Mitch, 52, Believes In The Power of Movies to Create Community #AMPLIFY

gay pittsburgh
Mitch

Name: Mitch Leib

Age: 52

County of Residence: Allegheny

Preferred Pronouns: he

How do you describe your identity? I am a gay man

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I think we all come out in stages. My closest high school friends knew. Others probably assumed. I was pretty much out in college. I went to Vassar College. It was pretty liberal and there were no real judgments. Not a lot of us talked about it though. There was a gay group. i wasn’t active in it. I was more involved in my studies. I moved to L.A. in the late 80’s and came out more – and also to my family. When I moved back to Pittsburgh, it felt more confining than L.A., so I made a concerted effort to join gay organizations. Even after meeting my partner, Michael Ferraro, I found that I would talk about him at work, but maybe not as much as others talked about their spouses. I work in the software industry, but our customers work with Steel and it can be bit of a macho kind of business. I took about a two year break and worked as a bartender, in sales at A Pleasant Present and as a waiter. It was very liberating to talk about my life openly. When I returned to my current job, I decided I would be completely open and it has made a huge difference in my life. My family and friends have been very supportive – almost from the very beginning. I am lucky in that way.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Well, I’m pretty darn out. I have been the Programming Director for Reel Q (Pittsburgh’s LGBT Film Festival) and the Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Society since 2008. I was also the Executive Director from 2010 through the 2015 season. I have been interviewed on TV and radio and in numerous publications. Last year, Michael and I were officially married with about 170 friends and family in attendance. It was very moving to have people come from near and far to be at our ceremony and celebration.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I had several gay friends in High School. We were all sort of outcasts together. We had fun. It was the 70’s, so it was a more innocent time for most people my age.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Oh wow. Given my background, there are so many I would like to choose.

I loved Sean Hayes in Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss. I can identify with his preoccupation with the beautiful Gabriel and not feeling good enough. But learning that you are.

I also have to say I loved Will Truman from Will and Grace. I know there are more creative answers, but his character was someone that was closer to my age and who had similar insecurities and aspirations. They all came into our living room each week. I still miss that show.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly through internet sites, social media and Sirius XM Radio.

Describe your geographical community.  I live in Regent Square. It is definitely one of the main gayborhoods. Lots of LGBTQ residents. Everyone is very friendly. I love it a lot.

Sometimes, though, I do miss living in West Hollywood and being able to walk to the gay bars and restaurants. I wish we had that in Pittsburgh. Shadyside is really the only place like that now.

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. There is a lot going on in the LGBTQ community of Pittsburgh. Aside from the Film Festival, I have been a member of Steel City Bowling and Steel City Softball. Both were a great experience. There is also Volleyball and Running. We are lucky to have PATF and PERSAD. I also don’t think we appreciate The Pitt Men’s Study. We were on the cutting edge in the 80’s. They have helped so many people – those with HIV and educating those who spent the 80’s freaking out. We have Outrageous Bingo, an active drag scene, Pittsburgh Pride, PFLAG chapters, and the Renaissance City Choir. I know I will leave some great organization out – I apologize for that.

We also have incredible straight allies who sponsor the film festival every year and newspapers and magazines that call ME to cover our events.

Sometimes there is a great deal of apathy in our community and that makes me sad. But there are also many people who work hard.

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. No.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? We are pretty lucky to be in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Our mayor is very pro-gay. He actually married Michael and me. There is always work to be done, but I think we are miles ahead of other cities our size.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pass laws to prevent job discrimination and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. As programming director of the film festival, it often disappoints me that we don’t get as many young people as I would like attending our films.

One year, we had a wonderful program of short films about LGBTQ youth. The program was attended by a number of adults, but the only young person to attend was a boy from West Virginia. I’d say he was about 14. His aunt drove him to Pittsburgh to see our films so that he could see other kids like him. It was a very moving moment and made me feel good about the work I had done.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I really don’t know

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? I did that above

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we will lose the rights that we have fought so hard to achieve.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Increased involvement in our community. In the different LGBTQ groups and in politics. Nothing will change if we don’t work for it.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Get out and do things in the community. Attend events. Volunteer. Go to the movies!!

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? This is a good question. We show bisexual and transgender and gender fluid films at the festival. That is my way of supporting them. Letting them see parts of themselves in the movies. I think in general, we need to consider their needs and support them. They are the underrepresented portion of our community.

What motivated you to take part in this project? I think we need to get our stories out. I’m not sure my story is all that special, but maybe it will inspire someone. That is my hope.

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say that it is OK to be gay. You will be accepted. You will find love. In a broader scheme, you have to become comfortable with who you are – and being gay is just a part of that. You will never be successful until you realize that fact and you will be more contented once you own it.

 

Thank you, Mitch.

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.

You can read the other Q&A responses here.  AMPLIFY! LGBTQ is a project of Most Wanted Fine Art and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

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