County of Residence: Allegheny County, I have lived in OH, MN, CA, TX, NY, NC, WA and MT but never anywhere other than in Allegheny County during my PA tenures.
How do you describe your identity? I’m a cis white girl and feminine in the way that a cross between Cyndi Lauper and Tank Girl might be feminine.
I’m also bi, but have always thought of myself as queer.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I didn’t really have one. It’s hard to describe but because of the way my mother was/is, it wasn’t until I was (far) out of college that I existed anywhere but primarily queer communities. Coming out wasn’t necessary for me, or at least it didn’t feel like it was.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Now is DIFFERENT. People take me for straight, because my most recent relationship (it was a significant one) was with a man. That relationship is also what brought me back to Pittsburgh after decades away. That relationship was also brutal, and to say the very least, the dude did not celebrate my sexuality (or allow me to). So, it’s different now for a lot of reasons. I am out with my friends, but DEFINITELY not at work. I’m already the weird one in the office, and am not in a relationship anyway, so it really doesn’t seem worth the further alienation that would inevitably follow.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My mom :).
My mom came out when I was eight, by way of falling in love with my best friend’s mom. I didn’t know it at the time because I was too young to know anything different, but my mom has always been 100% iconoclastic. Prior to her coming out, I had never heard mention that there was any single right way to live (other than just being decent, of course), so when she told my sisters and I that we were moving in with my bff, I was thrilled. Immediately, bullying began at school and that’s when I learned that there was one way people were “supposed” to live. My mom taught me then, as directly but also indirectly, that that was a buncha bullshit and that everyone – absolutely everyone – deserved the dignity of being themselves.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Geez.
I mean, this may sound crazy and I don’t even know if it was ever clarified that he was gay, but I loved (!) the character of “The Homeless Cabaret Singer” in the Fisher King. He was just so charming and genuinely “him” and he did not give a fuck.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? My friends. I’m in AA, and I go to three meetings that are heavily comprised of LQBTQ folks. Thats really what keeps me connected to the community.
Describe your geographical community. I live in Regent Square, so yeah of course. Pittsburgh itself is friendlyISH, but Pittsburgh is friendlyISH to everyone who isn’t white, straight and/or Yinzer. I like this city, but woof. It’s rough on the spirit socially.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Well, I mean there’s my mom. And although they didn’t stay together my best friend’s mom (with whom we shacked up) is still a parental figure to me to some extent.
Then there are my AA friends, who are basically my entire world, and drawing a broader circle, the “community” of Pittsburgh itself.
I have to say, though, that I do not feel as if Pittsburgh has a strong queer community. Maybe this is because I’m sober and don’t go to bars, or maybe it’s because I’m old, but there’s no there there when it comes to Pittsburgh’s queer community and I feel like it’s always been that way.
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Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. In a job setting, sure, I went to a very liberal college in the middle of a very rural part of Ohio (redundant – sorry), and during my final year I worked at the same restaurant as my girlfriend. We were both harassed daily, but me much more so I think because I was much more feminine than my girlfriend. The boss did nothing to intervene and in fact told us that it was what we should expect.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I don’t believe I have medical issues or experiences that are reflective of my LGBTQ status, so I don’t feel as it I can address this.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Addiction, for sure. Complete and total disowning still happens, and still crushes young people’s spirits. Terrible harassment of trans people. Loneliness, isolation, feelings of abandonment… it’s so bad among my young friends I just can’t believe it. It was bad when I was a kid but I never expected that it would stay so bad for so long.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I like to see members of the LGBTQ community *be* elected officials. I’d like to see our elected officials be vocal about LGBTQ rights in months other than June, to lobby for them in Harrisburg, and to create an innovative safety net for young people who are kicked out and/or disowned. I’d like to see Pittsburgh become a leader in advancing LGBTQ rights, as opposed to an embarrassment.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. When I was in tenth grade (in Monroeville), my English teacher – who was my favorite teacher ever – made a joke in class about gay people and everyone laughed. I was so mad at him because we were close and I thought that he knew not only about my mom, but about my struggles in that school because she was gay. I wrote him a note, reminding him that you never know what people’s background experiences are and he held me back after class the next day to apologize and thank me. It was a really nice and proud moment for me – it was the first time I found the nerve to be an active advocate, and I was empowered by his response.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Emotional health and self-esteem. Without those, everything is so, SO much more difficult. I see it in AA everyday, how lives are so stifled and unnecessarily tangled by those kids (mostly) feeling so badly about themselves. It’s heart-wrenching.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? In the AA community, there are some really great meetings geared toward the LGBTQ community. Persad is of course a resource and the Delta Foundation of course is not. I don’t know if any others that are explicit supports for the LGBTQ community in Pittsburgh.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? THAT IT NEVER, EVER GETS BETTER.
I saw this shit when I was eight, having to wait to be let in the back door of Wild Sisters when my mom would take us there. I can’t believe I’m still seeing it now.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? THAT IT GETS BETTER!!!
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Be ACTIVE ADVOCATES, not allies. (::eyeroll::)
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Don’t be dicks. We’re all in this together.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I love the idea. I don’t feel like we have a community in our community, and without that we have no voice. I want us to have a voice.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Question: Who is your favorite LGBTQ cultural icon?
Answer: Annie Liebovitz, because she does not give a f*ck and she is smart as hell.
Thank you, Jamaica.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
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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.