Shawna on Her Unique Experience as a Lesbian in Indiana County #AMPLIFY

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.

You can read the other Q&A responses here.  AMPLIFY! LGBTQ is a project of Most Wanted Fine Art and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

LGBT Indiana County

Name: Shawna

Age: 43

Preferred Pronouns:  she/her

County of Residence: Indiana

How do you describe your identity? I am a lesbian.

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? My experience with realizing who I was and coming out was pretty daunting and it mortified me. Looking back, I didn’t want to be gay and I struggled with that fact. How I realized it was that I became attracted to a good friend of mine. This was after my divorce was final. In this process, as I stated in the last question, my friend Rich was my source of support. I think my main challenge was the stigma of society and how I would be treated as a lesbian as I lived in a tiny rural area.

How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? Now, I LOVE this part of myself. It may not define who I am but I feel it is the best part of me. This part of me is the activist, the advocate, and someone completely comfortable in my own skin.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I have known a few LGBTQ people throughout my life without much contact, however, the first person I actually met and became close with was my friend Rich. He was out and open about his sexuality and really made a difference in my life when I was questioning my own sexuality. I’m a late bloomer and didn’t realize this until I was around 35. Rich was a source of information, comfort, and really helped me talk through and come to terms with my being a lesbian.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Most of my information about the issues comes from news sites, Facebook, and I have Google Alerts set to all the different LGBTQ tags so I get constant updates via email. I try to stay informed in every way possible.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I don’t really have a favorite but I loved Will & Grace, Ellen, The L-Word, and Queer As Folk. I know these are pretty typical among the gay community but the way the characters were written and portrayed showed the complexities of being gay and trying to live normal lives, I think these shows gave the LGBTQ community “hero’s and heroines” to look up to. And also made our community more mainstream instead of keeping us locked in our closets.

Describe your geographical community. My geographical community is pretty rural.

Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. There is one community organization in Indiana (PA) geared toward the LGBTQ community and that is the Indiana Cares Campaign (of which I am Vice Chair). We try to make a difference in how our community is viewed within the larger town. We hold various events throughout the year, such as a spring dance and a bowling outing, and we host an LGBTQ film festival every October.

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. The only discrimination I have experienced has actually been on the campus at the local university. For most part, it is pretty welcoming but there are still a few homophobic people there. The school has come a long way in creating a safe and welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community but as with everywhere else, there is still work to be done.

Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) The specific community I live in, I don’t know too many of my neighbors but the ones I do know are extremely welcoming and supportive, which is awesome.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There are none that I am aware of in my specific geographical area. As far as Indiana (which is 7 miles away), the issues impacting our LGBTQ community is pretty typical of everywhere else.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I would like to see elected officials get involved and help us create a more visible community and help us educate people to realize that we are human just like they are. That we’re no different than anyone else just because we love someone the same sex as we are. And also to help us create a safer environment in the local schools for kids who are being bullied or afraid to come out.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Considering that I am an out and proud lesbian in my community and at work, I would share that even though everyone is different, we all contribute something good to society. At least that is how it’s supposed to work.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Our barriers here are no different than the barriers across the country.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? We have the Indiana Cares Campaign with a lot of great resources and a lot of activities throughout the year.

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That even with the strides we have made, things will go backwards.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Only for things to continue to get better and more accepting.

What motivated you to take part in this project? Why not? Everybody has a unique experience to share, why not share that experience with the world?

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I think you covered the questions pretty well

Thank you, Shawna.

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.

As of this post, we have featured LGBTQ voices from 11 out of 26 counties. We’d particularly like to reach the other 15 – please share this post with LGBTQ folks that you may personally know.

  • Armstrong
  • Bedford
  • Blair
  • Butler
  • Clarion
  • Clearfield
  • Elk
  • Forest
  • Jefferson
  • Indiana
  • Lawrence
  • Mercer
  • Somerset
  • Venango
  • Warren
Western Pennsylvania
Counties in pink are the 26 covered in this project
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