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.
For perspective, here’s a map of the counties of Western PA.
I’ve known Gina for a few years. She has opted not to submit a photo (which is fine for this project.) We’ve had some thoughtful conversations about her experiences as a bisexual woman in this region. I found her answers both eye-opening and sad at the same time. It is humbling to be reminded how many of us are isolated even in our own communities.
County of Residence: Allegheny
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Well the first that I knew of (there may have been others I did not know of) was my boyfriend my senior year. We met at a Christian Rock concert and his family pushed for us to date. He always held my hand and kissed my cheek but never was interested in anything else. As a good ‘Christian’ girl, I was relieved he didn’t pressure me, but as a human being, I kept thinking something was wrong with me because he didn’t at least try. His family pushed for us to do things together alone constantly. A semester into my freshman year of college, he introduced me to his best friend, a very obviously gay older man – even with my religious blinders on, I couldn’t help but realize that there was no way I could have been dating a guy for almost a year and he had a gay best friend I had never met that whole time. I confronted him and his family. And though neither admitted per se, I remember his mother telling me that they thought I was the kind of woman that could ‘make’ him happy.!!! Sadly that was not the first time I saw this scenario play out in my life – mostly among friends – who were pushed/tricked/strongly encouraged to get into a relationship or marriage with a person who was obviously gay who didn’t want to come out or whose family wanted them to be turned ‘back’.
How do you describe your identity? I am a bisexual white woman, identifying as a woman from birth.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Nationally (and internationally) I read Huffington Post’s Gay Voices and locally I read Pittsburgh Lesbian Bloggers and various other articles that catch my eye related to LGBTQ issues.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I really don’t have anyone I can think of off hand. I’m sure I’ve watched and read of characters but literally I am drawing a blank as to favorites. I think I actually don’t think oh they are gay or lesbian, etc. I just like a character or I don’t.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? I am quietly out. I am in a relationship with someone who believes she cannot be out because of a problematic ‘old-school’ parent situation at this point. But I have no qualms sharing that I have dated both men and women to people. Most of my close friends and some of my family members know that I am bisexual. I share it as it comes up organically, or when I think someone will benefit from knowing about this – to open their mind, etc. But I am also aware that it can be used against me (and has been) so try to balance living my truth and sharing (or not sharing) with those who can handle/will benefit from/are worthy of knowing my personal biz.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. I am not really involved with it physically – moreso through my reading to keep myself in tune with current issues of the day. This has more to do with a busy work schedule than anything else though.
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 brought my girlfriend to a work event months ago – and within a month noticed some negative work interaction which initially I connected to challenges at work for a lot of departments and people being stressed, etc. – but my girlfriend thought it might have been connected to my bringing her to the event in the public role of my girlfriend. On the surface, it didn’t seem like it was connected to that, but many who work at this business are old-school religious, so there may be some truth to her viewpoint. But I just kept my focus on work and limit my interaction with any negative coworkers – which wasn’t too hard since I am so busy anyways. Things seemed to have calmed down since then.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) I think on some levels, there is a lot of support, but it seems there is a disconnect within the community. Also the local news seems to need to take a lesson on how to handle LGBTQ terms/news coverage.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think the lack of our local media even knowing proper terminology affects any kind of public dialogue about LGTBQ issues and concerns.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Take workshops to understand terminology – and then to provide more employment protections.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. As for the bisexual community – I never really hear of this as a community – as tho being this means I’m kind of not one or the other. I also don’t necessarily feel I am welcome in the ‘community’ at-large because I sometimes get the sense that being bisexual means I’m just ‘afraid’ to come out as a lesbian – when that is not the case at all. As though I’m trying to take ‘advantage’ of both sides or something. I think there are more shades of grey than people realize in our sexuality. No one has said anything specifically negative to me – but maybe it’s the lack of interaction or representation of this specific community that leads me to believe this.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Just like with all of society – LGBTQ touches all divides, all races, all socio-economic layers, all ages. But I don’t think that is represented well both inside the community and outside.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? I know there is Persad, and other LGBTQ-supportive organizations, but I don’t know them from personal experience.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? In-judging. I don’t see as much acceptance of those in the community by other parts of the LGBTQ community. It’s rather strange – for example, gay male friends who were judging Caitlyn Jenner – and I was like ‘what?’
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Well probably the same as for the LGBTQ community in general – more acceptance from those without AND those within. I’ve seen discriminating concerns happen from both.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Well maybe a current event question just to get the pulse of the community’s opinion/trend about something, like Delta Foundation & Iggy Azalea or Caitlin Jenner, or even gay marriage just to get a finger on the pulse of current thought processes in the community. But otherwise, can’t think of anything.
Thank you, Gina.