Why Iggy Azalea is dividing Pittsburgh Pride and our community

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It was announced on 15 May that Iggy Azalea would headline Pittsburgh Pride in the Street. Since then, near-universal critical news coverage has come in from sources as local as Pittsburgh’s newspapers to publications like The Advocate and even the French media.

The majority of the criticism has been directed towards the group which chose her to headline, the Delta Foundation, due to Azalea’s history of making statements that some consider both racist and homophobic.

A vigilant catalyst?

The Delta Foundation describes itself on its website as ‘the leading Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) organization in Western Pennsylvania.’ The Foundation wants ‘to be a vigilant catalyst for change that produces increased opportunities and a high quality of life for the LGBT community’. Many say the group’s choice of Azalea contradicts this statement.

Azalea’s lyrics have come under fire for such questionable lines as, ‘When the relay starts I’m a runaway slave master’ in her song ‘D.R.U.G.S.’ and use of the N-word in live performances.

Her style of performance has been criticized for appropriating African American styles as the Australian performer adopts what some have termed a southern ‘blaccent’ while she raps. She has also been accused of plagiarizing other performer’s lyrics.

A series of tweets made by Azalea over the years have been making the rounds of the internet again as people point and click at their reasons to accuse her of racism. One tweet reads, ‘Owwww studio. Me chief. You indian. I speak… You listen.’

Another reads, ‘Is it wrong I feel happy to hear southern accents again & not mexican ones? Fuck it. I am.’ A tweet that has been called homophobic reads, ‘wondered why my butt felt like it was about 2 grow legs, flip me off & walk away. then i remembered i played soccer yesterdy w 5 dyke bitches.’

Another tweet, ‘I just told my boy dick pics are gay he said “mine are really stylised tho” *side eye* GAY.’ Others have suggested her frequent use of the word ‘retarded’ also made her a poor choice.

Distancing

Already several organizations have distanced themselves from the Delta Foundation, including the Garden of Peace Project. Garden Peace Project founder Michael David Battle said that ‘The Iggy Azalea thing was just a last straw for folks.’ State Representative Dan Frankel, a member of the Delta Foundation Advisory Board, has released a formal statement:

‘I don’t speak for the Delta Foundation and they have never asked for my advice, but they do seem to have generated substantial controversy over their decision which is regrettable. It takes away from where the focus of the community should be. And that’s on supporting efforts such as passing a statewide non-discrimination law to ensure that all LGBT residents have protection against the indignities of discrimination.’

As is often the case in these matters, people took to several internet platforms to express their frustration. Gary A. Van Horn Jr., President of the Delta Foundation, took to Twitter to defend the choice following immediate outcry: ‘1 thing i have learned is you can’t please everyone! #itsbigforpittsburgh #pghpride15.’ Another defender on the Foundation’s Facebook page praised the choice because ‘it will bring more straight allies’ to pride.

Van Horn is #justsaying

On 17 May, Van Horn defended Azalea against the charges of racism, tweeting: ‘So let me get this correct…a caucasian woman who dates an African American man is a racist? #justsaying.’ (Azalea is in a relationship with Nick Young, a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.)

On 18 May, the Delta Foundation released a statement on Facebook, part of which read:

‘If we believed that Iggy Azalea was racist or homophobic, we certainly would not have selected her to headline Pittsburgh Pride. We also don’t believe she would have agreed to come if she was racist or homophobic. Iggy is a highly regarded artist and female entertainer and we have received a tremendous amount of positive messages from members of the community and our allies both locally and nationally that are excited that she will be performing at Pittsburgh Pride.’

‘We believe that the push back is part of a larger discussion happening across America as it relates to race and gender. We believe that same conversation needs to happen here in Pittsburgh and today reached out to several community leaders about facilitating a discussion about race and gender specifically as it relates to the LGBT community. We look forward to being a part of this conversation in the very near future as we work to make Pittsburgh the most livable [sic] city for all.’

The Delta Foundation has yet to make a statement about the Azalea episode on their official website.

A Facebook event has been created to protest Azalea’s appearance, with almost 900 people saying they will boycott Delta’s event. A Change.org petition to replace Azalea has gathered almost 600 signatures. Many are calling for the Delta Foundation to be investigated, following years of increasingly serious accusations of misconduct or mismanagement. A Facebook page called “Delta Foundation Horror Stories” has been set up to allow people to make their feelings known.

Larger than Iggy

Viewing the mass of reportage that has been coming in for the past few days and watching the squabbles online, it becomes clear that this is larger than Iggy Azalea. It’s larger than the Delta Foundation itself, which is saying something.

The anger that many people – especially people of colour – feel towards the Delta Foundation and now the notion of a Pittsburgh Pride in general is proof that the structures of organizations like the Delta Foundation are actively shutting down debate and ignoring the larger LGBT population.

Whitewashing a community

Criticism of the Delta Foundation focuses on a perceived ‘whitewashing’ of the LGBT community in general and pride events specifically. The main criticism of pride events in the United States is that they focus on only one section of the LGBT community (usually white, usually male and usually in a higher income bracket) and ignore many others. The attitude of Van Horn only reinforces this perception.

Having an ‘I Don’t Care’ attitude towards criticism is great when you’re in an Eartha Kitt music video from the 80s, but not when there are more people wanting to boycott your event than there are people showing up.

The reality of the Delta Foundation’s response, and specifically Van Horn’s response, is that they have said loudly and clearly, ‘We know what’s best for you.’

This is an attitude which is more harmful than helpful. Pride, which is supposed to be an event for the LGBT community to come together, is now driving the LGBT community apart.

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When a small group of people who have the financial means to do so proceed to spend all of the money they get on bringing in larger and larger acts that they would personally like to see rather than what the community as a whole wants, gives less and less back to the community, and supports fewer local artists, activists and organizations by the year, there is a serious problem. Like every serious problem in America, it isn’t talked about—especially when the problem hits on class lines.

Starved for resources

When we move away from the marriage issue, we are starved for resources in the LGBT community. There are plenty of LGBT organizations in the United States – at least on the West and East Coasts and larger cities. However, there needs to be a focus on providing help and support to LGBT people in the Midwest, smaller towns and the South.

Even within the ‘liberal’ northeast, we still have to deal with the fact that discriminatory practices in housing, jobs and public facilities is a daily problem, especially for non-white members of the community. The fact is that the lower down the economic ladder you go, the worse it becomes. This is a point which those who have had the good fortune to be financially successful have easily forgotten.

And as for Azalea’s place in all this glittery mess? Perhaps the most apt headline came from Jezebel.com: ‘Iggy Azalea May Ruin Pittsburgh’s Pride Because She’s Iggy Azalea.’

Come the day of Pittsburgh Pride, I’m sure that there will be a fair amount of people willing to pay the $45 to $150 a piece for tickets to see Azalea scream into a microphone. As for me, I’ll be with the others in Downtown Pittsburgh, either in body or in spirit, going elsewhere and supporting the community that actually stands together in the face of police violence, housing discrimination and the myriad of other problems facing the rest of us.

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