Emma, 28, Keeps Her Queer Eyes Open in Pittsburgh #AMPLIFY

cis gay woman pittsburgh

Name:  Emma

Age: 28

County of Residence: Allegheny County. Formerly, Beaver county, Bradford county, & York county

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her

How do you describe your identity? I am a white, cis-gendered, gay woman. I wear the ‘lesbian’ hat sometimes, & like the ‘queer’ hat most often, too.

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out very casually. I just moved to Ambridge PA – in Beaver county, a few towns over from where I grew up – I was living with a friend and we both were living the single early 20’s lady life. I had a few weird experiences with dudez & thought that I might utilize OKCupid – it was fairly new to online date without stigma in 2011, but I took to tumblr like a fiend. I shared this new foray into lady dating with my friends at different times; They were all very supportive and it wasn’t a real issue whatsoever because I had surrounded myself with awesome people. As soon as I started chatting up a cute girl and set up a date, I called my mom & told her that I was going to be going on a date with a girl. That information did come as a shock to her because she is a very religiously inclined woman who raised me and my siblings in the baptist church. Fortunately she is also a very culturally aware and worldly woman & did not react harshly or critically; My mother took it all in stride & was very graceful with her responses during the discussion. The most significant challenge I faced during my initial coming out (because, let’s be honest, coming out is never a one-time-be-all-gay-all, we come out everyday in different ways) was with my extended family, particularly my dad’s sister & her husband. My uncle was, and still is, a fundamentalist baptist preacher. He and my aunt are very religious & very King James bible believing; Due to their staunch beliefs, I felt the need to have a formal sit-down to tell them that I was gay – my uncle told me that I didn’t have the peace of Christ, and my aunt cried. I subsequently continued to have a great community of friends to fall back on while my family processed this revelation, & I utilized online resources heavily for gay culture because I was in a very straight cis world.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am fortunate to live my life very out & proudly. I have a partner who I live with & I never hide that information from anyone because I feel very comfortable & content with my lifestyle. I have drawn lines with my family in that I refuse to tolerate ill treatment from them in terms of my sexuality, as well as where my partner is concerned – I expect her to be welcome anywhere that I am welcome & I will always fight for that in whatever capacity. I am out at work, I am out at play, I am very gay, haha.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Growing up a few of my classmates in school were out. I can’t pinpoint exactly who the “first person” was, but there were a few queers sprinkled throughout all the grades in high school.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I really liked Melonie Diaz’s character Anna in the movie ‘Itty Bitty Titty Committee.’ When I first saw that movie I immediately identified with Anna’s angry feminism & casual gayness. 

I also recently have come to really love Mary Oliver & her quiet gay life & beautiful poetry.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I keep up with new sources via social media, NPR radio, & various other online news sources. My partner and I also talk often about our opinions regarding these & other issues, during which discussions I always end up learning something new.

I also have activist friends who keep me informally in the loop with what’s going on.

Describe your geographical community. Currently I live in urban Pittsburgh where it is largely LGBTQ+ friendly. I haven’t encountered any direct harassment, but I know it can & has happened.

Beaver county is a slightly different story than Pittsburgh. I see a majority of cis white gay females when I visit bars & friends back home. I know that there is definitely diversity, but the whole county feels like such a small town in terms of queer community. The county is largely rural, with centralized suburban “urban” areas. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that in Beaver county country bars it’s probably not LGBTQ+ friendly & though I wouldn’t feel unsafe because I have the privilege of being white & feminine presenting, I’m certain it’s a different story for someone who does not necessarily pass as straight or cis.

I lived for short time in York county, & Bradford county, PA & both counties are very rural. Neither is particularly LGBTQ+ friendly, & I assume that the people who are LGBTQ+ who live there probably have to overcome some stigma from their peers if they want to live a totally out life. During my time in York county I went into several bars with my partner, felt extremely uncomfortable, & left without much upset – I realize of course I am privileged to never encounter violence. While in Bradford county I did have the pleasure of working with a nurse who was out, married to a woman, & had children. She & I would speak briefly from time to time about queer life in the country & she was very contented with how she & her wife were perceived by the community; They also had a lot of family support. I did not feel uncomfortable anywhere that my partner & I chose to go in Bradford county, but we also actively avoided anything that looked potentially unsafe.

[I, of course, say all of this through the privileged lens of a white cis woman so clearly the story is different for anyone not cis passing or not white.]

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. My personal LGBTQ+ community includes many different kinds of queers. I socialize with cis gay women, trans* folks, & cis gay men most of the time.

