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.
For perspective, here’s a map of the counties of Western PA.
You can read the other Q&A responses here.
Twist responded to my general call for people to complete the Q&A. I was immediately struck by the fact that they grew up in Greene County (lower right hand corner of Southwestern PA) and now live just outside of Pittsburgh.
County of Residence: Allegheny — grew up in Greene
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBTQ person I met was probably a teacher I had in middle school. My mother had gone to school with her, and I heard a lot of nasty things said about her being gay. However, she was one of the most supportive teachers I ever had.
Then there was one of my peers, S, who was out-and-proud in our 4,000 person town. It was a big deal, especially because she was a really charismatic person, and everyone loved her. Her ability to be out in early high school is probably what gave me the courage to be out in that town, as well.
How do you describe your identity? I am afab nonbinary and somewhere between pansexual and lesbian. I also describe myself as neuroqueer, a term meant to express the intersection of my LGBT identity and my identity as a metally/cognitively disabled person.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Social media, primarily. Having connections with people in my community serve as a much better informer than any mainstream media outlet or single blog.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I want to say Shane or Max from the L Word, because they were some of the first people I fell in love with in media. Or Annie from Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind. Or Valerie from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Right now, I’m pretty into Nomi, a trans woman hacker, from Netflix’s Sense8, or her girlfriend, Amanita.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? Complicated. I am cis and straight passing. My primary partner is a trans man who is “stealth,” so most of the time, my identity is kind of invisible to most people. At the same time, I feel like most people assume I’m gay unless I say otherwise. In spaces where I am comfortable, however, I talk about my identities openly.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. So, I will answer this in kind of few ways. I grew up outside of Waynesburg, PA, in Greene County. Put simply, there wasn’t an LGBTQ community there. I worked hard trying to start a GSA in my high school, and while I had student support, parents worked against me, and teachers were too afraid of parents and administration to lend their support. I think most LGBTQ people leave because it’s an absolutely hostile environment. That has only been reinforced by a recent bout of homelessness, which forced me to return to stay with my parents. Returning their as an LGBTQ adult felt absolutely dangerous.
I’ve made it back to Pittsburgh, though, and right now the community feels splintered, and for good reason. I feel like Pittsburgh has a bad case of Gay Inc– that meaning that our mainstream LGBTQ community is controlled by cisgay white men of wealth. And I’m glad to see the splintering happening over that, because TQPOC leadership in our community is so important.
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 have experienced discrimination based on my disabilities in school and job settings, but not based on my LGBTQ status. However, I’ve been street harassed plenty for being LGBTQ.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) I’m living in Wilkinsburg right now, and I thought we were pretty progressive. However, my LGBTQ roommates did get street harassed last night. So now, I’m not so sure.
Waynesburg was ridiculously discriminatory. There is a chance that LGBTQ people might escape outright abuse and violence, there, but be prepared to live with constant microagressions and religious bigotry.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There isn’t a dialogue in Waynesburg. We need to be talking about how to protect LGBTQ youth from their families. Whether they’re being abused at home or kicked out, or more commonly, forced into the closet at home and driven to drugs, alcohol, and self-harm to cope. We need to be talking about bullying in schools. We need to talk about harm reduction and mental health support. We need to be talking about LGBTQ inclusive sex education. But all anybody wants to talk about in Waynesburg is Soddom and Gammorah.
I have seen too many of the people I grew up with OD or end up living with abusive partners to escape that toxicity. We need to be talking about protecting LGBTQ youth from their parents and their community.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? We need to pass HB304, which mandates coverage of transgender care by health insurance. We need housing and employment protection that covers gender identity as well as sexual orientation. We need hate crime legislation. And we need to make mental health care and homeless services more available to LGBTQ youth. We need to ban conversion therapy and the gay and trans panic defense.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Homelessness, while often borne of discrimination, is extra difficult for transgender individuals. Even shelters that purport to house trans women often turn them away for not being “passable” enough. We need affordable housing. Poverty is extremely common in our community. We also need trans sensitive mental health care. I know we have Persad, here in Pittsburgh, but more of the other clinics need to be more knowledgeable. We also need trauma-informed healthcare providers. We need low-cost higher education where LGBTQ discrimination isn’t rampant (try being openly trans on a CCAC campus, it’s not fun).
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? In Waynesburg, there is Centerville Clinic, which has a few LGBTQ-positive clinicians.
In Pittsburgh, there is Persad, Metro Community Health Center, Community Human Services, UPMC Shadyside, and many others. Those are just some of the more well-known, formal supports, which I have personally had experience with.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I am afraid for LGBTQ youth, especially LGBTQ youth from families in poverty. I want them to have more options, more places to go, more community support. I am afraid that without it, we will continue to see disproportionate suicidality and substance abuse problems in our young people.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I hope that we can work together to make our communities safer.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer How can white, allosexual, cisgender LGB people make the community safer for POC, asexual, intersex, and trans and nobinary people?
Thank you, Twist.
If you would like to participate in a future Q&A, please visit our survey or contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.