County of Residence: Allegheny. I lived in my youth in Cambridge, MA, Bonn, Germany, New Haven CT and Oxford England.
Preferred Pronouns: She, her hers
How do you describe your identity? I am bisexual in my sexual orientation and cisgender but mildly gender non-conforming in my gender presentation.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out as bisexual in my late forties. I understood myself to be a straight ally for LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Through participation in church advocacy groups I came to know a good number of lesbians. Over time I puzzled about what I came to recognize as sexual attraction to a few women through the course of my life in the light of my love for my husband and the differences between what my lesbian friends shared as their experience and my own. It took several years of using the term LGBT for the B to emerge in my understanding as a distinct part of that whole community. I was standing in a Taco Bell line for lunch, admiring a woman in front of me when the light went on: I must be bisexual. When I got home, I said to my husband, “I think I finally figured it out, I’m bisexual.” He said, “That’s sounds about right, as I know you.” He and our children, teenagers at the time, were very supportive in this emerging sexual identity. My brothers and father basically said, “Oh,” and moved on to some other subject. Colleagues in Presbyterian ministry ranged from complete support to an assumption that this meant I was promiscuous. My assurance to them that I am faithful to my husband seemed to satisfy them. I know I live with a protective shield of people assuming–if I don’t bring it up–that I am straight because my partner is a man. I am bisexual committed in marriage to a man and come out as such when that seems to be appropriate. Discerning when that is appropriate is a challenge.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I do not wear being bisexual on my sleeve. I am comfortable coming out when the moment seems to me to warrant it. I am not as directly involved in LGBTQ advocacy now as I was. The contexts I am in do not call for me to come out as frequently. When a moment does seem to call me to share my sexual identity, I do.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My Uncle George was the first LGBTQ person I met. He moved to Pasadena CA before I was born. No one spoke of his sexual orientation when I was growing up but I figured it out when I was in college. He visited each year in the fall with his friend, Johnnie, to be with family and enjoy the change of seasons. All that was ever said was that John was his friend and my grandmother loved them both. I learned much later in life that my uncle had been denied service in World War II because he was gay and that he was sent twice as a young man to a sanatorium in Massachusetts to be cured. He was a lovely, gentle man. He and John had the longest faithful relationship of all among his sister and brothers.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I admire Anna Paquin for her gentle outspokenness.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Internet scanning, mostly checking out stories about LGBTQ issues in the faith community
Describe your geographical community. I live in the same neighborhood where I grew up. Because of the universities and hospitals nearby this area has remained very much the same through the years. It is near a primary concentration of gay bars. The people are highly educated so it feels safe and friendly here.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I like the fact that PIttsburgh does not really have a designated “gayborhood.” The LGBTQ community is spread out among all the great neighborhoods of the city. To me we seem to have a paradoxical situation in Pittsburgh of having one organization the is looked to as representative for the LGBTQ community even though it is dominated by the gay bar scene and, at the same time, a rich wealth of LGBTQ organizations ranging from the Center downtown to the women’s softball league.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Not that I know of beyond questioning my some colleagues in the church concerning committing the sin of adultery. They have no power over me regarding employment or wellbeing.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) It has been competent for me.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Leadership within the regional LGBTQ community is a simmering issue.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Focus on police education and LGBTQ community-police relations to make sure that they are well equipped to protect and serve the most vulnerable among us, the young LGBTQ population and our transgender folks. They would be helped by education of the general public in our community to get beyond assumptions and stereotypes. That would definitely improve life for LGBTQ people here in Western PA.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I was moved by the swiftness of our city to smooth the way for a vigil marking the Orlando massacre this past summer. City officials seemed to step up and help in every way possible and the well attended event was moving in the way it brought everyone together. That was a lovely moment of honoring LGBTQ people for me.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Lack of understanding. Widespread false assumptions about LGBTQ people.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? On line resources like websites of church LGBTQ advocacy groups., e.g. More Light Presbyterians or Welcoming Resources
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Unpredictable violence against vulnerable individuals.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That all may live joyful, fulfilling lives as they are.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Seek out LGBTQ people with a willingness to get to know them as friends
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Make special effort to include them in your thinking and in wider community activities. Remember we are sensitive to being left out.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Sue’s persistent asking.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Can’t think of anything.
Thank you, Janet.
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.