The Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival returns for it’s sixth season this weekend. We caught up with Judy Meiksin yesterday to learn more about the event. Today, we’ll talk with one of the authors, Staci Backauskus. You can read our interview with director Ted Hoover from last year.
The festival runs the first two weekends in June on the third floor of Bricolage Theater on Liberty Avenue.
Tell Us a Little About Yourself.
I am a storyteller at heart and have been sharing real ones and making up others my whole life. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and when I couldn’t find a job after graduation, I moved to West Palm Beach, FL and then to NYC. After 15 years in Manhattan, I left my corporate job to finish writing my first novel in 1998.
I’ve worked as a professional writer for the last 16 years and have written everything from books and blogs to marketing materials and feature stories. I moved to Tampa, FL in 2002 and spent ten years there before coming to Pittsburgh to visit my mom for the summer in 2012. Life conspired to make me stay and I fell in love with the Burgh.
In the last couple of years, I’ve acted and performed stand-up around town, had my seventh book published (Out Your ego! Transformation Publishing 2013), built a new relationship with my mother and spent a lot of time immersing myself in the incredible theater and arts world here.
I work for the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical School as a Standardized Patient, as well as for Marsh Professional Simulators doing similar work. I give tours of the city for Molly’s Trolleys and usher at the Carnegie Music Hall. This June I have a play being produced at the Pittsburgh Pride Theater Festival and start graduate school in the fall at Point Park to earn an MFA in stage and screen writing. The life I’ve developed for myself here is so rich – the friends I’ve made, the old connections that have been surfaced, the professional life I’m creating. Coming home was the best decision I never made!
Tell us about the very first LGBTQ person that you met and what that relationship or encounter meant for you:
I know now that I met several gay people during my time at Duquesne University, but didn’t know it. I’m not sure they did either, but they certainly weren’t out. The first relationship I had with a gay person was my roommate, Lee, in West Palm Beach. I was in the middle of a horrible situation, living with three people, including my ex-boyfriend. In addition, one of the roommates was my business partner and I was in the process of extricating myself from the business.
I saw an ad for an apartment in the Palm Beach Post and made an appointment. After hearing my sob story, Lee stood up, went to his credenza, pulled out a baggie and a pair of scissors and said, “Honey, you need to get stoned.” We became the best of friends. I honestly feel he saved my life.
That summer, I came home one evening after work and he had a Cheshire cat smile on his face. “There’s something for you in the garage,” he grinned. I opened the door off the kitchen and found a brand new bike with a giant pink ribbon on it. “I know you love to ride,” he said hugging me. “And I wanted to make sure you had a bike.”
After I moved to NYC, we kept in touch and at one point I grew concerned when I couldn’t reach him. There were no cell phones in 1987 and he wasn’t responding to my messages. A few weeks later I was so relieved when he called. Then he told me what had happened. Evidently, the whole time we lived together he was HIV positive. Three weeks earlier, his doctor told him he had AIDS and he experienced a psychotic break. He told me he believed he was Jesus Christ, made quite a scene at his job and the police had Baker Acted him, placing him a mental hospital for 48 hours. He ended up staying there for a couple of weeks and was now taking meds to help with the fear and anxiety.
A few months later, I got a call from his boyfriend, Alan, telling me Lee had been taken to Hospice. I got on a plane as soon as I could but he literally died at the exact time I touched down in West Palm Beach.
Lee’s family had never accepted his sexual orientation and lifestyle and served Alan notice they would be evicting him as soon as the will was probated. I was glad I was there to help him pack and find a new place. We cried and laughed going through pictures and Lee’s things, and we realized Lee waited to go until I arrived so there was someone there to support Alan. Lee has always been my guardian angel, now he just does it from the other side.
How do you stay informed on LGBTQ issues?
Where I get all of my important news – Facebook! Seriously, I do obtain quite a bit of information there. From Pages like Equality Florida and Equality Pennsylvania to friends who share news stories and petitions, I learn something new every day. I also visit www.Rainbow411.com, which keeps me up to date on news and listen to GSHRadio.com, an online radio station based in Florida. Their weekly show on Wednesdays is treasure trove of information on what is going on the community nationally and internationally.
What is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community today?
Awareness and acceptance – of our own prejudices within the community and of each other. I see a lot of segregation within the community. To be honest, I’ve joked for years that it ought to be LGTQB because bisexuals are on the bottom of the totem pole. I loved the show Tyra Banks did a few years back where she created an LGBTQ Kingdom. Even though it was reality TV, I think it was accurate in its depiction of the hierarchy.
2014 is the 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. What does Stonewall represent to you personally?
Stonewall represents the strength and commitment that exists within the community underneath all of the petty BS. It demonstrates what is possible when people get together and say in unity, “This is not acceptable.” We see that to some degree with the marriage issue now, but again, I think there is a divisive current that goes unacknowledged and that is why we still find ourselves fighting for anything.
What is the the biggest strength and the biggest challenge for Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community?
The biggest strength is our numbers. There are a lot of us who fit under the community umbrella. The challenge is unifying the numbers into something cohesive, developing a strategy for what we, as a community, want to achieve in this world and deciding how best to do it. A lot of the time the community is reacting – to law, to perceptions, to behavior. We are not as proactive as we could be and I think it’s because we don’t focus enough on how to become aware of and take responsibility for our own prejudices within the community so we can work through them. Doing this is the only way I see for us to be strong and kind, which is an unbeatable combination, and to pave a smoother way for those who will come after us.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in literature, television, film, stage, etc?
Nan Astley, the heroine in Sarah Waters’ novel Tipping the Velvet. Her curiosity, courage and willingness to let go of all she thought she was so she could become who she is inspires me to do the same.
What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community?
Be aware of your thoughts around those who are different from you. If you’re a gay man, be aware of what is in your mind when you meet someone who is transgender or bi-sexual. Or if you’re a lesbian, what thoughts pop up when you’re in a room full of gay men or you encounter a drag queen? What are you telling yourself about them? We all judge. It comes with the territory of being human. But until we can be honest with ourselves, and eventually others, about what that looks like, it drives our behavior without us even knowing it. When you recognize your prejudices, now you have the power to change them.
June 5-7 & 12-13, 2014Performance Days/Times: Thursday, June 5: 8:00 PM
Friday, June 6: 8:00 PM
Saturday, June 7: 4:00 PM & 8:00 PM
Thursday, June 12: 8:00 PM
Friday, June 13: 8:00 PM Tickets: Thursday Nights and Saturday matinee: $15
Friday and Saturday nights:$20 (Group sales [20+]: $15/ticket) Venue:937 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh PA, 15222 (3rd floor) Reservations: Call 412-256-8109 or Email your request PPTF13@gmail.com