SisTersPGH relocates after fire scorches previous location

Written By Virginia Garner

On Jan.11, 2020, Pittsburgh community members gathered for a night of music and giving back at the north Oakland house venue known as “Lavender Town,” for a SisTersPGH benefit show.

The show included performances by Pittsburgh local artists Willow Hill Motel, Baseball Dad, Go home, Eddie, Luke McGowan and Skeletons Need T-Shirts. The artists came together to raise funds for SisTers, a black and transgender led organization that provides a safe-space for trans and non-binary people in need, in hopes of aiding in their recovery.

Less than 10 months after opening its doors, a fire began on the second floor of the facility, forcing SisTers to shut down on Dec. 16, 2019.

The only reported injury was a 29-year-old woman who was treated for jumping out of a second story window and landing on a trash truck to escape the flames. The cause of the fire was unknown.

“I was genuinely heartbroken when their office burnt down,” Hal McDonough said. McDonough is a singer and ukulele player of Baseball Dad. “They do such good work for the trans community.”

Immediately following the disaster, the organization launched an emergency fundraiser via their Facebook page.

McDonough, a member of the non-binary and trans community, performed an emotional set at the benefit show. McDonough has experienced first-hand the difficulties of being trans.

“It’s often difficult for young trans people to find safe and affordable housing,” McDonough said. “SisTers provides resources and safe spaces for those individuals.”

SisTersPGH, who opened their doors in March 2019, offers shelter, education, and other resources to the transgender and non-binary community in Pittsburgh. According to their mission statement, the non-profit offers transgender-centered drop-ins, along with shelter and other resources transitioned or transitioning people need to thrive.

Resume building, transportation to doctor’s appointments, emergency shelter, rental assistance, groceries and cooking lessons are just a few of the specific programs offered. Additionally, request forms have been set up online where individuals can request specific services so that their experience is uniquely catered to them.

Damian Cabrera, singer and guitarist from Willow Hill Motel, also holds SistersPGH close to his heart.

“The transgender and non-binary community are very marginalized, and SisTersPGH makes Pittsbrugh so wonderfully diverse in that aspect,” Cabrera said. “These people are oppressed and harassed in ways cisgender people cannot understand. It is so important to care for this community, make them feel safe and validate the fact that they belong here just as much as anyone else.”

Locals used their social media platforms to raise awareness about the facility and advertise about the show.

Dan Frankel, a democratic representative of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives encouraged his followers on Twitter to donate.

“During this season of generosity,” Frankel said in a tweet, “please remember [SisTersPGH]… provides invaluable support to our trans community… the organization is seeking donations to help them prepare for their next steps.”

SisTers was able to raise sufficient funds and announced their new location in Swissvale, approximately a 20-minute drive from the previous location, on Jan. 4, 2020.  With help from volunteers, the official move-in to the new location began less than a week before the benefit show, but that did not stop the Pittsburgh music scene from coming together and raising money for extra amenities that the new facility may need. The benefit show raised $500 that all went to SisTers.

The organization set up an Amazon wish-list for items they need that were lost in the fire, including toiletries and office equipment. Although the new facility is open and ready for use, individuals are still encouraged to donate to help with recovery efforts, along with funds SisTersPGH needs to continue to provide a safe place for transgender and non-binary people in need within the community.