Name: Walter Meyer
County of Residence: I was born and raised in Allegheny County and spent time in Centre County while I was at Penn State, and then a year in Somerset County. Since then it has been Los Angeles and San Diego Counties in California.
Preferred Pronouns: he, his, him
How do you describe your identity? I am a gay man of German-Irish ancestry, as is so common in Western PA.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? When AOL was new, and its chat rooms were a popular way to meet people, I found the M4M rooms and luckily met some nice people who became my gay mentors, took me to my first gay bars, and answered my dumb questions. I knew it would be a problem when I told my very Catholic parents–and it was. But I found support among my friends–old straight ones as well as knew gay ones–and, surprisingly, with my siblings who lobbied my parents on my behalf.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am as out as one can be. I’ve written my coming out story for the Los Angeles Times; written about LGBT issues for other mainstream media and written for all of the major gay magazines including Out and Advocate. wrote a gay novel that was made it into the top 10 on Amazon for LGBT novels; I have spoken on LGBT inclusion at high schools, colleges, community centers and libraries across the country. I am an active member of the LGBT community including volunteering for The Center, AIDS Walk, and Lambda Archives, am one of the leaders of Gay For Good, and worker hard for marriage equality.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first person who I knew to be a “homosexual” was a hairdresser who lived down the street. He wore floor-length red coats and carried a purse. He was mocked mercilessly by everyone in the neighborhood. If that was what it meant to be gay, I wanted nothing to do with it. He, and the cruel treatment he received, was sort of my anti-role model and this kept me from coming our for many years.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I would have to say “Rob,” the main character in my novel “Rounding Third,” since he is based (in part) on me. Rob is an idealized version of me if I’d had the courage to love who I wanted and stand up for myself in high school. He is brave when he needs to be and stands up for his friends.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I have many well-connected friends who LGBT leaders so usually learn of things first through their Facebook posts and then do follow-up research when needed in a variety of sources.
Describe your geographical community. I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and knew nothing of its gay community when I left. I now live in Hillcrest, the LGBTQ area of San Diego. San Diego is the 8th largest city in the US, so has a very large and diverse LGBTQ community. It is very gay-friendly. The mayor, entire city council and most elected officials of either party walk in the gay pride parade and are very supportive of equality and inclusion.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I live the gay neighborhood of San Diego–walking distance from the LGBT Center and a dozen gay bars and coffee shops. There is a movie theater that shows gay-themed films and two theaters that do a lot of gay-themed plays. I am friends with the many of the openly gay elected officials in San Diego including my city council representative, the speaker of the state assembly, and the district attorney. I am friends with the head people at gay pride, AIDS Walk, the Center and pretty much every LGBT group in San Diego. I have many friends and acquaintances in the larger community and rarely walk to the gym without seeing a few people I know.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. At a place where I worked, I heard a visitor to the office use the word “f*g.” I reported it to my boss who banned that person from the office. In California and San Diego we have many laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination of any kind.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? There is still a good deal of trans discrimination, even in California. In dozens of other states, people can marry their same-sex partner on Sunday and be fired and evicted on Monday when it becomes known they are LGBT. We need national civil rights protection.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? The state needs to elect more LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly representatives. Pennsylvania needs more laws to protect people in the workplace, housing and schools. It needs–especially in the rural areas–more programs to make students aware of the diversity that exists in the world. There is a great documentary about life in rural PA “Out in the Silence” that should be shown in every high school in the commonwealth.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I used to teach traffic school and noted a change about 10 years ago. Prior to the marriage equality fight, when a woman would say, “My girlfriend and I…” the class would come to a screeching halt while everyone reacted to the fact there was a lesbian in their midst. After a certain point the sexual orientation of anyone in the class ceased to be an issue. A guy would say, “My boyfriend and I were speeding on the way to Disneyland and…” and the only reaction would be to their speeding ticket. It was a small thing but made me realize that times were changing.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Because so many people have had issues with coming out, and many have faced rejection by their families, I think some have no experience with unconditional love and therefore have trouble in relationships. I think as LGBT youth find acceptance at earlier ages, that the “gay adolescence” and awkward relationships will become fewer. Never eliminated, of course–if humans were capable of finding love and stable relationships, there would be no such thing as divorce. But I think many gay people have unrealistic notions of relationships that make finding a partner difficult even though same-sex marriage is now legal everywhere.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? In my San Diego community, I know there are tons of resources–The Center, hospitals, groups for seniors, teens, trans, pretty much every demographic. In Western PA, I know there are fewer such groups, but I’ve been shocked when I have gone into rural areas to find how few teens know about the Trevor Project (thetrevorproject.org), a suicide hotline; GLSEN (glsen.org) and if their school won’t protect them from bullying, the ACLU (aclu.org). Forming a GSA with GLSEN’s help can do a lot to provide support for students.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I fear that their low-visibility makes it easy for them to be overlooked when issues arise. Having openly LGBTQ elected officials and leaders of civic organizations makes it harder for the needs of our community to be neglected. Whenever I am in Pittsburgh, I hear of the closing of another bar (not that bars are all there is to a gay community, but they do serve as gathering places), and of infighting in the LGBT community over Pride, publications and other community resources. I fear that the fracturing of the community will make it difficult to fight for common causes.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I am proud when I read yet another list naming Pittsburgh as a great place to live, a great place for the arts, a great place for millennials…my hope is that in this vibrant, growing new world that is replacing the industrial mindset of my youth, that there will be a growing and vibrant LGBTQ community that can help make Pittsburgh a more tolerant and diverse space, the influence of which will spread through Western Pennsylvania–and the rest of the state and into Ohio and West Virginia and….beyond!
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Get involved. Vote.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Stop rejecting each other over petty differences. If we don’t accept each other, how can we expect others to accept us?
What motivated you to take part in this project? I struggled so much with my own coming out, that anything I can do to make life easier for anyone struggling with their own identity, I will do it. Because of my own struggles growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I have a special interest in that area and making it more LGBTQ-accepting. I was shocked to find out that at my old high school (Bethel Park) there were 1500 students, not a single one of whom was openly gay. There is no GSA and there is no support if they do come out. I know that Bethel Park is not unique in this regard. This needs to change.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Why should you come out as LGBTQ? – In too many places–including my old high school–many people feel alone. That they are the only gay/lesbian/trans/or bi kid. They are not. There are LGBT teachers, custodians, librarians and lunch ladies. At work you are not alone. There are others. Form a ERC (employee resource group). I am convinced that if everyone, everywhere came out discrimination would have to end. If troglodytes like Rick Santorum could see that they are surrounded by LGBT people they would have to get over their ridiculous fears and prejudices.
Thank you, Walter.
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.