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.
Meg reached out to us after reading other Q&A’s on Facebook. I don’t know them personally, but I was very taken with their robust description of life in rural Pennsylvania as a queer person. Meg’s description of radical vulnerablity as a tool for community building and transparency flies in the face of the tropes of stoic rugged rural residents and that’s impressive.
County of Residence: temporarily living in Allegheny County, lived in Washington County for 25 years and will be returning there at the end of this year
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I think the first LGBTQ person I met was a teacher when I was in middle school. I don’t recall if she was publicly out or not; what I do remember is that people said a lot of nasty things about her, but she was always very kind to me. Knowing that this person was gay and was successful in the community made me feel like I could start to honor my sexuality and still work toward my ambitions too.
How do you describe your identity? I am a country queer. I grew up in rural generational poverty and now identify as working class. I consider myself to be femme and identify as disabled, as I am living with chronic and mental illness.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I mainly utilize social media, blogs, magazines, and newspapers for staying informed about LGBTQ issues. I am also a social worker who provides service coordination for LGBTQ youth. So, I stay informed through my work, as well.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I like a lot of characters in young adult fiction books, like Annie on My Mind, Deliver Us from Evie, Born Confused, The Rose of No Man’s Land, and Girl Walking Backwards.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? It’s…complicated. I first came out as bisexual to a friend at age 16 and didn’t really come out to the rest of my friends and family until I was 19 or 20. I’ve never been out at work until very recently; I had always felt the need to hide my identity on the job. I guess I would say that I am out for the most part. I don’t keep my identity a secret, but I am by nature a relatively private person.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. I am temporarily living in the southern part of Allegheny County, where I can easily access the LGBTQ community in the city of Pittsburgh. Many events and spaces are centered around alcohol use, though, which doesn’t appeal to me. Back home, in Washington County, I don’t really feel like I’m part of the LGBTQ community mainly because I don’t know where to find the community there.
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 was once told by a restaurant manager in Tennessee that they “don’t serve faggots” and was denied service. I’ve had comments made to me about my size as a fat person by staff members in several chain clothing stores. I also endured ongoing verbal and physical harassment for several months by a group of white heterosexual men and women when I was attending college.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) I only go where I feel welcomed and safe. That being said, I travel relatively easily throughout most of my community. I think I can most likely attribute that to my being white and often being read as straight due to my usual gender presentation. There are few spaces where I feel unsafe, but I don’t frequent those places on principle. I have found many folks to be welcoming, friendly, and accepting (not simply tolerant) of who I am as a queer person. I think that having a lived history and familial ties here serves to my advantage, as well.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Many of my LGBTQ neighbors are facing destruction of their land, property, and homes due to natural resource extraction, namely hydraulic fracturing and longwall mining. I don’t think the connection is often made between the wellness and safety of LGBTQ folks and the environmental impact of these processes, but as a queer person who has been forced out of their home community because of this phenomenon, the connection is clear to me. The rich cultural heritage of rural LGBTQ communities is rapidly being depleted, and I think that this is often not part of the local dialogue.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I’d like to see elected officials actively push for legislation that prohibits discrimination in employment, education, housing, and access to relevant health care for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. I’d like to see elected officials advocate for families and community members who have been negatively impacted by natural resource extraction. I’d also like to see more support for consumer-directed and peer-led social services, especially in the mental health realm.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. If someone tells you that you should or need to leave your community (especially if it’s a rural community or a small town) in order to feel safe and worthy as an LGBTQ person, they are NOT an ally.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Poverty and homelessness are huge barriers for LGBTQ folks in Washington County and neighboring Greene County. I think that lack of access to higher education, sustainable employment, and knowledgeable health care providers are barriers, as well. I also feel that biphobia still runs deep in our community, and it negatively impacts folks like me who don’t fall neatly into the dichotomous categories of gay or straight.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? In Washington County, there is the Gay Straight Alliance, PERSAD, and PFLAG. There are a lot of great resources online, as well.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear is that we will remain divisive along lines of race, class, (dis)ability, and geographic location. I am most concerned about LGBTQ youth in rural areas of Western PA, as there is not a strong system of support and access to formal resources like there is in more urban areas.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My hope is that we can learn to celebrate and respect our differences and focus on our strengths and assets as LGBTQ community members. I hope that we can continue to learn from one another’s experiences and use what we learn from each other to create healthier, happier, safer communities for ourselves, our families, and our friends.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. How has living in Western PA shaped your understanding of queer community? My answer: Living in Western PA has taught me that kinship is the glue that holds these communities together. If, as a queer person in this region, you can’t locate queer community, you can build it.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I believe that storytelling is an effective conduit for connecting marginalized people, building relationships, promoting authenticity, and encouraging collaboration. Also, I am personally trying to engage in efforts of radical vulnerability in order to make myself more transparent to my community.
Thank you, Meg.
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 11 Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March
- July 19 at Butler PFLAG Pride Picnic
- July 26 at Pittsburgh Black Pride BBQ
- August 14 at Washington County GSA Summer Picnic
- August 16 at Westmoreland PFLAG Pride Picnic
- August 29 at Erie Pride
- October TBA Johnstown Halloween Parade