Name: Cat Conley
County of Residence: Allegheny
How do you describe your identity? I identify as queer/genderfluid. There are days when I hate any reinforcement of my femininity, and other days when I revel in it. I haven’t figured out a solution yet beyond scowling when someone uses words like “dainty” to describe me.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out in stages, as do most people. Although I came out to my parents in 2012, I didn’t feel truly OUT until 2014 when I published a public article detailing my queer journey, that was later seen by my folks. No going back in now!
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am fully out to any and everyone that I meet, including job interviews, because my magazine, Steer Queer, is listed on my resume. It might be a risky choice, but I’m very proud of my work and don’t want to hide it.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I met someone at Girl Scout Camp who confided to me that she thought she might be gay. We were about 10 at the time, so I wasn’t really equipped to explore that with her, and I regret that I brushed her off. It was one of many moments that made me uncomfortable before I realized WHY I was experiencing discomfort in the first place, and it certainly wasn’t the reason I expected.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Alice Pieszecki, forever and always. I relate to her personally, always saying something awkward or directing any conversation back to queer theory and culture, and I’m nosey as hell!
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Whether this is the best option or not, Facebook is the easiest way for me to keep up. I joined several queer groups, follow news outlets and organizations that focus on LGBTQIA issues, and send friend requests to activists and artists that I meet around Pittsburgh and while traveling. The combination keeps me informed of issues beyond those important to my close friends and local community.
Describe your geographical community. I’m from NC and at least to my knowledge, a queer scene in my hometown is nonexistent. I don’t wear certain clothes when I’m home, especially if I’m stopping for gas in the mountains on the way there. It feels safe and friendly most of the time, but a lot of the country is still behind the times. A year ago while I was visiting, a man was lured away from a local gay bar and set on fire following a botched robbery. He later died, and it was terrifying to head back to Pittsburgh knowing that my friends are living their queer life at a much higher risk. It’s hard to remember sometimes too that even though Pittsburgh and Philly are better, most of Pennsylvania is a lot like the rural south where I grew up in regard to attitudes towards LGBTQIA people.
Describe your geographical community. Is it LGBTQ friendly? How so (or not?). It’s an interesting dynamic here in Pittsburgh. Definitely more accepting of different identities, in theory, than where I’m from, but putting that into practice sometimes leaves something to be desired. I see organizations post all the right viral content on their Facebook or Twitter, but then contradict themselves in their actions. A good example of this was when the Delta Foundation named Iggy Azalea as the headliner for Pittsburgh Pride. Luckily the community took matters into their own hands, and a new, wonderful organization, Roots Pride, emerged from the mess.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Once at my old job I overheard 7 coworkers having a loud discussion regarding their feelings on gay marriage. That was probably the worst time I can think of, since I worked so closely with them. It was awkward and hurtful. New flash: If you’re straight and cis, your opinions on queer rights are unimportant and quite often uninformed.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Absolutely. The biggest thing I notice locally is a lack of awareness of mental health issues. Those who are blessed with good mental health and who are exercising a fair amount of educational privilege feel they have the right to understand anything or anyone that interests them. Let’s clear this up: no one should feel forced to explain their life to any other person if they don’t want to. LGBTQIA people are pretty widely abused by family, friends, coworkers and strangers throughout their lives, yet many queers hold each other to ridiculously high heteronormative social standards where a person is deemed bad or good based on how they react in individual situations. It’s counterproductive and does not support the mission to help and love ALL LGBTQIA people.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pass some workplace non-discrimination laws PLEASE. Also, we are in desperate need of more services for homeless LGBTQIA youth. It’s a travesty that these issues take a backseat to gay marriage.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I have a mohawk, I wear gay tshirts and weird makeup, but I never get more stares than when I hold hands with my girlfriend on the street.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I live in what might be considered a gayborhood, and I don’t get along with a lot of my neighbors! They are all mostly older men that are in a different class bracket from me. I’m not sure if it’s gender, wages or age that divide us, and it’s unfortunately not a question I want to ask for fear of causing more problems for myself.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? GLCC, Trans Lifeline, Persad Center, Garden of Peace, Resolve, and please feel free to use Steer Queer as a resource, because we are happy to point you in the right direction for whatever you need.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? With any progress, there is pushback. My hope is that the rest of Pennsylvania can get on the same page as cities like Pittsburgh or Philly, but my fear is that rural PA queers will experience more discrimination as we gain more national support.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Did I mention workplace protections for LGBTQIA folks? I want that! Especially protections for trans people.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? LISTEN
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Again, listening is key. Don’t try to show how informed you are by talking, show that you have been informed by listening.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I love my community so much and I love this project for giving LGBTQIA people of all backgrounds an opportunity to let their voice be heard.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. How do you meet/network with your community? I meet most people out at specifically queer events.
Thank you, Cat.
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.