Gay Pittsburgh not exactly like what you see on Queer as Folk
The fourth season of the Showtime series Queer as Folk is under way, chronicling the lives of gays and lesbians living in the Steel City. But there's no bustling downtown gay community with nightclubs and businesses in the real Pittsburgh, and the show's streetscapes are really filmed in Toronto. Though the show has a following in Pittsburgh--Monday nights at the South Side restaurant Tuscany are Queer as Folk nights--many gay and lesbian Pittsburghers say the real gay community is more subdued, even hidden. "There are a lot more closeted people in this area. Most times I just hear people say, 'Wow, that is so not Pittsburgh,' " said John Doughty, 32, a Pittsburgh resident who is gay. Tom Stewart, 42, who moved to Pittsburgh from San Diego in 2002, described Pittsburgh's gay community as "being close to nonexistent." He said he doesn't feel accepted everywhere he goes and wouldn't, for example, wear a gay T-shirt in certain neighborhoods.
Jeff Howells, managing editor of Out, Pittsburgh's gay newspaper, said he believes Pittsburgh, a city of about 350,000 people, is gay-friendly for its small size. In June the gay community will celebrate 30 years of gay pride with a week of activities, including a parade and ball. The event has grown every year. "But still, in a lot of ways, we're not a city in which any of the gay bars have windows," Howells said. Officials with Showtime didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday. But they have previously said that they chose the city because the original Queer as Folk was based in the blue-collar town of Manchester, England, and they were looking for something comparable in the United States. Show officials have said they weren't trying to accurately reflect Pittsburgh's gay community.
The city was built on the steel industry, and the image of the tough, blue-collar steelworker remains. Meanwhile, its heroes have typically been strong, macho sportsmen, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some gays say that history leaves little room for them. "It's definitely a shot and a beer town," Doughty said. Dinah Denmark, 41, who serves on the board of directors for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh, said she's seen recent momentum in the city's gay community. More than ever, the city's various groups--the Lambda Foundation; the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; and the Gay and Lesbian Neighborhood Development Association, among others--are starting to work together. "I think there are a lot of gay people in Pittsburgh just as there are a lot of gay people in a lot of American cities. I would love to see more people out and active in Pittsburgh," Denmark said. She believes the cooperation reflects a national momentum concerning gay issues, and not any effect from the TV show. Denmark said the city has many things to overcome, including the inability of gays to marry there, the lack of domestic-partner benefits at the University of Pittsburgh, and conservative lawmakers representing them in Congress. "We're just at a very critical juncture at our community. There's a lot of momentum and a lot of backlash," she said.
Eric Miller, who started www.queeraspittsburgh.com, grew up in Altoona, Pa., and lived in San Francisco before moving to Pittsburgh about a year ago. He recently founded a chapter of Marriage Equality and said he wants to see the community take advantage of the free publicity it gets on the TV show to attract people there. He believes Queer as Folk has affected gays in the city. "It's probably gotten Pittsburgh to think a lot about itself," Miller said. Some visitors, though, blame the show for creating an image of the city that isn't true. Byron Beck, 40, of Portland, Ore., attended a conference in Pittsburgh last summer for the Association of Alternative Newspapers. A special sections editor for Willamette Week who writes a column called Queer Window, Beck was surprised when the city didn't live up to what was portrayed in the show. "I thought it was a beautiful city, a tight-knit community of really cool people," Beck said. But the gay scene was "a big huge disappointment," he said. "The idea that I was a businessman traveling away from my boyfriend, you can't live the fantasy in Pittsburgh. No way," said Beck, who visited some bars on Liberty Avenue. "I wouldn't say [the city's gay community] is in the closet, but I would say it's definitely down the hall. It's around the corner. It's in the back room. It's not very exposed." (AP)