Name: Hilary Copp
County of Residence: Erie County, previously has lived in New Jersey, Chicago, Atlanta, and Ohio.
How do you describe your identity? Cisgender white female, pansexual
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I have a tremendous amount of privilege in the world as a white, cisgender, able-bodied person who was born to an upper middle-class family. This privilege extended to my being able to come out while attending liberal Carleton College, where questioning dominant standards was the norm. I first suspected I was bisexual in high school, but I waited to come out because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just trying to look cool in front of my LGBT friends. I did go on one date with a poor unsuspecting (super hot) lesbian woman who had no idea I wasn’t out – I still regret not just going for it with her! During my sophomore year at college I developed a raging crush on my (female) RA, which pretty much confirmed my suspicions. I had plenty of progressive friends who were either LGBT, questioning, or allies, so it was pretty much a nonevent. Telling my parents was harder. My dad said “A wise man once said that children and parents should stay out of each other’s sex lives” and said that as long as I was happy, he was happy. My mom took it harder; she cried and asked why, if I could choose, wouldn’t I just choose men so that I wouldn’t be discriminated against. That didn’t go over too well with me, but we worked through it. Again, I was incredibly lucky to not have had any really bad experiences.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am in a monogamous marriage with a cisgender male, so I often feel invisible. Therefore I try to boost my visibility as much as possible, across all parts of my life. I am out to my spouse, my family, my friends, my coworkers, my students, everyone, both because I talk about it and because I always wear a rainbow bracelet. I also don’t shave and have both a rainbow sticker and a “Question Gender” sticker on my car. (I’m strongly invested in transgender rights.) Once again, my multiple layers of personal, social, and economic privilege mean that I feel safe to be this out.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first person who came out to me was a high school friend. I was humbled that he trusted me enough to tell me, and it really opened my eyes to the numerous forms of heterosexism and homophobia he encountered every day. It was 1988, so much of the public conversation still centered around how gay men were responsible for AIDS (and deserved what they got).
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. The most important book I ever read was Leslie Feinberg’s “Stone Butch Blues.” Leslie was a trailblazer for the transgender and gender-variant community, and we lost a luminary when zhe passed (in part due to anti-trans bias zhe encountered with medical providers).
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I try to watch for news items that affect LGBTQ people. I also have a great network of intelligent people on Facebook which helps me stay up to speed.
Describe your geographical community. Erie is Pennsylvania’s fourth largest city, with just under 100,000 people. All around Erie it is quite rural. Attitudes toward LGBTQ people vary greatly.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Erie has a fairly active LGBTQ community. There are men’s groups, women’s groups, mixed groups, and a transgender support group. There are several activist organizations here, including the Greater Erie Alliance for Equality (GEAE) and the Northwest PA Pride Alliance (NWPAPA). We have one LGBTQ-specific bar (The Zone) and a monthly LGBTQ newsletter (Erie Gay News). Elected officials vary in their support of LGBTQ people and issues. Erie has an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which is good.
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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. No, largely because of the protective factor of having a male spouse.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) Personally, I have never had difficulty accessing health care here, though I sometimes have to remind doctors that just because I am married to a man, that doesn’t mean that I am straight. Until the past year, Erie had a serious crisis in that we lacked providers who would prescribe hormones for transgender patients, but several local doctors have stepped in to fill the need.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Just as is true anywhere, trans people in Erie need more resources, support, and protection.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Stand up for social justice for all vulnerable and underprivileged people!
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I teach in the social work department at Edinboro University. As I said, I am out to my students. Every year, I have at least one student come to me to thank me for being out because it made them feel more safe in the classroom.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Simple ignorance. Most people harbor prejudices because they don’t think they know anyone “like that,” or they haven’t bothered to educate themselves. This is why I think it’s so important for me to be out; hopefully I can be an example that starts to demystify “those people.”
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? See above, under the description of the local community.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Trump
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That our current political situation will continue to inspire resistance, action, and awareness.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Speak out when you hear straight people making anti-LGBTQ remarks. Use your straight privilege. A moment of discomfort is worth it.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Be inclusive. Don’t tell bi/pansexual people that we’re confused, going through a phase, or incapable of being faithful. Accept trans people as they are, as they identify. Don’t impose a binary gender expectation on other people.
What motivated you to take part in this project? My ongoing focus on being as visible as possible, in order to destigmatize being LGBTQ as much as possible.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I can’t think of anything!
Thank you, Hilary.
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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.