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 Ashe through Facebook – I follow her posts because she shares good information about bisexuality, among other topics and she has a really nice blog that is on my feed reader. I appreciate that she’s so open about her life both to bust some myths and get the community on track with support for and by the bisexual community. I also appreciate her sense of humor and self-deprecation. We certainly hope Ashe relocates back to Pittsburgh in the future!
Name: Ashe Birt
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you: My parents had gay friends all my life, but I didn’t find out about that until high school. I remember in particular finding out about a woman my mother worked with ,and how learning this information changed the way I saw my mother. Her co-worker, in my eyes, was still the same lovely, fun person I had grown up with and talked to and learned from. Nothing about my relationship changed (except perhaps a mild growth in curiosity). Knowing that my mother was friends with her, and had been for a very long time, really struck me. I knew my family was liberal, but this wasn’t something we talked about too often, so I didn’t know which way my mother fell on LGBTQ issues. When I told her that I knew about her friend, she barely reacted. This showed me that it wasn’t a big deal, that her friend was her friend, and that being gay was just another trait, another part of life.
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? The internet keeps me posted. I check my friends’ posts on Facebook, I’m subscribed to all sorts of mailing lists, and I actively search out articles on issues I’m following. I also spend a lot of time on Buzzfeed, AfterEllen, and AutoStraddle, all of which blend LGBTQ (especially the L and B for the last two) entertainment and news. I want to keep up on workplace discrimination and same-sex marriage, but I also learning about what progress some awesome high schooler made at their school.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? Visibility and diversity. Oftentimes, even when things are going well for the LGBTQ community, the images you see representing the whole community are of clean cut white people, usually gay men, usually middle class to affluent. Those people exist, but they do not represent a majority of the community, and the fact is that’s the image a lot of America associates with LGBTQ issues. This makes it easier to dismiss those who don’t fit into that narrow box. The issues that come up when sexual orientation intersects with gender, sex, race, and class get ignored because certain people aren’t seen as part of the community. Other communities find it easy to rest in their homophobia because “they don’t have gay people in the community.” We need to acknowledge LGBTQ people who are female or trans or genderqueer or bisexual or pansexual or of color or anything besides a gay white man. If we aren’t acknowledging those people, we can’t address their issues, and if we aren’t seeing them, we aren’t acknowledging them. We need to see the whole community.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? Make it more obvious. Pittsburgh can be a great place for an LGBTQ person to live, but if you’re new, it might be hard to find what you need. There’s no true gayborhood (although some may argue Shadyside), most of the bars and clubs are spread out in random places, and I’ve seen people go back and forth between being comfortable showing affection in public and being paralyzed with fear. Having more visibility would, I think, help connect people and let them know that it’s okay, that this is a good place to be.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? It’s almost too hard to choose, but at this exact moment I’d say Paige McCullers from Pretty Little Liars. Her character has gone from self-loathing to confused desire to acceptance to redemption to pure love and it has always come off as human and lovely. I feel like most people, regardless of their orientation, could relate to her in some way.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Ask and listen. If you have an LGBTQ friend and you’ve never asked them what it’s like walking through the world, do that. Listen to their story. Hear what they have to say. Believe what they tell you. Then, once you’ve done that, ask them what THEY need. Individuals are pretty good at letting you know what’s helpful if you give them a chance to be heard.
Thank you, Ashe!
Be sure to check our Ashe’s blog Pink, Purple and Blue