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.
When La’Tasha first explained to me how “reproductive justice” was a queer issue, I was amazed to have this new paradigm. And to meet this new (to me) advocate. She’s one of the smartest, most articulate and well-respected leaders in our community – someone whose very presence on a host committee or at an event lends a level of credibility – of truth! – that very few others in the LGBTQ community can bring. I was pleased that she took time to participate in LGBTQ&A.
Name: La’Tasha D. Mayes
Affiliation: Founder / Executive Director, New Voices Pittsburgh
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you. My manger at KFC in high school was the very first LGBTQ person I met. My first exposure to employment discrimination because of actual or perceived sexual orientation. Her name was Linda and she was always nice and very understanding when I had to miss a shift to interview for University of Pittsburgh’s undergraduate programs. Unfortunately, we were both fired from KFC for reasons not clearly explained despite my high achievement as a 17-year-old employee. Though it took many years for me to realize, I am convinced we were both fired because she was gay and because it was perceived that I was gay even though at that point I did not identify as LGBTQ. Based on this experience, I am proud to have been a founding Commissioner on the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? I stay informed by the diverse constituency we serve in New Voices Pittsburgh. I religiously watch Melissa Harris-Perry who is an passionate and informed ally on MSNBC. My colleagues in the national Reproductive Justice Movement keep me informed on the regional issues that impact LGBTQ people/of color differently such as SisterSong, SPARK RJ (Atlanta), COLOR (Denver), Forward Together (Oakland, CA), National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NYC), Women with a Vision (New Orleans) and Illinois Caucus for Reproductive Health (Chicago). I certainly am active in local and state politics and policy to keep me concerned on LGBTQ issues. On issues of community and culture, I read and New Voices Pittsburgh distributes SWERV Magazine.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? Overall safe spaces at home, in the streets and in institutions for LGBTQ people of all ages, races, genders, classes, abilities and immigrant status! For queer people of color specifically, the most important issue is economic opportunity via education, discrimination-free employment and community-building.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? Queer people of color would be visible in all aspects of the community – socially, economically and politically!
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I absolutely fell in love with “The Two” in the book and film, The Women of Brewster Place (1982, 1989). Their names were Lorraine and Theresa (“T”). Lorraine was portrayed by Lynette McKee and Theresa was portrayed by Paula Kelly – it also stars Oprah. This book and film changed my life. It brought me into consciousness at a young age about how I might be different even though I did understand sexuality or orientation at all. I just knew that that these two women loved each other deeply and fiercely.
The film is set in the 1960s in a Chicago-esque setting so when I watched the film, I cannot even imagine the stigma they felt as closeted Black lesbians. Interestingly enough, I bought the film for my DVD collection years ago and while watching it, I thought to myself, “Something is missing.” After recording it from television on DVR, I realized that the version I bought edited the MAJORITY of their story! The story of “The Two” is the the main plot and the erasure of their lives undermines the power of the story which is an American classic.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Speak up in opposition to homophobic and transphobic comments regardless of the setting or presence of out individuals. Take the time to educate yourself about the struggles of LGBTQ people and become a proactive ally. Changing conversations, perspectives and experiences of LGBTQ people is the best way to change our heteronormative and homophobic culture and raise consciousness about the Human Rights of all people. Be courageous and talk about how racism impacts us all and that the predominant experience is not the universal experience.