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. During Pride 2013, we are trying to feature someone each day.
I met Jessica through the GLCC -she’s on the board and manages the Jim Fischerkeller Library. We spent some time together at Pridefest and I learned about her writing. Her book is on my pile to take to the beach with me next month. She has some interesting thoughts on visibility and is one of the few to describe LGBTQ characters in literature as part of her answer. And kudos to Jessica for balancing grad school, work, and volunteer work.
Name: Jessica Skye Davies
Affiliation: Author with Dreamspinner Press by day, social work student at Pitt and GLCC library director by night. No wait, that’s the other way round.
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you. The first queer person who I knew, technically, was my mother’s best friend, Rick. I was too young to know what “gay” was or to understand quite why he died so young (AIDS related complications). It was, however, the subsequent knowledge and understanding of how unfair Rick’s early passing (and the passing of so many others in those days) was – which also lead to an understanding of LGBTQ issues and the unfairness of discrimination in general – that has made me the advocate and ally I am today.
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? Quite a lot comes from social media, for me. Things like online news sites and facebook updates allow me to keep up on all manner of issues quickly and easily, wherever I am at the moment. However, with the openness of media also comes a responsibility to be increasingly discerning and to employ self-judgment. Always check the source.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? It’s tough to pick just one specific issue but I think I would summarize as equality. Bullying, the continued increase in HIV incidents in the LGBTQ community, and the effects of self-discrimination are difficult challenges, but achieving legal parity can go a very long way to changing things not just on broad social levels but also on individual and small community levels. There is a lot of work to go around still and we need everybody’s involvement, even if it’s something as little as changing your facebook icon to an equal sign (visibility is big!)
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? Pittsburgh has an awesome LGBTQ community, one which I think does a lot more than many people realize. If I were to change something in a big way that would probably be it – I’d love to see the word out there more about what’s going on in the community. The more people know what’s already being offered, the more they are likely to become actively involved in growing new activities to reach even more people. Like I said before, everyone’s involvement and input is really critical to making sure our community is as inclusive and reflective of the community as it should be. If you don’t see a group that reflects you, please consider speaking up or stepping up, we want you to feel included!
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Can I be quite terrible and pick one of my own characters? I actually tend to like characters that are difficult, not the well-living characters who would be good role models. As fictional characters, I like the ones with some grit to them. I also like forerunners. One of my favorite books is E.M. Forster’s Maurice. Forster originally wrote it around 1913 but it wasn’t published until after his passing. One of the really remarkable things about it (without giving too much in the way of spoilers) is Maurice’s realization that psychotherapy can’t change who he is. One hundred years later, some people are only just realizing that people are “born this way.” Some of Forster’s work is available at the GLCC Library (along with his contemporaries such as Isherwood).
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Share the word, pass it around. As I mentioned, visibility matters, and literature is an important part of cultural visibility. If you read something you enjoy, recommend it to others (maybe someone you wouldn’t immediately think of recommending an LGBTQ book to), rate it for other readers at places like Amazon and Goodreads, share it on facebook and twitter. The LGBTQ niche is growing by leaps and bounds, there is something for everyone’s literary taste – mystery, anime, historicals of all sorts, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, multi-book series, you name it!