Delta needs to diversify their focus and their monetary contributions, she sees their shortcomings as a result of the overwhelming racism and transphobia in the community rather than any conscious malice within their leadership.  Officials from Delta did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Additionally, frustrations with Delta are certainly not unanimous, as people like Hooks are outspoken about their positive experiences with the organization.

“I am definitely not a rich, gay, white guy and they have been very helpful to me and the organizations I work at,” said Hooks, who is a Sexual Health Support Specialist at Project Silk.

Project Silk is a drop-in center that aims to provide medical, housing, and occupational support for transgender women and young gay men of color, in addition to providing an informal safe space for those groups.

While he doesn’t feel that racism is an issue within the Delta Foundation, Hooks does feel that racism is a larger problem within the larger spectrum of Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ community.

A friend of Hooks’ was celebrating their birthday at 5801, a gay bar in Shadyside, when they had an unfortunate experience. “They were kicked out of the bar after being called the n-word by another patron at the bar, but that patron was able to stay,” said Hooks.

The LGBTQ+ community is often focused on creating safe spaces—places in which members can be themselves without hiding their identity for fear of ridicule or violence. The intolerance within the community, though, seems to be ruining that safety for certain members.

“Especially for trans people who are not full-time—meaning that they’re not disclosing that they’re trans—it’s weird because it doesn’t always feel safe and it doesn’t always feel welcoming, even in the LGBT community,” said Mifflin, who also noted that safety for transgender people often relies on how well they can “pass” as cisgender.

Lindsay Kozlowski, who identifies as trans-masculine, recently started their hormone treatment to begin their transition process, and feels that having a community to fall back on is what makes coming out and staying out doable.

Kozlowski is a part of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Shadow Cast, which performs at the Hollywood theatre in Dormont. And while the group is not officially LGBTQ+ related, most of the members are part of the community.

“Having somewhere you can go and express yourself is really great,” said Kozlowski, “because you can figure out where you’re comfortable or where you’re not comfortable, and break down those barriers.”

Ren Finkel graduated from Point Park in 2016 with a major in Photojournalism. Ren was born in San Diego, CA and has lived in Pittsburgh for four years.