County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: She/her/hers
How do you describe your identity? I usually identify as bisexual, but I’ll go with queer from time to time.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? It was honestly surprising. I came out at the beginning of my senior year of college (roughly two months after I came out to myself) and almost no one at my school was surprised. They said that it wasn’t that they had previously thought I was bisexual, but rather that it just kinda made sense (whatever that means). Even my friends who were more conservative or come from stricter religions had no problem with me coming out. I was really fortunate. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it honestly wasn’t that so many people would be cool with me. They took the news better than I did!
My family took the news a bit differently. That’s not to say that they took it poorly – my mom wasn’t thrilled but she made it clear that she still loved me and my dad was fine-but it certainly didn’t feel the same as when I told my friends. Telling my extended family has been a challenge. To this day, I’ve only directly mentioned it to two people. I have no idea who knows anymore. For a while I liked it that way (if we’re not talking about it, I don’t have to deal with any negativity), but that’s getting harder to deal with these days.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? You know that person at Pride who wears the bisexual t-shirt and uses a rainbow flag as a cape? That was literally me this year! I am SUPER out about being black, female, and bi. hey blend together and make up who I am, so I’m going to talk about them and how they blend together and intersect and make up my life. Plus, I’m working on getting ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, so the more out I am, the more others can see that Christianity doesn’t have to be defined by words like “white” or “homophobic” or “patriarchal”. I aim to be a living witness.
The tricky thing (as I said before) is with my family. I’m engaged and I honestly don’t know how many people know that it’s to a woman. I don’t know how they’re going to react, but I’m not the same person I was when I came out nearly a decade ago. I’m nervous, but I also know that I’m stronger than their nonsense.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I feel like I knew a bunch of LGBTQ people growing up, but I didn’t know that I knew them. When I did find out, I was pretty amazed because A) it gave me a new respect for my parents and showed me that they thought being queer was okay and B) it was a real life example of people just living their lives and being themselves. The queer part never came up until my dad eventually told me, but it also didn’t feel like this deep dark secret I wasn’t supposed to know. It showed me that to be queer isn’t to look a certain way or to dress a certain way or to fit a certain set of expectations. To be queer is to be yourself.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Usually through Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I’ll look at sites like Autostraddle or AfterEllen, but most of the time I’m getting info from my very well informed internet friends. Buzzfeed also does a surprising job at reporting LGBTQ news.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I feel like such a millennial, but I’m going to say Emily Fields and Paige McCullers from Pretty Little Liars. That show recently disappointed in a way that I’m sure I’ll get over, but those two characters have so much depth in terms of teenage coming out (and being out) stories. They are not perfect (especially Paige), and that’s okay. Plus, I work with youth, so to have teens talk positively about queers they see on their shows gives me hope.
Describe your geographical community. I grew up in Highland Park and then moved to Shadyside after college. Both were pretty welcoming.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I grew up and went to college in Pittsburgh and made most of my LGBTQ friends in college. It was exciting because once I came out, I found out about a bunch of people from my high school who were also LGBTQ. It was nice to be out and to see others feeling comfortable to do so outside of those halls! I spend most of my time in NYC now, but I do come back to Pittsburgh pretty often. When I do, it’s nice to be able to call up my friends still in the region and go out to the places I’ve been going to since I first came out (the ones that are still around, anyway). When I’m not in Pittsburgh, I still used Facebook to look up to the great people I met while I still lived there full-time. I’m able to find out about what’s happening with the GLCC, how the local drag king scene is going, and what issues are affecting the greater LGBTQ community in Pittsburgh. It makes me feel connected to home.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Not that I know of. Of course, discrimination is one of those things that can be happening and you might not even pick up on it. Plus, being a black woman, it’s super hard to tell why someone is discriminating against me. Is it about race? Sex? Orientation? All of the above?
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not) I never had a problem being out in my Pgh neighborhoods. I don’t know how much of that was because the communities were safe or because I was lucky. I know some people have had issues, so I don’t want to act like it couldn’t have been me.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There is no such thing these days as enough trans visibility. The lesbian, gay, and bisexual community can make all the progress it wants, but if we continue to leave our trans family without basic safety, rights, and help, we haven’t made any real progress.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Remember that LGBTQ issues aren’t just about who can marry whom. It’s about healthcare, it’s about non-discrimination, it’s about homelessness, it’s about racism, it’s about so many things. We had one victory, but we need policies to help the whole of the LGBTQ community.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. A year after I came out to my friends and parents, I came out to my youth leader via email. I don’t know why I was scared because my church had always been affirming, but I was terrified. The response she sent back was so loving and supportive and warm that I still have it saved in my email. It’s one thing to say you’re supportive, but when she had the chance, she really proved it. If communities (especially ones with history like the church) want to be considered inclusive, they can’t just say it. They have to PROVE it.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Internalized fear and racism. I always assumed that other black people would have the biggest problem with me being bi because of culture and religion. There is certainly discrimination in the black community around sexual orientation, but I have found so much love and support from my black communities. I had to realize that the fear was coming from within and that queer communities of color exist and are amazing.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad, GLCC, Dreams of Hope.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That too many people think marriage was the only issue worth fighting for.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That Western PA becomes a place where discrimination is illegal, where trans folks feel safe to exist, where black lives matter, and where the laws and the community are on our side.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I was excited to have a chance to be a part of such an inclusive and important project.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Something about intersectionality?
Thank you, Ashe.
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.