After unexpectedly having to cancel Pittsburgh Pride 2020 because of the pandemic, the Delta Foundation said it would shut down operations as a nonprofit organization. Two years later, the foundation has yet to file dissolution documents with the state, is behind on its federal tax returns and hasn’t repaid thousands of dollars owed to artists and other enterprises who planned to participate in the canceled Pride 2020. This comes after years of financial controversy and criticism from within the LGBTQ+ community in Pittsburgh.
Shortly after she moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, artist Meg Zammer took a big business risk.
She put down $400 to reserve a booth at Pittsburgh Pride 2019 to exhibit her recycled leather goods, which include jewelry, belts and other accessories.
The move paid off for Zammer who racked up sales of between $1,500 and $2,000 during the June festival that celebrates the LGBTQ+ community.
Eager to participate the following year, Zammer paid the Delta Foundation, organizers of the event, a $200 fee offered as an early-bird discount to small businesses planning to display their items in a handmade artists section.
But Delta postponed Pride 2020 because of the Covid pandemic before ultimately canceling it. Then in August 2020, Delta’s board unexpectedly announced it was dissolving the foundation. In early September, Zammer and other vendors received an email from Delta saying it was assessing its financials and would communicate in the future about its status.
That’s the last time Zammer heard from Delta.
Two years after the organization said it would dissolve, the foundation has yet to file dissolution documents with the state, is behind on its federal tax returns and hasn’t repaid thousands of dollars owed to artists and other enterprises who planned to participate in the canceled Pride 2020 event.
“I was keeping an ear to the ground, trying to run my business,” says Zammer, who works out of her Wilkinsburg home.
“Yes, $200 is a lot to me because this is my business.”
Zammer tried to reach the LGBTQ+ organization but its phone number was disconnected; she sent an email that bounced back with a message saying the account mailbox was full.
“A LOT OF WORK”
In an interview last week, Martin Healey, Delta’s board president, said it is working to dissolve and the process has “dragged on a long time through Covid and some financial cleanup.” Once Delta settles legal and accounting fees and other debts, he says, “Our intent is to reach out to vendors and offer some form of resolution or support to what they’ve paid in.
“Closing out the foundation’s books is a lot of work,” Healey says, adding that the executive committee working to dissolve Delta is comprised of all volunteers.
But former board members believe Delta should have already repaid vendors and others.
In June 2021, Delta sold a property on the North Side that housed its offices on Galveston Avenue for $632,531. Healey says about $400,000 of that gain was used to pay off the mortgage on the property and for other bills.
In its 2018 federal tax filing, the most recent available, the foundation listed net assets of approximately $320,000, including the North Side building.
Healey acknowledges that Delta hasn’t filed official notice with the state about plans to dissolve but says it sent the state attorney general’s office a letter stating its intent. The state attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Delta is still listed as an active nonprofit on the Pennsylvania Department of State website that tracks businesses and nonprofits.
Tax returns are among the items holding up the process of dissolution, says Healey.
The foundation just filed its 2019 return — the 2020 return should be ready sometime this month — and the foundation received an extension for its 2021 return, he says.
Healey also notes that vendor contracts contained a “no-refund” clause and that Delta’s attorneys advised him and others on the nonprofit’s executive committee “not to communicate” with those who had paid registration fees for Pride 2020.
“Once we’ve navigated through the process with the IRS returns and financials, our intent is to work with vendors to resolve what they feel is owed,” Healey says.
“IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS”
That strategy doesn’t sit well with many in the LGBTQ+ community including former board members who say the foundation is dragging its feet on dissolving and has not provided clarity about its operations.
“It’s been two years. That’s a pretty long time,” says Jeff Freedman, an accountant, finance director and former treasurer for Delta’s board. “They haven’t returned any money and sent out only one notification [to vendors]. Everyone thinks they’ve disbanded.”
Of the “no-refund” clause, Freedman says it was intended for vendors who didn’t show up for Pride because Delta incurred costs to set up their tables and tents whether or not they attended.
“Who would think a pandemic would hit?” he says. “We canceled the event. They had no ability to show up.”
Freedman estimated Delta owes money to about 150 individuals and groups who registered for booths or to participate in the Pride 2020 parade. That number does not include corporate sponsorships for the event, he says.
