An occasional series where we pose some questions to local LGBTQ folks (and Allies) to learn more about their personal experiences with LGBTQ culture. Click here for a complete list of all LGBTQ&A profiles.
I *met* Mike via the Facebook group for the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh – I noticed that he often posted content that was engaging and informative. I liked how he used social media to advocate and educate, but I really didn’t know much about him beyond that. So he was a perfect candidate for LGBTQ&A.
Name: Michael David Battle
Affiliation: Founder and Director at Garden of Peace Project and Director of Prevention Services at Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you: When I was a senior in high school, I was recruited to play soccer and softball at Chatham College for Women of Chatham University (CCW). While visiting CCW for an Athlete Recruit Day for prospective athletes, I met a guy, Fred*, another prospect who I connected with right away. Fred and I quickly became great friends. After several months, it was time for us to arrive to CCW’s campus for the beginning of soccer season and our upcoming orientation. Fred was told that he could no longer attend CCW, as CCW is a college for women and he transitioned from female to male before officially becoming a student at CCW. I had never met a transman before and I had a lot of fears. I knew that I had connected with Fred, but I didn’t know how to react to his transition. There was a huge surge of support for Fred from other CCW students, but I, regrettably, was not one of those supporters. In fact, I was adamantly against Fred attending CCW because it made me uncomfortable. Throughout my life, I had struggled with my own gender identity. My mother had always allowed me to dress in boy’s clothes, play basketball with my male counterparts, and be me. When I was sixteen, my mom and extended family began to tell me that I had to be a girl. Not only was it not okay to be a lesbian, but at the very least I had to begin to conform to the social constructs of a girl. When Fred transitioned, it brought forth all of those voices telling me that who I was had been wrong. I began to place my feelings and forced values on Fred. At the time, I thought it had ruined our friendship.
Throughout my four-year undergraduate career, I struggled with my gender identity, becoming more and more masculine, having a chest reduction that lifted the weight off of my shoulders (both literally and figuratively, and silently suffering any time I heard someone say my birth name or call me a feminine pronoun. Fred excelled at a different college; and by just being himself, Fred gave me the courage to be myself. When I knew that I was a man, Fred was the first person who I contacted. Fred was extremely supportive and he told me that he knew that I was just scared when I stopped talking to him. Fred, the first transman who I met and rejected, was the person who helped me in my journey to becoming the happiest me I have ever been.
In fact, on Friday, May 3, I will host a 90’s Party Fundraiser at FRIENDS Bar in Squirrel Hill for my top surgery. DJ 88 on the 1’s and 2’s.. Roscoe Wiki will perform at 9pm, setting the tone for the night, spittin’ hip hop lyrics like we’re in a 90’s house party. We’re taking it back 90’s style, when Will Smith was a hot rapper, Tupac and Biggie were beefin’, and before autotune and sound technology made Busta audible. So, bring out your snapbacks, penny loafers (with the heads up penny), MC Hammer pants, neon orange skinny jeans, light up LA Gear sneakers, and hot pink aviator glasses! https://www.facebook.com/events/139612629555077/
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? Huffington Post, many mailing lists (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, etc), and Facebook’s new feed is a ridiculous amount of information.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? Equality, and even broader than marriage equality, but health equality for transgender and transsexual individuals, workplace equality, equal treatment from the police for all LGBTQIA people, and true inclusion of ALL LGBTQIA individuals (there is no real reason why the entire LGBTQIA acronym can’t be used at every organization. We have to do better and force ourselves to grow beyond our past).
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? Quality health-care for all LGBTQIA people, including transgender and transsexual individuals
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Not shockingly, Max from the L Word. When I saw Max’s character, I felt like I was watching myself.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Don’t make assumptions and ask questions to get each individual’s truth
*Name has been changed to ensure confidentiality