County of Residence: Allegheny County. Grew up in Venango County. College in Washington County. Lived in Beaver County (Allequippa) Lived in Westmoreland County (Latrobe)
Preferred Pronouns: he/him/his
How do you describe your identity? Queer Transguy longterm Wilkinsburg resident. White anti-racism activist
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Early Spring 1983, my Father followed up a call from the Principle’s office by going to my lover’s apartment across town. He walked in with us in bed.
The next few weeks included my being dragged back to my parents’ home, my running away, Ruth held at gunpoint by my Dad, my leaving for my cousins’ home in Ohio, being fired from the law office, mandatory counseling, not attending the last two months of high school, but receiving straight As and graduating.
Ruth was 11 years older than me. She had not even risked our holding hands in the car during daylight. It was illegal to have sex between people of the same sex. My father had parolees who had been released from prison for that conviction. The penalty, stigma, and consequences were all around us. I proudly identify with outlaw, but my lovers did not. Our love had a very high price.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am out as a transguy to anyone who stands near me for more than a few minutes. A Pittsburgh corporation hired me in 2001 or 2002 early in my identifying as guy. Two weeks to a month after I started working for them, a City Paper article came out about Transgender lives. In it was a large photo of me taken at the office. Then, it went from 75 to 100% of my co-workers knowing I was trans.
My work of the last 10 years has been as a Transgender Cultural Competency trainer in health care and as a Transgender Advocate. I’d say I am as out as I can be as a Queer transguy.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? At age 12, I met Stephanie Lambert. She lived one block up and one block over from mine. It was a working class neighborhood with few secrets and a lot of gossip. Stephanie was an individual woman living in her own house without a husband. She was the only woman I knew that owned a house.
It was said that she was a lesbian. From what I could see (owning a house, a german Shepard out back, cats in the house, and no husband), lesbian life looked fulfilling. When I told my father I was going to live with Stephanie when I grew up, his response seemed reserved. Six years later (at 18), I moved in with Stephanie’s ex-lover Ruth.
What impact did meeting Stephanie have on my life? It made life rich and fulfilling. Thank you, Stephanie, for your courage to live out and big. I know it had a big cost.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Laverne Cox. Langston Hughes
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Initiative for Transgender Leadership youth share things; connections with out of town Queers; facebook.
Describe your geographical community. My immediate geographical community is Wilkinsburg. I have connections with neighbors across 23 years. There are Master Gardeners, community gardeners, young white people with chickens, black neighbors with 3 generations of women in their household. The wisdom, acceptance, and love for whomever we are is palpable. I love Wilkinsburg. And I find myself searching less and less for Queer only community and more or broadly accepting circles of committed people.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. No response.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Yes. I have experienced the greatest discrimination in public and a time where I was more easily recognized as gender-queer. Pittsburgh has been somewhat kind to me in-person, applying for jobs, and finding housing. While I have been asked to explain myself, I have been accepted. My guess is that comes from a Pittsburgh history of blue-collar directness and immigrant populations who were much-needed in their time.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I am concerned with young people moving into better-paying and more challenging employment. The development of professional skills and leadership in trans youth is my focus, but I believe all of our neighbors (including non-LGBTQ) are impacting by this need.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Routinely reach for LGBTQ Leaders for responses, participation in planning, and for connection to our communities for hiring. We have a wealth of thoughtful, smart, and committed people to contribute to the work of growing Pittsburgh as a remarkable place to live.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I have lived within a 4 block radius for well over twenty years. During that time, I have lived as a lesbian, a bisexual, an out trans person and as a gay man. So, my sincere, thoughtful neighbors have seen it all. Here is an example of how super wide change can be digested by a thoughtful, traditional neighbor:
One day I was in my back yard talking across the fence to a neighbor. She had lived in Wilkinsburg all of her adult life and attended Mass at St. James with great commitment. Consenquently, she had spoken with me nearly every day of 15-20 years. So, she asks me, “Bobby, where did the girl Bobbie go?” I answer, “Ahh, that was me, Mary. I live as a guy now.” ” No, no, the GIRL Bobbie, where did she go?” “I transitioned from female-to-male over these years we’ve been talking. She is me.” She replies, “No, I’m talking about a woman.” I reply, “Oh, she moved.”
I think this is an illustration of how we don’t actually have to deeply understand one another to care and get along. Mary was a kind and engaging neighbor always interested in talking and helping one another.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Hetero-normativity sometimes means we aren’t thought of in planning, problem-solving, creating services, providing grants, etc. For instance, my home is three single, queer adults. We are more of a family than a frat house. I speak of us as a household. Why are government bodies using “household” as a committed group of people?
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad Center, PersadCenter.org Initiative for Transgender Leaders, www.transleaders.org, Initiative for Transgender Leadership on facebook
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? No response.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? No response.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Educate yourselves as a demonstration of being an ally. Then offer your talent or funding to LGBTQ organizations and be kind to LGBTQ individuals.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Invite us into your organizations or events. If that doesn’t work for the nature of your work/events/organizations, create ones where we can work together.
What motivated you to take part in this project? The mission of this project feel grassroots and direct. I anticipate it providing real healing and connection.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I thought your questions were insightful and provided lots of room to share anything I wished.
Thank you, Bobby.
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.