Participation and exhibit fees ranged from $100 to $4,000, according to a report published in QBurgh, an online LGBTQ+ news site.
“Delta’s money belongs back in the community,” says Freedman. “Small businesses gave them a lot and were hit hard by Covid.”
WHO OWNS PITTSBURGH PRIDE?
Freedman and others who have questioned Delta’s transparency scored a victory recently when the foundation withdrew its application to trademark the name Pittsburgh Pride.
Weeks after announcing its planned dissolution, Delta filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to obtain the trademark. Healey says the move was meant to protect Delta’s assets, including the name, during the dissolution process.
President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign also worried Delta because it feared some of his followers, including the Proud Boys, a far-right, neo-fascist organization, might attempt to obtain the trademark as part of its attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.
Freedman and Jim Sheppard, co-founders of QBurgh, filed an opposition to Delta’s request with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
In one count, they asserted Delta was not using the trademark because it planned to dissolve. The second count claimed the Pittsburgh Pride name is “merely informational … and describes various events held in the summer since 1973 to celebrate various groups in the LGBTQ+ community,” says Gwen Acker Wood, QBurgh’s attorney.
The trademark board dismissed the first count but before it acted on the second, Delta withdrew its application on Aug. 2.
Healey says Delta’s executive committee agreed that Pride events held by other groups in 2021 and this summer “all went really well … and now there’s no need to keep the trademark.”
“It’s quite a good outcome,” says Acker Wood. “Now this very important moniker for the LGBTQ+ community is not owned by any one entity and all can feel free to use it as they have been for so many years.”
DELTA’S SPOTTY HISTORY
Founded in 1996, Delta began as a social organization for the gay and lesbian communities. It held the first Pride in the Street concert Downtown in 2007 and later took over the Pride parade and festivities that other local groups operated. By 2019, its weekend-long festival and parade attracted an estimated 250,000 to Downtown.
When it announced plans to dissolve, Delta said without the 2020 Pride celebration and possibly no event in 2021, it lacked a revenue stream.
Pride generated more than 90% of the organization’s annual funding and cost about $800,000 — much of it raised through corporate sponsorships, concert ticket sales and beverage sales.
Delta faced controversies long before it decided to dissolve.
In January 2020, former board president Gary Van Horn resigned following his arrest on charges including impersonating emergency responders by using police lights and sirens on a personal vehicle.
Freedman and others believe Van Horn may have falsified Delta’s records and that Delta may have covered up its involvement in a private jet ski rental business registered to Van Horn’s name.
After Van Horn stepped down, Delta conducted an internal investigation of its finances and turned its findings over to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, which cleared Delta of any criminal activity.
In a settlement of Van Horn’s criminal charges in 2021, he received accelerated rehabilitative disposition (ARD) which included two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Delta also generated criticism for not being inclusive of people of color, transgender individuals and other minorities in the LGBTQ+ community.
Sheppard, who served as interim board president in 2020 after Van Horn stepped down, posted on social media that summer that Delta was seeking more diverse board members.
After Healey was named board president in August 2020 and asked to oversee a reorganization of the foundation, those efforts were dropped.
Healey now serves as chief executive of Persad Center, a nonprofit that provides counseling and other services to members of the LGBTQ+ community. Delta’s sole employee, Chris Bryan, also works at Persad.
The organization participated in some Pride events this summer including in Dormont, Aspinwall, Washington, and Pittsburgh Black Pride, says Healey.
Pride events held elsewhere in the region this year included Pride on the Shore, a one-night music festival at Stage AE on the North Shore; and Pittsburgh Pride Revolution, which included a march led by grand marshal Billy Porter from Downtown to Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side.
“It’s so healthy to see everyone celebrating Pride in their own way,” says Healey.
He admits it’s been a challenge to weather criticism from some in the LGBTQ+ community – including former Delta board members – who, he says, “challenged [Delta’s] perspectives, withheld documents and engaged in personal attacks on me.”
“I believed in the mission of Delta. It feels like I’m walking on coals sometimes. But in my everyday job at Persad I see many people hurting and suffering … and I’m leading forward whether it’s a dark and cloudy day or a sunny day.”
The proliferation of Pride events over the last two years, many of which are free for participants and attendees, “are bringing Pride back to its roots,” says Freedman.