Pride: Together we are stronger, together we will heal
© Pittsburgh Delta Foundation

It was early Sunday morning in June and we were preparing for the final day of Pittsburgh Pride. Earlier in the evening we had held our biggest fundraiser called Pride in the Street and Kesha had wowed a sell-out crowd of over 6,000 people with her music and her affirming message including that “we are who we are.”

The weather was perfect and our hardworking volunteers, many of whom had just a few hours of sleep, were busy with set up for our Equality March and PrideFest. We were expecting a record crowd of over 100,000 people.

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Then we heard the news. It came in shorts spurts. There was a shooting. It was in Orlando. It was at Pulse. And we stopped in our tracks. Pulse is well known as a popular dance club in Orlando. As the news started to trickle out, a few of our volunteers mentioned that they have been there.  

For generations, gay clubs and bars are places that have allowed us to socialize with people we love, without fear that a simple act will be met with hatred and violence. Gay clubs and bars are for the most part, safe places where, for a few hours, for a night, everything is all right.

Sunday morning, as thousands of people were starting to gather at the start of the march, Donna Summer was blaring from a sound system on a float. Non-profit groups and churches were starting to fall into marching order, the roar of the motorcycles from the Dykes on Bikes could be heard approaching, and employees from many of Pittsburgh’s corporations were donned in matching t-shirts adopting our 2016 theme:  Together We Are Stronger.

And then the AP alert came: a reported 50 people were dead. 50 people who the night before went to a club to have a few drinks, socialize, and dance. 50 people who were members of the LGBT community or our allies who decided to go to Latin night and celebrate their heritage. 50 people who were just living their truth in the most life affirming way possible…with dance and music.

And that is what Pittsburgh Pride is all about. We bring the LGBT community and our allies together to celebrate who we are, who we love, and the diversity that is in Pittsburgh. And we do it with music. While some call Pittsburgh Pride a party, it is much bigger than that. Over the years, we have had artists such as Melissa Etheridge, Adam Lambert, Nick Jones, and this year, Kesha, who have brought the community together with their music. For many, attending a gay pride might never be something they ever consider doing. But if it’s an artist who they love, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter.  And once they come, hearts and minds start to change.  

While many Pride attendees probably didn’t even realize what had happened the night before, as leaders of the largest LGBT organization in Pittsburgh, we knew we needed to do something.  It was less than an hour before the march step-off and we called Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay with the idea that we were going to stop the entire march, pause for 50 seconds of silence in remembrance of those whose lives were lost, and address the crowd. He was immediately supportive and helped us to spread the word about the plan.

Candi Castleberry Singleton, the founder of the Dignity & Respect Campaign and partner of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, was immediately contacted. The Dignity & Respect Campaign works to teach people to have respectful interactions, to build cultural awareness, and to find common ground with individuals who are different from themselves. We knew that her powerful words would allow us time to mourn and set the stage on a path towards healing all while reminding us that while we have come so far, we still have work to do.    

Nelson Mandela said in his book Long Walk to Freedom, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

On June 28, 1969, a group of LGBT community members at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village decided they had enough disrespect and fought back. They were done being treated like second class citizens and without dignity and respect. And the start of the fight for LGBT equal rights began.

Sadly Sunday, June 12, 2016 will now have a place in history as the worst attack of terrorism in the US since 9-1-1 and the deadliest attack on a gay target in the nation’s history. And just like it did in 1969, this will bring the community together and change will happen.  We look forward to seeing the result. 

Together We Are Stronger.

Van Horn is a volunteer for the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh and President of the Board. This is his 10th year working with the Foundation. Bryan is the Director of Marketing & Development. A 25-year marketing veteran, Bryan has been with the Delta Foundation since 2009 and is its sole employee.