Eileen, 52, Reflects on the Awakening of Her LGBTQ Community #AMPLIFY

Pittsburgh Gay

Name: Eileen

Age: 52

County of Residence: Allegheny

Preferred Pronouns: Female

How do you describe your identity? I am an simply put, just ME. I truly despise all the labels that are being thrown around today in the LGBTQ world to describe people. I believe that the people thinking they have to have a need to label themselves is just another way of feeling to need to conform to society. I think as long as you are true to yourself, you shouldn’t let others make you feel that you have to label yourself. Be YOURSELF and those that don’t like it don’t deserve YOU! I am ME, take it or leave it!

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I was hetero sexually married for years and had three children before I “Came Out.”

I left my husband with my three children, and moved in with my girlfriend. We received a lot of negative criticism at first, as we were one of the very few lesbian couples at the time with kids! I was called a breeder by my gay peers. After time, people came to realize I was a mother first, and gay after that! I gained respect of my peers, who then became my friends and saw that it was okay to for me to “jump the fence”.

I received support by participating in gay events in the city, and by working in a few gay establishments.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am happily me! I have a beautiful wife, and we live a wonderful married life together! We don’t hide our sexuality to anyone. Our families accept and love us for who we are.

I guess one would say, I am a Team Leader of the OUT and PROUD gang.

Since having developed iCandyPittsburgh, https://www.facebook.com/icandy.pgh/
( Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community based fundraising parties and events), it seems to have put us at the forefront of being out and about in our community, meeting tons of amazingly, wonderful local community members and allies. We are also now nationally recognized for hosting LGBTQ comedians from around the country, whom we have brought to Pittsburgh to perform for our community!

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBTQ person I met was a man names tommy who married to my female cousin. I was very young at the time when he decided to become true to himself and was honest with his wife and told her he was gay and leaving her to be with men. My family of course was very angry and upset with him for devastating my cousin to whom he was married, but I’m my young mind, I thought he was very brave. I admired him for his being honest with himself and having the courage to be true to who he really felt he was, Funny how life happens that i ended up doing the same thing in my life!

My cousin and Tommy, after some healing time, were able to become friends again and he and his partner remained a part of my cousins life until Tommy ended up passing away from HIV.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I have always had a passion for laughter so I would say its always been persons like Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Ellen Degeneres, Rosie ,Margaret Cho, Paul Lynde, Susan Westenhoefer, Julie Goldman, Jessica Kirson to name a few. I feel that it takes a very special type of person to dedicate their lives to make others laugh and laughter is truly the best medicine for all of us.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I stay informed about all of the different LGBTQ events through Social Media or printed materials. I also gain a lot of insight through the contacts that we work with in conjunction with the iCandy Pittsburgh, iLAUGH and Spring and Fall iFLING events.

Describe your geographical community.  I was born and raised in the Greenfield/Squirrel Hill part of the city. Besides being a rather straight predominantly Jewish neighborhood as I grew up, our area has evolved to become quite the melting pot of all types of different folks. There are many LGBTQ neighbors in my part of town. I would say that I feel as though Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community had grown leaps and bounds since my first coming out. I have been blessed to currently be a part of , have worked in and volunteered for our Pittsburgh community over the course of many years.

I have been graced to have met so many different amazing beings that have dedicated their lives for the good of our local LGBTQ resources, such as the GLCC and Persad and the Delta Foundation.

Pittsburgh is such and amazing city to be a LGBTQ person in, compared to how it was long ago. I remember when I bartending at the old New York, New York (currently 5801), and I had customers that would take their Out Magazine out of the bar in a brown paper to be certain that nobody would see it! I am so glad those days are over! Its nice now to be able to see two same sex persons walking hand in hand with out worrying!

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. We have a wonderful community here in Pittsburgh. Anytime you want to feel a sense of it, you can attend one of the many events that our community is offered by the many producers of entertainment here in the city. We have HMH, Impulse Pittsburgh, Outrageous Bingo, So many wonderful Drag performers, iCandy PIttsburgh Dance Parties and iLaugh Comedy shows, iFLING Spring and Fall parties, Art for Change, Burlesque Performances, Hit the V Spot, Pittsburgh Pride, Nightmare on Hellsworth, Singles Night Out, Outdoor Adventure Group1111, and many, many more events. In addition, we have many Gay Sports teams you can also become involved in.

We hear all the time that there’s nothing to do in this town, well i have named a ton of ideas for everyone to consider if your looking to be out and about in our wonderful community!

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I have had a few instances of discrimination in the work setting. It was usually an instance where people would insist I was not gay because i had children and would harass me about that factor.

I also worked for a large Corporation in the 90’s with whom my girlfriend at the time also worked. The older ladies made our lives a living hell, so we actually just took different jobs rather than be miserable!

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? You can seen all around various areas of Pittsburgh where low to middle class folks are impacted by the economy.

I think Pittsburgh needs to address its critical issues such as: homelessness, the lack of access to have affordable healthcare, the fact that the lines of the local food banks have several parents with small children in it, the enormous drug epidemic.

We have several straight and LGBTQ friends and acquaintances that have to either live with their parents, if they are fortunate to have that option, or have multiple roommates, just to keep a roof over their heads. Most of these folks can’t afford health insurance and barely get by to keep food in their refrigerator, even with one or two jobs.
Perhaps a focus on better grants for education, more affordable housing and heath care options, and free or low cost drug rehabilitation for those who need it. We have huge corporate healthcare conglomerates making billions in our city, why not have them make these available for the in need in Pittsburgh?

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I would like to see our elected officials take the time to listen to the folks that work diligently to see that our LGBTQ community is afforded the same rights as everyone. I would also like to see more funding for outreach to the LGBTQ youth, as they are our future.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community.  I remember April 25th,1993 standing in utter amazement at the sea of people spread across the D.C. Mall for the March on Washington for LGBTQ Equal Rights and Liberation. That was quite some time ago, the evolution and awakening of our community never ceases to amaze me. We still are fighting for our rights but with perseverance we will continue to grow for our future generations!

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think that the public eye believes that LGBTQ persons are usually more financially secure than others. I think that is a large misconception for many in our community. I know of many people LGBTQ persons that struggle and live on low incomes without access to any affordable housing or healthcare.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? The Gay and Lesbian Community Center
Persad Center
PFLAG
Transpride
Delta Foundation

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear would be seeing all of the rights that us LGBTQ persons fought for, would be taken away. We must remain diligent and VOTE for persons that support our LGBTQ community and their beliefs and agendas align with our community.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest hope is that our local community organizations will start to align with one and other and all work together for the greater good of our community.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Allies can be supportive of us by attneding our functions and educate themselves about our LGBTQ lives and proactively discourage others from discriminating against us.

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? I think we are all the unique and fighting our own battles but that we need to stop segregating within our community.

What motivated you to take part in this project? I finally had a moment to do it! I have been promising to do it forever!

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I think you should have asked the question, Why it is that our LGBTQ community still feels the need to segregate the LGB from the TQ. We are just people and our community can only get stronger with us all in this battle fighting a unified fight!

Thank you, Eileen.

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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