Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
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 minimize 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.
I first met Brandon about eight years ago when he was a grad student in search of a field placement as a social worker. I was struck by his determination to devote his professional work to the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, my agency only had very generalized placements so we weren’t a good fit. We’ve kept in casual touch over the years, but reconnected earlier this month over a transphobic situation involving a local restaurant. We were able to arrange a meeting with the restaurant owners and that’s when Brandon did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen – during a conversation about the process of changing a driver’s license and other forms of ID in Pennsylvania, he pulled out his current license. And his old license with his old name and gender marker. He slid them across the table to these people he had never before met, people who were absolutely going to scrutinize every detail as part of their education process. And he did it without hesitation. He answered questions about how his current photo resembled his old photo, whether that mean he could be perceived as his own sister and so forth. He chose to take on that dialogue to make a larger point.
Name: Brandon Harper
Preferred Pronouns: He/Him
County of Residence: Allegheny/Fayette
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? First one I met was as a senior in high school. There was one bisexual cis-female and one lesbian cis-female. They approached me together to introduce themselves because they had an accurate feeling I would accept them without judgement. I did find their introductions odd, because they introduced themselves with their sexual orientation. I just thought it was an odd way to introduce oneself. I understood they were probably testing me. They looked up to me because I had a little argument during homeroom that morning with the principal about freedom of religion. The hall was empty when it happened, but somehow word got around quickly about my convo with the principal. lol. It was a public school, and there was a double-standard about Jehovah Witnesses not having to stand for the pledge, but the principal felt even though I was Wiccan, I should still stand. I had stayed seated and he called me into the hall. I knew my rights. The two girls who approached me said they were Wiccan too. We became friends. I think I impacted their life more than vise versa.
How do you describe your identity? Effeminate Gay Transgender Male I also enjoy performing as a Drag King (Brandon McQueen) or Drag Queen (Miss Brenda Pickagenda).
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Friends and Facebook.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Angel in RENT. Prior Walter in Angels in America. I have a thing for flamboyant Queens.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? Very out. I give presentations at various universities, counseling conferences, and others about being transgender. Many people in society get sexual orientation these days, but transgender still eludes them. Visibility needs to increase.
Describe your geographical community. Both. I resided in Fayette county (Connellsville/Uniontown) from 4th grade through sophomore year in college, I consider it home, my family of choice. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh too. All my blood relatives live in Pittsburgh. I wish I could teleport to make the commute easier and faster.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. Large and intimate. It’s never 6 degrees of separation, it’s more like 2 degrees if that. I recall performing my first drag king show in Uniontown, and the next day people in Westmoreland, Pittsburgh, and Morgantown knew about the entire performance. The bar wasn’t that full that night. I was amazed.
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. Not in a job setting. I have been very fortunate. Once at the Denny’s in Uniontown though, I was with two friends, and they would not serve us our food. We saw it sitting in the kitchen, waiting for the waitress to bring it to us but it sat there getting cold. So we walked out.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) I would say it is friendly in the entire region. Uniontown has a well-known LGBTA bar/club I frequent. I love watching or taking part in the weekend drag shows and burning up the dance floor. I wish I could live there. Everyone knows your name. Many of my high school friends and more go there. It’s not big or too small. It’s just right. And Uniontown is a rural area. I feel safe there.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There are no anti-discrimination protections in Fayette or Westmoreland counties. Only in Allegheny. So I’ve had friends lost jobs when they came out. Some of them tried to fight it with ACLU, but there are no protections.I have other friends afraid of coming out in Fayette, for fear of getting hurt physically, so even going to the doctor’s office is stressful for them.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Anti-discrimination clauses everywhere in the state. Have LGBTIA issues part of basic education, like race and economic class are. More out trans individuals in elected offices with more visibility. Add trans surgeries to health insurances without higher copays.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. Just because I am transgender does not mean I know every transgender person in the region. People often think that since I am a trans-guy, that I know more about the trans-men lived experiences, that’s actually not true. I have many friends and acquaintances who are trans-men, but more tend to be trans-women; my closer friendships tend to be with trans-women. Many individuals will assume I know All the drag queens and transgender individuals in the area. I do not. The community is much bigger than anyone seems to realize. Think cosmos large. You only see some planets and stars, but most things are not easily visible to human eyes.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Lack of education in schools, bullying, insurance issues in obtain trans-healthcare like hormones, hormone blockers, and surgeries. Lack of doctors in the region who are competent in LGBTIA issues, and lack of surgeons in the area. For being known for our hospitals, it’s pathetic that we have no surgeons who perform trans-surgeries here. Due to an inner-ear disorder, I’m limited on my travel ability.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? GLCC, Persad Center, Pittsburgh PFLAG
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? The lack of Anti-discrimination policies. I never understood discriminating towards general groups of people. How can one generalize some characteristics of one person to an entire population… every human being is different. We are all unique and should be celebrated for our diversity and not judged. Judge a person by their behavior towards others and living creatures, not their individual characteristics, assumed or otherwise.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Complete acceptance and immersion.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I am an advocate. It is my calling, and I have made a name for myself through educating others.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Maybe asking about most influential experience with the LGBT community. My first experience was not my most influential. My first drag show was, it’s where I had my epiphany of who I am.
Thank you, Brandon.
If you would like to participate in this Q&A series, please visit our online form. You can also email pghlesbian at gmail dot com to participate. We welcome voices from across the community – everyone has a story to tell.