County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her
How do you describe your identity? I am a white, cisgender female lesbian. Some refer to me as a chapstick lesbian or a tomboy, but I’m just me.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out later than a lot of people. I was 29. For most of my twenties, I not only identified as straight, but I was in a relationship with a man for most of it. We were even married for 4 years. I began to realize that I might be bisexual in my early 20s, but I was in love with a great guy and wanted to be with him. After we got married, I began to realize I might be a full blown lesbian, but I repressed it because I loved my then husband and wanted a life with him. It got to the point where it was just too hard to hide it. I began suffering from depression and had panic attacks, so I decided to file for divorce. I didn’t come out as a lesbian for an entire year. I went to therapy consistently for a year, figuring out how to deal with my entire world changing, how to tell people and what their reactions would be.
Eventually, I came out to lesbian friends and they helped me as well. I read every “coming out” book and watched so many lesbian films.
I was afraid that people would think my coming out was a phase or something, but everyone who I cared about who I told, were and are supportive.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am out with everyone. If people don’t know, it’s just that it hasn’t come up in conversation. I don’t necessarily “look gay” so I have to come out to people, whether indirectly (I’m on the board of an LGBT organization) or directly, (Yep, I’m gay).
My 90 year old grandmother is the only person who I have chosen not to come out to just because of her age and generation. Luckily, she doesn’t use the Internet. 😉
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Honestly, I didn’t really meet anyone I knew was gay until after college. There were a few people in high school and college who weren’t out or who were assumed to be LGBT.
The first person that I knew and was out was this butch, black lesbian from California that I worked with at my first job out of college in DC. At the time, I had no inclination that I was anything but straight. She was open about her sexuality and would flirt with me and my other female coworker. I don’t know if meeting her had anything to do with realizing my sexuality; although, it was around this age I began to think I might be attracted to women.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. To pick one is so hard, but I’ll pick the first one that stood out to me.
Dana Fairbanks (played by Erin Daniels) from The L Word. Watching The L Word actually helped me realize I was a lesbian. I know that the show itself wasn’t very representative of Lesbian culture (I didn’t really know that then), I related to Dana. At the beginning of the show, she was in the closet and had to pretend to be someone she was not. Dana was sporty, but not particularly butch or femme. As someone not familiar with the LGBT community, I hadn’t seen many people who identified as anything but butch or femme. She was a goofball, great friend, and had great taste in women! Her story always resonated with me more than the other women on the show. Plus, Erin Daniels is a great actress and she made you feel Dana’s joy and pain so easily.
In case you haven’t watched all or some of The L Word. I am still pissed Dana died. She had so many other stories to tell. RIP Dana Fairbanks.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? The Internet, more specifically Facebook and Twitter as well as some LGBT blogs and news sites. Also, there’s this thing called Google search!
Describe your geographical community. With the exception of four years in college and four years living in the DC area, I have made my home in Pittsburgh. I grew up in the East End of Pittsburgh, where I continue to live. I spent a few years in the South Hills area, but I prefer living in the East End. I am a city girl, through and through!!
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I live in Lawrenceville which is known for being pretty LGBT-friendly. I have seen two people of the same sex walking freely holding hands and it brings a smile to my face. I definitely think visibility and resources have improved over the last 10 years or so. There are many resources for youth now and I’m not sure how many were available when I was a youth (since I didn’t identify under the LGBT umbrella then). You have the GLCC, Persad, Thrive, Project Silk. Proud Haven, a homeless shelter specifically for LGBT youth. This is awesome; not that there are homeless youth, but that Pittsburgh has an organization like this.
Although I might be biased because I’m on the board, the fact that Pittsburgh is home to the 5th oldest LGBT Film Festival in the country, 6th in the world is pretty awesome!
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I am not aware if I have been, but no.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not) As I said, Pittsburgh has definitely evolved over the last few years to be more accepting, but this is still a “small town” blue collar city filled with people with old school values. I have heard people make comments against the LGBT community, use slurs, or make assumptions. It’s a long road and hopefully we will get there soon.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? The disgusting number of deaths of Trans People of Color this year alone. I don’t want to seem like I am minimizing what Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out has done for our community, but if we could just take some of the world’s attention away from her reality show and put that into helping to protect and prevent more people from losing their lives just because they want to live it honestly.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Fight to make sure LGBTQ people can’t get fired for their sexual orientation in the state.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. If I hear, “But you’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” one more time, I’m going to flip out. I mean, because all straight people are good looking, right? Ugh!
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think there are a lot of community members living in lower class, so financial issues can cause many issues. Lack of healthcare and insurance can be a result. Also mental health seems to be more prevalent if the LGBTQ community.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad Center, GLCC, PATF, Shepherd Wellness, Thrive, Dreams of Hope, Proud Haven, Project Silk, Garden of Peace Project, Transpride, Planned Parenthood, Black Pride, Latin Pride. I’m sure there are more, but this is all I can think of right now.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear is that we won’t support each other. There are so many organizations and groups within the area. Some organizations do not support others and they all should. There shouldn’t be a competition between organizations even if they offer similar things. Groups should not discriminate because a person does not fit their guidelines. The LGBTQ community is already small and we really need to fight the fight together and support one another.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest hope is that what I listed as the fear will not happen and, on the contrary, we will join together as one large community regardless of our differences.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Convert your friends to be allies as well!
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? To support all people it the community regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, class, etc. We’re all in this together!
What motivated you to take part in this project? This is a great project that introduces LGBTQ community members to, not only our community, but the entire interwebs! I guess it was about time that I share my story.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. What is your favorite LGBTQ event held in Pittsburgh? – My answer, of course, is Reel Q Pittsburgh LGBT Film Festival held every October!
Thank you, Jaime. Full Disclosure – this blog is the social media sponsor of the 2015 ReelQ Film Festival which kicks off this week. I urge you to check it out.
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.