The city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania has its annual Pride parade and rally coming up next month on June 11.
This year, however, the city has given its majority sponsorship to a major corporation called Equitable Gas (EQT), so the name of the event is the EQT Equality March.
While sponsorship deals are not uncommon for major Pride events, the LGBTQI community in Pittsburgh is desperately unhappy with the decision: the new sponsor has previously donated to a variety of anti-LGBTQI politicians, and has also been heavily criticised by enviromentalists for its fracking practices.
A counter-rally has been organised by community members called the People's Pride 2k17, which will protest the corporate influence on Pride marches, as well as EQT's environmental impact and anti-LGBTQI affiliations.
SisTers PGH, the LGBTQI non-profit behind the counter-march, says that this march is for the people, stressing that it is without corporate influence. Ciora Thomas, leader of the group, says, "Pride has historically been about resisting. It's about bringing visibility to a marginalised community. That's the history of Pride. We are trying to carry on that legacy."
Thomas says that EQT has a documented history of making campaign donations to anti-LGBTQI politicians and legislators, including Pennsylvania representative Bill Schuster (who stated how "disappointed" he was with the US legalisation of same-sex marriage), and representative Tim Murphy (who purposefully misgendered Chelsea Manning earlier this year).
In 2014, a record $4.5 million fine was levied against EQT for the damages caused by the release of fracking fluids from a gas drilling site in Tioga County. It allegedly caused "a major pollution incident".
A post published to the SisTers PGH Facebook page regarding the alternative march reads, "The people we serve are still suffering, looking for a permanent solution to oppression and hardship, only to be exploited time and time again by corporations and organizations that do not have our best interests in mind and that do not put their profits back into the communities they harm."
Due to community backlash, EQT's foundation president Charlene Petrelli has given a press statement in defence of the sponsorship, saying that many employees have been involved in the march in previous years:
"EQT Foundation — the philanthropic arm of EQT Corporation — is honored and excited to join with the Delta Foundation as the naming underwriter of what is now known as the EQT Equality March.
This is the second year that EQT, and the EQT Foundation, are participating in Pride.
Last year, nearly 100 EQT employees, along with their friends and families, marched in the parade.
Everyone who participated — from those who’d never been to the Equality March, to others who attend each year — felt a connection and [camaraderie] with those around them.
In fact, after last year’s Equality March, a number of EQT employees came together to create a new employee resource group at the Company, called EQT Pride.
The group’s mission is to foster an environment for inclusiveness and respect for LGBT employees, as well as play a role in recruiting, developing and retaining LGBT employees.
EQT values the importance of celebrating all members of the community, and is looking forward to having a noticeable presence at this year’s Pittsburgh Pride festivities.”
Members of the Pittsburgh LGBTQI community are speaking out on social media, airing their concerns about the newly-branded march:
The People's Pride 2k17 will run directly after the EQT Equality March on June 11, so non-profits that have already paid to participate in the official event can attend both events without losing money.
SisTers PGH says that next year it intends to hold another independent march, which will donate all its proceeds to local LGBTQI organisations.