Our 30th Q&A features Tony, a 42-year-old gay man living in Pittsburgh. He’s originally from the Philly area. I’ve known Tony casually for several years. I like his politics, but I really like the way he interacts with other human beings.
County of Residence: Allegheny
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first homosexuals that I know I met as a kid were these 2 older girls from the neighborhood. Ann, would always make me call the other girl (whose first name I cannot recall) a lesbian, and that was funny to them. At that time I had no idea what they were talking about or what I was even saying. I liked them and it was fun to joke with them and to have them include me. They were both tomboys as it were, and they were always together, as I reflect on it they were a couple in secret from their parents for sure, I just didn’t know it then. Ann was even my babysitter for a while. At some point, I just didn’t see them anymore and have no memory about what happened. I was raised just outside of Philly, sent to catholic grade schools, understood homosexuality as wrong, but felt that the teaching wasn’t right. People are people and all were supposed to be loved by god, not picked lines from a book and man to judge others. My belief was brief because of the endless hypocrisy by literally everyone that ever spoke a word of god’s teachings. I guess an impact would have been that those young lesbian girls were awesome people who helped me understand later in life that everyone has the right to treated with kindness, respect, dignity and love. Most of all, however, everyone has the right to be exactly who they want to be without some bigoted dickshit’s false ownership of a god’s teachings.
How do you describe your identity? I first came out as gay to my mom and some cousins after years of closeted fear and built up anger lead to legal trouble. If someone made me angry, I would try and hurt them (this came out mostly with road rage, I sent many drivers off the road). Sometimes violence against individuals occurred, but another whole thing happened that finally lead to my coming out. It could have been a much worse situation if I didn’t still have a small moral compass deep in me. A line that could not be crossed. But enough happened that I was in deep trouble and could have fucked my life up for good.
After that legal trouble forced me to come out, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders, the rage was calmed immensely. I wrote a letter to my mom and cousins. Mom didn’t care, she just wanted me to be happy, that was it. I was in my mid twenties.
When I went to art school after all of this to restart my life I hid my identity for a bit, first saying I was bisexual them fully coming out after I knew the friends I had made were cool people.
Currently, I know I am a gay man, but, would not necessarily turn down something else if the situation came up. After dating a transman for several years, it sorta opens up things you didn’t realize before.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly the internet.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Not sure if I have a favorite in these genres. I enjoy so many different types of films, music, TV shows… to pick out certain people just because they are LGBTQ seems like limiting the options. If I am into a show, its not because there is a gay character, its because the show itself is good. There are plenty of lame things out there gay, straight or otherwise. Who is doing them should not matter, how good it is should.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? I can pass for straight. I don’t go to bars, clubs, bath houses, etc… I used to, but 99.9% of the reason was volunteer safe sex outreach. There is no interest for me to sit on stools all night killing my lungs with second hand smoke while killing my liver with booze hoping for some hot boy or transman to come along.
My being out is, “Hi, I’m Tony.” if they find out through conversation or other people that I’m gay. Cool. A lot of folks still don’t know after I’ve known them for over 10yrs. It just hasn’t come up and really doesn’t need to unless it has to. People are just people, everyone should be treated 100% equally in all facets of life. Who you have sex with should be the last damn thing anyone should even worry about and should not matter.
Describe your geographical community. The past was Philly, Camden and Pittsburgh suburbs. Now, the small urban area of Pittsburgh.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. It seems that Pittsburgh is fairly accepting. The community here is visible and known. There are plenty of homophobic people in Pittsburgh, but they mostly seem to keep that to themselves. But, its there if you listen carefully.
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 yet to myself, I’ve been waiting for that. Just so I can let off some steam.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Friendly to a point. Friends have been treated not so in this town. I did feel a little backlash from some staff at art school when something I found on the public server caused me to go address it with the administration. A training also came of it with my help and GLSEN. Some of the staff felt like their time was wasted, that meant to me that they needed to hear it. When the school president stops you before your graduation, shakes your hand and thanks you for all you did during the 4yrs you spent there making the lives of the student body better… fuck what the ignorant staff members thought.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There are some attacks that are small and do not make the news, harassment on buses, on the street and still in schools. Plenty of dialogue is still needed and always will be so long as some ass keeps saying things out of theirs.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? What I like to see is improvement in many areas. That is something many in the community don’t see. “Hey, lets vote for her, she supports us!”. Ok. well, what about her stance on the environment? Her lobby payoffs from big pharma? Her record on showing up for work? Her getting out of a DUI after an accident and people were hurt?… Everything matters.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. It is a community, and everyone in it matters. The money only matters if its helping. Parties, Joke Politics, race baiting, … dump it. Get organized with each other, sit at the table, make your plan, get out in the street and get things done. Holding grudges here just feeds the separations and helps the loons who are against us. Everyone matters.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? People’s stupidity, …education of equality and why is important.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? GLCC, PATF, Persad, Shepard Wellness, Alpha, the mayor, some judges, some elected officials, the activist community. There is a lot here if everyone communicates.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we slide backward with conservative elected officials.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That this question never has to asked again.
What motivated you to take part in this project? To just let some folks know who I am since I do not get out much. I was an activist staple in town for a while. Anti-Racist Action, Youth Empowerment Project, GLSEN, GSA at AIP, design work for the Thomas Merton Center, GLCC, shows at Roboto,… I just got burned out after a while… but I’m still here. I was behind the scenes a lot then. Folks may have known about me but I didn’t say much. So, just thought I’d use this opportunity to say some things and also thank those who did work before, then and continue to now.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer More history and personal inquiry. If you really want stories, that is the way to go. I tried to add a lot to some of these to make it more like that. Hopefully, its good enough.
Thanks, Tony. Definitely good enough.
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.