I realize that there has been a lot of controversy about Sharon Needles' alleged racist comments.
That's about all I realize because even though I am from Pittsburgh, I've never met her or seen her perform. I don't have cable so I have never seen RuPaul's show. I basically had a very vague impression of Sharon from social media and our local "queer events email list."
Today, however, I am a believer. Sharon has forever changed what it means for Pittsburgh to be The City of Champions.
For decades, Pittsburgh has clung to that title which I believe first emerged in 1979 when the Steelers and the Pirates were the national champions. That hasn't happened again since although there has been occasional overlap in winning seasons among both teams and the Pittsburgh Penguins (also the occasional national champions.)
Pittsburgh's fan base is known as the Steeler Nation. The Steeler Nation transcends geography, claiming homes in sports bars around the world. And the Steeler Nation transcends football to embrace all things that demonstrate how Pittsburgh excells - be it a few weeks of a winning baseball season to the luminescent performance of our hockey team. The term includes marble champions, spelling bee winners, and college athletic teams.
Nothing exemplifies this like The Terrible Towel, an emblem of hope, devotion, and immaculate moments of athletic triumph. Everyone has a towel. And while other cities try to coopt the concept, it simply doesn't ring true.
And now both the Steeler Nation and the Terrible Towel embrace Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community. Mind you, we've already been there - there are die hard fans deep everywhere. I once organized a sex toy education/social event at the gay & lesbian community center of Pittsburgh. It happened to be a play-off night (how could I have known?) so I was receiving cell phone calls from lesbians who really wanted to do both and were genuinely torn (the event was packed but everyone was checking the score.)
I was pretty darn excited this week as we ramped up prepartion to unveil the Pittsburgh Pirates' contribution to the It Gets Better Project - a video that debuts on their big screen during Friday night's game at PNC Park. It is going to be an amazing evening and I'll share more about that in another post.
I was also excited - perhaps not the best word - to learn that 15 year old Alex Libby from the movie "Bully" is indeed a Steeler fan and thus, part of the Steeler Nation. I had my suspicions as I noticed he wore a Steeler windbreaker in several scenes of the movie, but it never actually came up in the dialogue. So I asked some friends connected with GLSEN and Change.org; they confirmed he is a fan and are making an introduction to his parents. Awesome. Alex' courage in sharing his story is one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed. And I really want to ask him if his attachment to the Steelers helped him when things were rough. And then I want to share that story with Pittsburgh. But that's also fodder for another post.
Then Sharon Needles took home the title of RuPaul's Drag Queen race. Pittsburgh's queer community erupted in delight and pride and mistaken claims to be the 5th Gayest City in America (I keep telling them that The Advocate was being facetious, but they refuse to believe me.) Who cares? We are fabulous.
Hurrah. A great week for Pittsburgh and another reminder that the essence of our region is what paves the way for our steps toward equality - we are Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh embraces its own.
So congratulations to Sharon. I'm sure she will be a wonderful addition to our gallery of champions and as editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers suggests, make The Terrible Boa the next thing.
But as fabulous as we are, racism is a ugly reality in Pittsburgh - both within and beyond the LGBTQ community. Sharon didn't mean to be racist, just blunt. James Harrison didn't meant to be homophobic, just real. Is that what it boils down to - trying to discern what someone "means" when they use language that conveys a whole other set of meaning? Well, no. It shouldn't.
I don't expect James Harrison to throw the celebration parade for Sharon when she returns to Pittsburgh, but it would be great if those who have access stop shushing conversations about racism, homophobia and other things that make most white straight Pittsburgh men uncomfortable and just ripped the dialogue apart in a "blunt, real" way.
PS: The Terrible Towel license benefits a local school that works with children with disabilities. I've never seen a licensed pride/rainbow version. I'd love to see someone pick up the boa concept, get the appropriate license and wrap up Pittsburgh in some fabulous new memories. How about using the revenue generated beyond the licensing fees to subsidize youth activities at the GLCC - perhaps the most diverse group in Pittsburgh? I'm completely serious.