Why The Success of #AMPLIFY Has Left Me Discouraged

I waited all day yesterday to learn if we were going to receive a $1000 grant for the AMPLIFY project, funds that would be used to turn my 2000 CRV into an art car to promote the project. Unfortunately, we did not secure the grant. We lost – just one of 84 applicants rejected for 18 grants.

And I was discouraged.

AMPLIFY has been really successful. We have received 96 responses, publishing 83 so far since May 31, 2015. We’ve connected with people in 16 different counties, ranging in age from 19 to 70 and a virtual mosaic of identities.

Why are we doing this? Because we know that your stories matter, each and every one. So we are using our blog to give them a signal boost without filters or edits. Individually and together, your lived experiences paint a vivid, authentic picture of life in Western Pennsylvania for trans and queer residents in this day and time. 

One unique element of this project is that we ask people to describe their identity in their own words. While this makes it a challenge to analyze the results, it does give a broad picture of the diversity and complexity of identity. We also ask people to list all Western PA counties where they have lived, including where they attended college.

Some preliminary outcomes:

  • 22% of respondents identify as bisexual and/or pansexual
  • 28% of respondents identify as people of color
  • 23% of respondents identify as trans
  • 23% of respondents identify as queer
  • 18% of respondents are 55 or older
  • 78% of the respondents have ties and/or currently live in Allegheny County
  • 18% of the respondents have ties and/or currently live in Westmoreland County
  • 14% of the respondents have ties and/or currently live in Erie County
  • 82% of respondents identify Facebook as a primary source of LGBTQ information & issues
  • 90% of respondents identify the internet, social media or other online tools as a source.
  • 26% of respondents cannot identify a LGBTQ resource available to their neighbors

Basically, we have a lot of raw data and stories and themes and issues to sort through and curate into manageable information. Don’t get me wrong – it is a good problem to have, but it is a problem. A problem of time, skill and money.

Collecting and editing nearly 100 Q&A posts in a seven month period has consumed a lot of my resources – for the hour or so it takes me to format one post, there are dozens if not scores of hours spent encouraging people to contribute. To protect people’s anonymity, I have to spend extra time confirming their identity, creating suitable images and triple checking the material. I’ve traveled to quite a lot of events, activities and meetings these months.

After publication, I spent scores more hours sharing the links in the spaces where the stories should be introduced – dozens of Facebook groups, reddit, even Craigslist. Then I follow up on comments and other engagements.

My time is teetering between creating and curating content which are two different mindsets so it can be a little overwhelming.

It is a lot of work and has cost me a lot more money than I anticipated. Money for flyers, gas to attend events, hotels, meals, event registrations, sponsorships and more. It has become a full-time avocation that we (Ledcat and I) are supporting out of pocket which takes another toll. And the team at Most Wanted Fine Art has also been absorbing expenses.

I’m okay with that for one reason – I really like reading the posts. Even after ten years of blogging LGBTQ, I find each of the posts to be interesting and engaging. It really matters to me that people in our community are speaking to me about their lives. And it has changed me. I’m confident that amplifying the stories will have a similar impact on you and others who read this blog.

I hope that change sustains me as the project heads into year two. I have to push myself harder to connect with people in at least ten counties that are not represented as well as the 23 that are underrepresented. I’ve learned that this project succeeds when I talk with people individually or when others do the same. I must invest more time building these connections.

Some have suggested we crowdfund or set up a patreon account to create opportunities for you to support our efforts. We are giving that some thought. We have submitted a few grant proposals for the larger components of the project. We have plans to build advertising into the print zines when we get to that step. And we are working on small special event efforts to keep the overall Resident Artists component resourced.

I did not expect nearly 100 responses in seven months, but I do see the value and the power of that response. It is my hope over the holidays to not only get a little recharged, but also to synthesize this information – the responses, the funding possibilities, the budget constraints, the curation formats and more.

This is my invitation to you to submit suggestions on how to move forward. What resonates with you? What would you adjust? Would you invest your time (or financially) in this project? And how do you think we should amplify the lived experiences of our neighbors?

AMPLIFY Pittsburgh
As of December 15, the county data from participants. Some respondents have ties to multiple counties. 
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