The experiences of ex-pats who left Western Pennsylvania for some reason sheds valuable light on these questions around the regional LGBTQ experience. PJ is a friend who now lives in Chicago, but was here long enough to have some powerful formative experiences.
County of Residence: Now in Chicago, but grew up in Westmoreland, lived 8 years in Allegheny & 4 yrs in Erie (Erie Co)
Preferred Pronouns: he/him
How do you describe your identity? Cisgendered white gay male with a twist of genderqueer.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I stayed in the closet until I was 21. My high school was an abusive, unsafe space, where I was physically attacked daily. During my last two years of school, teachers and administrators joined in the abuse.
I didn’t tell my parents or family until 21 though my parents had asked, and told me basically it was OK, at age 16. My family was not abusive, but we all have had some trust issues and I waited until I had more power before I revealed the truth.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being totally out) I am probably an 8 to a 9. My family all know about me and love my partner. I refer to my partner publicly on most occasions, 95% of the time. If I don’t know someone or don’t trust a situation I may not say anything, but that’s usually less about deep homophobic fear and more that I either don’t want to waste time explaining it to them, or it’s just not relevant to what’s happening at the moment.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? A group of gay men who worked at a restaurant where my sister worked and lived in eastern OH. It was my first exposure to gay men beyond the word “faggot,” and it was positive. I also remember meeting gay friends of my cousins.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Guiding Light’s “Otalia,” partly because I knew the writer! And mostly because it was so authentic and true to life (well, most of it.)
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Via social media (or reporting on them myself!)
Describe your geographical community. Urban
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Chicago can be a safe space in many ways, but the issues around race and privilege, and old issues of segregation and racism, as well as cis privilege, run pretty deep here.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. When I was younger, yes, I was fired twice from a job and evicted once for being gay (all in Erie).
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not) See description under “describe local community”
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? See description under “describe local community”
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Laws protecting housing/employment, stronger laws to protect trans people, recognizing white and cis privilege
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Hard for me to say. My memories of Pittsburgh were that it was very “closeted.” I had a friend (not a local) visit Pittsburgh and he went into Images, a public bar on a busy street. He said he felt like it was the 50s – very underground, very closeted, very shame filled. That was 20 years ago. I hope it has changed.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? In Pittsburgh, it’s the divide between city and suburbs….the city isn’t perfect but it’s miles ahead of the alternatives.
In Chicago, it’s the remains of years of racism and bad gov’t.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Chicago does have a great array of resources for LGBTQ people of all races, all economic levels, etc.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That marriage equality means people become complacent about other struggles….and also that the mainstreaming of privileged gay lives will further diminish POC and trans people.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That our ability to make friends with anyone and our neighborly ways will triumph in the end.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Sue Kerr was going to kick my ass if I didn’t : ) <EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘ahem’>
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I would think maybe something about what ways do you identify with the community at large? And then, what ways do you break apart from the pack, or what ways are you not part of the monolithic LGBTQ community?
Don’t have an answer for me right this sec, but I like to hear about ways that different people who identify as LGBTQ fit along a whole continuum of lives, interests, etc. I think you’ve gotten at this with other questions, too.
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.