Content Note: sexual assault
County of Residence: Washington County born & raised. Also lived in Indiana & Allegheny counties before moving to New Mexico, where I’ve lived for the past 20 years.
How do you describe your identity? I’ve been an out, loud & proud gay man since 1981. Within the past year I’ve also discovered that I’m transgender (genderqueer/transfemme/MtF) which I’ve suppressed since I was bullied for a couple of years in middle school. That’s been a surprise to me and I’m exploring transition and my identity anew. I’m also Anglo, which is what we call “white” in New Mexico.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I first came out to another person while attending Trinity High School in Washington, PA. She was a lesbian who was a year behind me in school. Through her I got connected to a fledgling area resource called WINGS (Washington Independent Network for Gay Support). It was mostly adult lesbians. The referred me to a gay man they knew in town, but he raped me when I went to talk with him. My only other support at the time was a few friends, a newsstand across from the county courthouse where I could get a copy of the Pittsburgh LGBT newspaper (Pittsburgh’s OUT). The challenges were definitely the isolation, other LGBT peoples’ fears, and the bullies I’d endured throughout middle school.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m out to everyone, haven’t hidden it for decades. I’m married to my partner of 15 years. My best friend is my former partner of 17 years, another western PA transplant to New Mexico, who grew up in Fayette County.
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Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The very first LGBTQ person I met was a pianist who was touring churches in Western PA in the 70s. He was preaching the “pray away the gay” stuff and my mother took me to see him at a church in Green County one evening. He was supposedly a “delivered homosexual”. I was around 9 at the time, and I remember being thrilled because he was a pianist. I didn’t understand the rest of it. I’d say his impact was to make it clear that homosexuality was not okay in my community (or family).
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I’ve always been very partial to Quentin Crisp. He lived his life always as himself, openly, and was celebrated in his later years.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? It’s a lot easier these days with the Internet than it was pre-web. Various news sites, tons of friends across the country who are involved in their communities.
Describe your geographical community. Albuquerque is a city with a small-town feel. Outside of the metro area there are many rural & frontier communities. Overall, I consider the state to be LGBT friendly.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I live in a rural village just north of Albuquerque. There’s a vibrant LGBT community in Albuquerque for those who are social or political; there are many LGBT people here statewide who simply live their lives integrated into their broader communities. New Mexico has civil rights protections statewide for LGBT citizens – that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that are anti-gay, but we have the law on our side. My employer also has policies that protect LGBT folks. There are many LGBT service organizations, including a Transgender Resource Center. Albuquerque Public Schools is currently pretty progressive on LGBT issues, though there are always anti-gay folks trying to roll back all our gains.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Not in a job setting but I did a few times when apartment/house hunting in Western PA back in the day. I occasionally experienced harassment in public during my western PA years.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I haven’t accessed health care in Western PA for twenty years.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? What I’ve heard from friends still living in western PA, especially in Washington county, is that things have improved slightly for LGBT kids & adults. Still, it always seems like a step back to me when I visit. I think education about sexuality & gender is still a great need throughout the area.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pass significant statewide anti-discrimination & hate crimes laws; require health care providers to improve services & access; require insurance companies to cover trans & gender confirmation services.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. When I was still living in Indiana, PA, I had a coworker who described himself as a ‘redneck’. One day when we were in the kitchen of the restaurant I could tell he wanted to ask me something. After he hemmed & hawed for a while he finally asked me, “Are you gay?” I got right in his face and aggressively said, “Yea, I am. What’s it to you?” He got all red in the face & stammered, “Nothing, man. You’re cool. You’re cool.” Never had a problem with him after that!
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Lack of access to & coverage for transgender-related healthcare that includes gender confirmation procedures.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Numerous community organizations in Albuquerque & Santa Fe, including EqualityNM, UNM LGBTQ Resource Center, Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, the United Court of the Sandias, Truman Health Services, LGBT Wilde Bunch (square dancing), LGBT bowling leagues, several LGBT-affirming religious organizations & churches. There are a lot more than I can name.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the gains will be long-fought for, yet easily overturned. I also fear the ignorance & conservatism of many folks in western PA.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the area will become a beacon in northern Appalachia for LGBTQ equality & justice that encompasses all races and has strong, vital coalitions with other organizations serving all oppressed & disadvantaged people in the area.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Speak out, loudly & often.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Fight the tendency to be insular; reach out, listen & value each other
What motivated you to take part in this project? I’m from the area, and though I haven’t lived there in 20 years I still care about our community there.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. How do you view your identity & intersectionality? ~ To a certain degree I know who I am & that I’ve benefited from the privilege that inevitably accrues to people perceived as white & male in our society. I have friends & people I consider family who identify as PoC, trans, and just about any label you can think of. I try to be respectful of differences, value diversity, and LISTEN rather than talk.
Thank you, Scott.
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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.