AMPLIFY LGBTQ is 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 or visit the online Q&A.
CJ found our Q&A via a friend and responded on his own. I hadn’t previously considered how the experiences of someone who is a PT resident of Western PA might offer a unique perspective, but of course it does. He is the first person to squarely address the concept of “going stealth” and what that costs him.
County of Residence: Allegheny (part-time)
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My Aunt Barb, a lesbian, has been a part of my life from the moment I was born. She and her now wife, Aunt Robin, have always been a part of the family.
How do you describe your identity? I self-identify as a straight transman.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly through the internet, particularly what my friends and family post on Facebook.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I think my favorite literary character is Fast Eddie from the Callahan books by Spider Robinson. My favorite television characters are Bo and Lauren from “Lost Girl”, and Myka and HG from “Warehouse 13”. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any film characters that fall on the spectrum.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? It depends on where I am geographically. I currently teach school in rural Alaska, so when I’m there I live pretty much stealth. I’ve come out to a few of my fellow teachers, but that’s it. In contrast, when I’m in Pittsburgh, I’m more open. While I don’t go shouting it from the hilltops, I don’t make as much of an effort to hide it.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve even become aware of the fact that Pittsburgh has an LGBTQ community. In high school, I knew of the GLCC, but didn’t actually visit the place until I was out of grad school. Most of my contact with the community has been through organizations like Persad, the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and the Garden of Peace Project.
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. While I’ve never been directly discriminated against, I have heard coworkers say things that are homo- and transphobic. Sometimes I call them out, sometimes I don’t. The biggest discrimination I’ve encountered is the fact that many employers still don’t list sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression in their non-discrimination policies. I try to steer clear of employment in those places, but sometimes they are the ones that make an offer. Then I have to decide if being stealth is worth the money.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Having never been outright discriminated against, for a long time I thought that I lived in a very LGBT-friendly community. A few years ago, I became aware that my experiences were NOT the norm; several friends and coworkers from the organizations I mentioned above have told me stories of discrimination and harassment that make me realize I am incredibly fortunate.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? One big issue that I’ve become aware of recently is the lack of supports for those that are uninsured, people of color, transgender, or some combination thereof.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians?
- A comprehensive employment non-discrimination policy
- Better access to appropriate health care, both mental and physical
- More education materials available for everyone
- Push for more comprehensive sex ed programs in schools that include topics such as the different types of sexuality, what it means to be trans, etc.
- Change the policies around changing gender markers on birth certificates (currently must have had surgery, something not everyone wants or can afford)
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I got my hair cut short when I was 11. From that point on, when I went out in public it was a toss up whether strangers thought I was a boy or a girl. Stares and whispers would often follow me, and on more than one occasion I would hear someone refer to me as “it” or “he-she”. Several times people would straight up ask if I was a boy or a girl.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think that, in the end, every barrier boils down to a lack of understanding, willful or otherwise.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad, GLCC, the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, the Garden of Peace Project, the Internet
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That someone who has no idea of the struggles faced by the community (or just doesn’t care) makes changes to policies that negatively impact it.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we can get to a point where everyone, regardless of race, social class, income, gender assigned at birth, or sexuality, has access to the resources that they need in order to live comfortably.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I can’t think of any.
Thank you, CJ.
If you would like to participate in a future Q&A, please visit our survey or contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.
Good news – AMPLIFY is going on the road this summer. We’ll be traveling to some Western PA events where you can meet with us face to face to complete the Q&A or learn more. Upcoming events include:
- July 19 at Butler PFLAG Pride Picnic
- July 26 at Pittsburgh Black Pride BBQ
- August 16 at Westmoreland PFLAG Pride Picnic
- August 29 at Erie Pride
- October TBA Johnstown Halloween Parade