Anti-LGBTQ attacks in Pittsburgh linked to Washington DC think-tank

The Pittsburgh Pride parade, celebrating 50 years of Pittsburgh Pride, crosses the Andy Warhol bridge from downtown Pittsburgh, Saturday, June 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Sean Kitchen

April 11, 2024

Attacks against Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community are being astroturfed by conservative organizations as it becomes more popular in the Republican Party.

A recent story by Public Source, a digital media outlet based in Pittsburgh, highlights the connections the Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC-based right-wing think tank, has to the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ actions in the Pittsburgh area.

The story states that as local governments, public schools and universities have become more inclusive to the LGBTQ community in recent years, conservative organizations flushed with millions of dollars astroturfed pushback in those communities through a variety of means.

Public Source highlights recent examples of right-wing groups with ties to the Heritage Foundation going after the LGBTQ community.

First, America Fast Legal is responsible for airing anti-LGBTQ ads on radio stations throughout the Pittsburgh area in 2020 and then sued the Pine-Richland School District for allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that aligns with their gender identity, claiming parental rights.

Three high-ranking officials from America First Legal used to work for the Heritage Foundation, according to the story.

Then, The Daily Signal, a conservative media outlet completely funded by the think tank, wrote a story about Duquesne University hosting a mass for the LGBTQ community, but that was canceled in the weeks following the original story.

The article points out that conservative groups typically rely on astroturfing to push their agenda while those looking to expand LGBTQ rights are able to do so with popular grassroots support.

“It is sad that DC Republican elitists feel the need to intervene in the lives of Pittsburgh’s parents and students,” State Rep. Jessica Benham (D-Allegheny) said in a statement. Benham is the co-chair of the PA LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus in the Pennsylvania House.

“Rest assured, Allegheny County can handle its own business. And in this case, Allegheny County is and will remain a place where we steadfastly defend the rights of LGBTQ+ young people, and those who love and care for them, to live lives as their full authentic selves.”

Danielle Gross, a communications professional at Clear Point Communications in Harrisburg, recently told The Keystone the importance of grassroots organizing when right-wing forces corrupt a school board.

Gross started an email list during the pandemic when the West Shore School District was debating mask protocols to keep parents and community members informed about what the school board was doing and it’s grown to over 400 subscribers since then.

“It all started way back during the beginning of the pandemic, where I was frustrated that the only voices that I felt were being heard at local school board meetings were the people who did not want any kind of mitigations happening in our schools at all,” Gross said in an interview.

That email list became useful when the West Shore School District held a closed door meeting with the Independence Law Center, a right-wing anti-LGBTQ firm connected to the Pennsylvania Family Institute. Gross was able to organize a rally that drew close to 100 residents on a few days’ notice.

“I started updating people about the school board meetings. Not only did I live-tweet, but I started emailing them about whatever was going on at the school board at the time,” Gross said.

“There are a lot of people on the far-right who are well-funded and have all of these resources behind them, and I’m a mom with a free Gmail account, and I know how to write and I know how to communicate to people.”


  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.



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