Name: Jodi Hirsh
County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you describe your identity? I’m a white jewish woman in a long-term same sex relationship who is the parent of two kids under 7. I’m very sleepy most of the time.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Though on some level I recognized my sexuality was different from my peers from a very young age, I suppressed that knowledge until late in my undergraduate college career, even though I was an open ally of the LGBTQ community and engaged in equality efforts at my university. I came out personally to my mother when I was a senior in college. She was initially supportive, though she struggled to be honest to her own personal community, which was incredibly hurtful to me. My inability to get her to recognize her own shame was my biggest challenge. Everything else paled in comparison. I found nothing but support among friends, colleagues, and extended family.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am completely and totally open about my identity in every way. Politically, personally, and professionally. I would not have it any other way.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Both of my parents were only children (as was I), and so I had no first cousins growing up. My second cousins were older–my parents age–and so they served a role more like aunts and uncles, with one exception–my cousin Bob. Bob was just as old–age wise–as the others, but he always acted youthful. He was the one cousin who I actually thought of as a cousin, even though he was easily old enough to be my uncle–or father, for that matter.
Bob was always traveling to exotic locations, and he was always bringing random hushed “friends” to our holiday dinners. He was fun, and outlandish, and remarkably different from all the other adults in my small, reserved, quiet, middle-class Jewish family.
Eventually, I learned that Bob was openly gay, and had been since the early 60s. At the time, I didn’t know what to make of either Bob or the knowledge that he was gay, but I always knew, deep down, that on some level, Bob and I had something–and that something was very significant–in common.
Bob and I never lived in the same city, and so we never spent more than a few hours at a time together, but I always knew that how my family treated Bob was something that mattered, and something to which I should pay attention. Sadly, with the exception (the important exception, I should note) of my mother, almost everyone in my family disrespected Bob, talked about his sexuality in hushed whispers, his “friends” with almost visual quotations, and his career, which was quite accomplished; he was a successful lawyer, as secondary to the declaration of his sexuality. I have no doubt that my family’s disrespect of Bob–something I witnessed from a very young age–likely delayed my own coming by at least a few years.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Jeannette Winterson was the very first fictional writer whom I read and loved. I had read so many coming of age stories, and never fully identified with any of them until Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. Antonia’s Line remains to this day the film that changed the way I think about movies. A film that incorporates same sex attraction without being ABOUT same sex attraction. If only more media understood how to do that. They still don’t get it.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Online news sources, social media.
Describe your geographical community. My community is completely open and accepting. My family is welcomed as part of the urban and school community with open arms; no one ever bats an eye about my children having two moms. It’s quite literally a non-issue (as it should be). Although I know that just outside of the city lie horribly racist, sexist, homophobic booby traps, within our urban haven, we could not feel more comfortable and welcomed.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Our immediate neighborhood is mostly straight, though certainly there are LGTBQ neighbors around. We love our neighborhood though, and know there are allies everywhere, regardless. There does need to be greater LGBTQ representation among elected officials (here and everywhere), along with greater numbers of women and people of color.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Nothing beyond mild aggravation at the doctor’s office (or pediatrician’s office with my children). I’m very lucky in that way.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think the economic justice issues that overwhelmingly impact my neighbors of color often affect those who are LGBTQ in even deeper ways: affordable housing, poverty, hunger, income inequality, education, access to affordable healthcare. All have often been overlooked in favor of discussions of marriage equality, and we have got to get back to talking about the real, critical issues.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? See above. In addition to getting discrimination legislation passed, the issues above must be addressed, and fast.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I am TIRED of constantly writing diatribes on parent and doctor’s forms. For once, I’d love to just fill out my children’s names without writing a paragraph about how it shouldn’t say “mother” and “father” on everything. I’d love to be able to read the kids books or show them TV shows that represented what their actual family looked like, rather than constantly thinking in the back of my mind that at some point they will begin to wonder why their family is never represented accurately in mass media, and when it is, that is always the point of the book or show. Why can’t it just be a simple existing background factor, since that’s what our family is? Their two moms isn’t something we’re constantly making into the plot, it’s just a fact of their life. It would be nice to see that reflected once in while.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Again, see above.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Social service orgs, wrap-around services, SAY (if I recall?), GLCC, PATF, PACT, etc.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That all of those issues above will not get addressed, and instead, we will continue to focus on issues like marriage equality and galas and pride festivals.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Connectivity to organizations focusing on real social change and social justice.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Dig deep, reach out, work together on social and economic justice.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Listen to them.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Sue Kerr. (So who, not what)
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. More questions about race maybe? How to bridge the divide, even within the LGBTQ community.
Thank you, Jodi.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a 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.
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. 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.