On the local Pittsburgh level I find myself at subversive events where I see alot of gender-nonconforming folx; I also find myself at mainstream events where the majority is clearly still cis gay & male. There is a lot of diversity if you’re keeping your queer eyes open, but the social spaces are still pretty divisive.

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public.  Fortunately I have not experienced discrimination with housing or at a job solely due to my LGBTQ+ identity. I do currently work with people who are psychotic and usually very mentally ill so I get a lot of comments about my sexuality based on my appearance (short hair = lesbian, of course) from patients who are angry or paranoid – those comments on the surface count as discrimination but due to the nature of my job I do not take them as such nor do I take them personally whatsoever.

In regards to housing, I have had a landlord hesitate to rent to a friend and I because we have visible tattoos; I chalk that up as generational ignorance & insensitivity, & we were approved for the place eventually.

Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I am an RN so my access to healthcare has always been related to my job with healthcare systems. I have had doctors who provide good care, but I wouldn’t say that it was particularly LGBTQ+ competent in an overreaching sense. I have never had a physician ask me specific questions pertaining to my professed sexual activity, but I have also never had any blatant discrimination due to it.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? This question is hard to answer because I keep going back to the organizations that ARE part of the local dialogue. Fortunately the past 2 years Pittsburgh as really upped its game in terms of activism for sections of the community that were not being heard; I can think of Roots Pride Pittsburgh & how it has given voice to those feeling underappreciated by the Delta Foundation and it’s pride focus.

In terms of what is NOT visible, I would probably just mention the necessity of expanding Persad and it’s mental health services it provides to the community. The work they do there is incredible, and it definitely could continue to improve and provide more free services to those in the community who are very marginalized. I think there is a tendency to take what is given to us and say “this is good!” instead of have a dialogue about how it could be “great.”

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pennsylvania is state in which we can be fired or denied housing for any reason. I would clearly like to see legislation that protects the employee/housing applicant instead of protecting the boss/landlord. Specific anti-discrimination legislation, especially protecting trans* & gender-nonconforming folx, would be ideal.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Something that continues to happen in my life is that the straight women I’m around love to call their friends “girlfriends.” I find myself constantly giggling to myself about the gayness of that title, haha.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Cultural competence in the work place seems to be a challenge that I have become attuned to lately after learning about a situation that happened to a friend who desired to transition on the job. He found that there was no official policy for that at the company he worked for & it became a huge issue for him to have to deal with solely on his own with no precedent. I think that in 2016 we should anticipate that LGBTQ+ people exist with no barriers to lifestyle. Going back to a previous question about what elected officials can do for the LGBTQ+ community, I would include the idea here that lack of state & federal policy for certain things makes it difficult to navigate in the professional job world, & the world at large.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad center provides mental health care specifically to the LGBTQ+ community at large in Pittsburgh.
Project Silk targets LGBTQ+ youth of color with a drop-in center & mentors.

Proud Haven targets homeless LGBTQ+ youth – they are working toward having a physical shelter for these youth right now with fundraisers.

The GLCC of Pittsburgh makes it their goal to be the go-to for resources for LGBTQ+ folx & their families.

The Delta Foundation puts together the Pittsburgh pride celebration year after year with a parade & social events for the LGBTQ+ community throughout the season.

Roots Pride Pittsburgh was formed a few years back as a direct response to what people considered problematic about the Delta Foundation in terms of their traditional white cis gay male focus – Roots Pride is a deliberate celebration of ALL of the LGBTQ+ community & sheds focus upon the inter-sectional community of queers in Pittsburgh; They host social & pride events throughout the season.

Pittsburgh Black Pride also hosts social & pride events to promote healthy living, relationships, & friendships in the black LGBTQ+ community.

Resources also abound online!

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear is that the LGBTQ+ community here in WPA will disseminate & become exclusionary. 

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest hope for the LGBTQ+ community here in WPA is that we will continue to grow in the direction that promotes positive communication between one another, inter-sectionality, & inclusive safe spaces.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? recognize their privilege & promote the voices of those in the community

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? as a cis gay woman I can’t answer for bisexuals & trans* folx, but I will keep my eyes & ears open for what I can do to promote their voices

What motivated you to take part in this project? I wanted to say so much about my queer experience & how it might differ from so many others.

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. In addition to the LGBTQ+ friendly resources that you may or may not have listed, do you or have you actually ever utilized or been involved in anything listed? please share that experience
where do you garner support from most now, as opposed to when you came out, & if it has shifted, how has it changed?

Thank you, Emma!

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. These are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices.

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.  If you would like to participate, visit the online Q&A which takes about 30 minutes. 

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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