Today, we launch AMPLIFY LGBTQ – a new occasional series of blog posts designed to give a “signal boost” to the voices of our LGBTQ neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania. We are using a Q&A format and will mostly avoid editing their responses. The questions, however, may change as we ask each participant to tell us what we’ve missed asking. It is one of the vibrant elements of a blog format – evolution & growth.
Our intent is to highlight the voices of marginalized members of our community who are not always invited to the table or whose voices are not heard (because “we” are not listening?) Obviously, my choice of questions does shape the conversation, but beyond that – these are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices. If you would like to participate, please email me pghlesbian at gmail.
Tara is organizing Pittsburgh’s first [email protected] PrideFest on June 5 and 6. She’s also done lots of amazing things to celebrate Latina culture in Pittsburgh through her organization Cafe Con Leche. I am very honored to feature her in our first AMPLIFY LGBTQ profile.
Name: Tara Sherry-Torres
County of Residence: Allegheny
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I honestly don’t remember the first out LGBTQ person I ever met. I grew up in NYC so I suppose I always exposed to all kinds of people.
At the age of 8 I do remember the big fight to let openly gay individuals march in the St. Patrick Day parade. I remember feeling very strongly about how ridiculous it was to exclude someone from marching in a parade just because they were gay. My (catholic) grandmother made some type of anti-gay comment when this story came on the news and I checked her right quick. I told her it was not ok to say those things and that people have the right to be who they are. And that if people want to show their Irish pride then they should be able to march. It was a very strong conviction.
I guess I have always just been a big gay advocate lol.
How do you describe your identity? I am queer. I am femme. (But I don’t have “gay face”)
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mainstream and other news media. My partner is good at keep me updated on current events as well.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? So cliche, but I love The L Word. For all it’s faults. When I was binge watching it I used to refer to them as “my best friends”. I don’t know if I have a favorite character.
Love Angel from the Broadway play “Rent”. Being Puerto Rican myself I related to him. There was so much about his character that resonated with me, though we didn’t seem to have a lot in common. I often wondered what his family was like (as a character, if someone wrote about his family). You just don’t see a lot of Latino LGBTQIA characters on anything.
Also Pedro Zamora from the Real World. His story has a huge impact on me.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? I’m out and proud! Never was a question about being “out” if I was in a same-sex relationship.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. Being from NYC I grew up going to Pride from the age of 13. My junior high school was in Chelsea (the big gayborhood of NYC). I was always around gay/trans people doing gay/Trans things working on gay/Trans issues. You just can’t avoid it in NYC, it’s all around you!
Now I live in Pittsburgh. When I first moved here I interned with GLSEN and focused on the trans community. I very quickly found the “queer/trans” community in Pittsburgh. But I think that was unique to my experience. Pittsburgh is nowhere near as gay as NYC. And issues of intersectionality are not addressed. The segregation and racism in the city is crushing and the impact on the LGBTQIA community is huge. It’s unfortunate that Pride in Pittsburgh is not universally owned like it is I other major cities, it’s really unfortunate that pretty much all the LGBTQIA groups/organizations in Pittsburgh have no funds (save for one, and they own Pride, which is just disappointing).
I often miss just being able to be gay in a gay city with gayborhoods and normalcy. I will say that I feel safe holding my partner’s hand walking down the street (for the most part), so I know it could be a lot worse.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity in a job setting? How about in terms of being served by a business? Please explain. I don’t “look gay”, so this would not happen to be unless I engaged in outward behavior that showed I was gay. The other day my partner and I were ignored by a bartender, pretty sure it’s cuz we were gay.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Like I said, I feel safe and welcome in Pittsburgh. There are places we go that we need to have a quick check in to say “verified or not verified?”. If one of us says “not verified” then we don’t hold hands or anything physical. But the majority of times we feel verified.
I have heard some homophobic stuff said in my presence (not at me) by people of color (black and latino) which is my other community. So it’s unfortunate that “my own people” are the ones where I feel least verified around. Me and my partner would never be able to go to Puerto Rico and act like a couple in any way. That is pretty standard if we traveled anywhere in Latin America, which makes me sad of course.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think LGBTQIA people aging is a big issue people aren’t addressing. Also the real need of LGBTQIA adults needing to care for their parents. Both these experiences are very isolating and for people who are already a part of an “unseen” population this has a double impact. I would if there are resources that are geared towards to people dealing with these things?
Intersectionality, especially when it comes to class and race is something else. I think people are starting to talk about it, but not enough. And especially not the people who should actually be talking about it.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I always say, put culture and identity at the center of development. Stop inviting us to the table and let us do the inviting.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. Lesbians have good sex.
That being gay/trans is one part of who you are, but your race/class/education have much more to do with your upward mobility and access to resources.
Pride is a universal concept that we all own. It’s not one time party hosted by one organization that costs $8764765 to get in.
LGBTQIA organizations in Southwestern Pa need to be better funded.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Having resources and services that take into account the intersectionality of a person’s life. Also that reproductive/medical services become better at serving the LGBTQIA community.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? GLCC. They have a call line that I used to volunteer for, amazing some of the calls you would get. PATF.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we will not deal with racism and class.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we will grow as region. That there will be a gayborhood. More and diverse prides. Love for Queer POC.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Love this question! Can’t think of anything else I would ask. But will let you know if so 🙂
Thank you, Tara! For more information on Cafe Con Leche and Tara’s work, visit their website.
We are especially interested in amplifying the voices of queer and trans women of color as well as individuals who live outside of Allegheny County, but in Western Pennsylvania. You can complete the survey here. Please be sure to read the questions carefully as there is certain information we must collect.