Emily, 40, Talks About LGBTQ Visibility, Intersectionality & Resiliency #AMPLIFY

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Name: Emily

Age: 40

County of Residence: Allegheny County. I moved to Homestead, just outside the Pittsburgh border, in May 2016 with my wife. This is the first time I’ve lived in Pennsylvania. Prior to moving to PA, I had lived in Washington, DC, since 1999. I moved there a year after graduating from undergrad, and I grew up in suburban New Jersey.

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her

How do you describe your identity? Quiet, white, soft butch female architect and urban planner married to a strong, brilliant, beautiful black lawyer/law professor.

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? It was pretty anti-climactic. I had been questioning for a couple of years before I really came out to myself at age 22. I started dating my first girlfriend when I was 24, and I dated her for a year before I told my mom. The night that I finally came out to my mom I had just locked us out of the group house I lived in and we had to sit in the car until midnight when one of my roommates came home. When we got inside I blurted out, “Mom, I’m gay…” I was crying and upset with having held the secret in for so long. And she said, “Yes, I know, but can we talk about this tomorrow? I’m really tired.” She’s been a great support ever since. She’s not the sort of person to go to gay pride parades or join PFLAG or anything, but she has always encouraged me to follow my heart. The rest of my family is pretty distant and stereotypically WASP-y about “that’s your business, not mine”, but they’ve all met my wife and it’s never been an issue.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am very open and everyone in my life knows that I am gay and married to another woman. When I was recently job-hunting, I made sure to mention my wife in the interviews to see if there would be any sort of reaction from my interviewer. (Thankfully, I have found a very welcoming and allied workplace.) My identity as a gay woman is incredibly important to me, so being out is something that I ensure people know about me up front.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I can’t recall exactly… I’m sure there were LGBTQ folks in my community or friends of the family when I was growing up, but it was definitely not an open and accepting space. But I do remember one experience very clearly. In middle school (1988-ish) there was a girl, Danielle, who spent a lot of time hiding in the girls’ bathroom. There were a lot of whispers and rumors about her being a lesbian. The teachers seemed to give her a lot of leeway about leaving class when she needed to get away from other students. I knew her, but not well, and I felt sad for her. Our school was not a safe place to come out, whether she would have or not. I hope that nowadays it is a more open and welcoming place to just be who you are.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Bette from the L Word is the person I have always aspired to be (minus the negative plot points). She was the leader of that pack in a way. Confident, gorgeous, fit, articulate, artistic, always impeccably dressed, the one everyone went to with their issues.

Currently, it would be Poussey from “Orange is the New Black” because that smile. Oh my. And no, I don’t want to talk about the end of season 4, thank you.

For writers it’s Jeanette Winterson, Julie Anne Peters, Alison Bechdel, Gertrude Stein, Ali Smith, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Allison. Sylvia Brownrigg’s “Pages for You” tore my heart out both times I read it. I devoured Ann Bannon’s complete “Odd Girl Out” series in 24 hours. Of course, “Tipping the Velvet”. I am just now getting into Audre Lorde. I just love writers who allow LGBTQ characters to be real people rather than outliers.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly facebook. My friend circle includes an amazing band of allies who are often more informed about LGBTQ issues than I am. More specifically, Autostraddle, HuffPost Women, Washington Post, NPR. Thankfully, mainstream news outlets are doing an increasingly better job of covering LGBTQ news.

Describe your geographical community. Homestead is a former steel town across the river and up an enormous hill from Pittsburgh. The municipality is organized along one main street at the bottom of the hill with a loose street grid that tracks up the hill. Most of the houses are single family detached houses, though down closer to the water there are some multi-family apartment buildings and townhouses. We live about 3/4 of the way up the hill in a little craftsman-style house we are slowly renovating. When we bought the house in December last year, our next-door neighbors (an older white couple) were worried that we were flippers and weren’t even going to live in the house. The previous owners had lived there for 43 years. When they found out we were moving in, they were so happy the house had someone to care for it. They gave us a “welcome to the neighborhood” card and have been great neighbors — mowing our lawn, giving us vegetables from their garden, and always saying hello. Six other neighbors came over immediately after we moved in to introduce themselves. We don’t know if there are any other gay people in the neighborhood, but the community has been very welcoming to us.

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I’m still trying to find it. Having only been in Pittsburgh for six months, it is taking some work to find community. Coming from DC I recognize now that we were spoiled. It was much easier and more comfortable to be out in DC, the LGBTQ community was as integrated into larger society as any place I’ve ever been. Pittsburgh feels like DC in the ’90s. The LGBTQ community still feels secretive and underground and, perhaps because of that, somewhat illicit. We have met a few great people here, but building a close-knit friend network like we had in DC will take some time (though I think this is relatively true for any transplants, gay or straight).

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public.  Thankfully, no (that I am aware of anyway).

Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) Having only lived here for six months, I have not yet had the need or opportunity to seek health care here. I can say that since my wife and I are married I was easily able to join her health coverage (from UPMC) which has not always been the case.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think the fact that the LGBTQ community in Pittsburgh isn’t very visible is an issue in and of itself. Changing this probably just takes time.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I am not sure about LGBTQ Pennsylvanians specifically. I am still learning state laws and policies. But I would really like to see ENDA passed in some form nationally. It is clearly not going to happen in this upcoming Congress (sigh), but I am hopeful that within the next six years we will have national protections against employment discrimination. It is absurd to me that we don’t now. But I am also learning that living in DC was a bit of a bubble of liberal comfort that not everyone is familiar with.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. The assumption of heteronormativity here is sometimes astonishing. When we had to have a service person come out to the house right after we moved in (I can’t remember what for), the guy’s form had pre-printed in the name section “Mr. & Mrs.” That assumption can be problematic for anyone not in a heterosexual marriage whether it’s a gay couple, single person of any identity, or a widow/widower. And what about “non-traditional” households? Siblings living together, or parent-child households, or any number of other possibilities? But for LGBTQ couples this can put us into a potentially dangerous situation because it may force us to come out when we don’t feel comfortable doing so (or else lie which is no fun either). Or sometimes (like when the sales rep on the phone from our water company asked what my husband’s name is) it’s just super annoying.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I’m honestly not sure. Still figuring things out here.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? I’m not sure about this one either, but the question has inspired me to do some research! Of course there is always PFLAG, the It Gets Better Project, the Trevor Project, HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, NGLCC, and a bunch of others. But I’m not as familiar with local resources.

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania?   Donald Trump and the culture of hatred, bigotry, and open discrimination he is inspiring and encouraging. I worry about and increase in hate crimes, LGBTQ suicides, and a generally less safe environment for our community for the next four years.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? We have had to be incredibly resilient for decades. We can weather any storm and there is no preventing progress. So we will have to fight for our lives and our rights and I hope that that brings us closer and helps our bonds grow stronger.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? The most important thing allies can do is to speak up when they see or hear discrimination against our community members. It is still true: Silence = Death

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Same as for allies. Speak up. Lend our support.

What motivated you to take part in this project? Part of wanting increased visibility for your community is being more visible yourself. When the plea was posted in the LGBTQ Community of Pittsburgh Facebook group I felt it was my responsibility as a member of this community to contribute my voice. Plus, I love talking about myself. 😉

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. It would be great to have a question or two about racial or ethnic identity to get at some of the issues of intersectionality that LGBTQ people of color or of other backgrounds may have experienced especially in Western PA. How your other identities either meld with or clash with your understanding of yourself as a member of the LGBTQ community. Or, for white LGBTQ persons, what is their understanding of or experience with inclusivity within the LGBTQ community?

Thank you, Emily.

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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