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” Melissa online via Facebook and only met her in real life earlier this spring. We immediately clicked as 40something women bloggers. I knew she was an ally in the general sense but had no idea that she was writing a book – she shared her uncle’s story (and her own) and it was very powerful. And to be honest, I find Melissa’s social media in general to be wry and insightful, especially when sharing about her children – she makes me laugh and shake my fist.
Name: Melissa Firman
Affiliation: Ally, Writer, editor, blogger
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person you met and what that meant for you. You know how every family usually has that “cool relative,” the one who everyone looks forward to seeing and loves to be around because he or she is so much fun? That was my uncle, a piano man long before Billy Joel sang his famous song. For a long time, we didn’t fully understand (and neither did he) how much the façade of show business and performing reflected his own life and his own truth; he was singing a different tune publicly than he was privately.
In June 1995, my uncle revealed to me (and my husband) that he was gay – and that he was dying of AIDS. (Ironically, this was nearly 18 years to the day of the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling.) We’d suspected both, and we honored his wishes not to tell the rest of the family. We were 24 and the experience of helping him and his partner care for him during that last year of his life changed me – and us – forever.
What I’ve learned since is that our family’s story is the story of many families. It’s also a story that current generations, who were and are raised in a different world than those of us who came of age during the AIDS epidemic of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, need to know. Although they’ve never met him, my husband and I have been very open about this with our kids, as we refer to my uncle as someone not to be ashamed of but as someone to celebrate, someone who is still so deeply loved and someone who is still so very much missed.
I’m in the process of writing a novel (which will hopefully be completed by the end of this year) based on this experience of caring for my uncle as a way to keep both his and so many others’ legacies alive and remembered.
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues? I’m an avid reader as well as a social media addict, so most of my information comes from books, newspapers, and blogs – and from engaging in conversations with friends who are actively involved in LGBTQ issues. In addition, I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist for 12 years, so my faith provides sustenance as well as opportunities for social justice work and exposure to different viewpoints, especially those that might not be as widely known.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today? I’d have to say equality, in every sense of the word. We made great strides with the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA today (I’m writing this on the morning of this historic decision) but there is still much work to be done to make sure that everyone is afforded the same rights. That includes, in Pennsylvania, the right not to be fired from one’s job based on one’s sexual orientation. I also feel that the issue of bullying against LGBTQ youth is critical, as well as homeless LGBTQ youth.
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community, what would it be? I’m not sure, honestly. Greater acceptance and resources probably couldn’t hurt, right?
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? As I’ve gotten older (I’m 44), and as the celebrities of my childhood have started dying, I’ve really come to appreciate how groundbreaking some of the ‘70s and ‘80s TV shows were in this regard. Several characters on “All in the Family” come to mind (Beverly LaSalle, the football player, and others) and my favorite show of all time (still), “St. Elsewhere,” with their storyline and portrayal of AIDS. But, more to the point (and in answering the question), I’d have to go with Michael C. Hall’s wonderful portrayal of David Fisher in the fantastic “Six Feet Under.”
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? Be accepting. Speak out (and think before speaking). Show love.