County of Residence: Allegheny, formerly Cambria (Johnstown)
How do you describe your identity? gay man
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Well in high school I found myself attracted to other guys in school over any girls, but I didn’t think much of it in terms of being gay even though I somewhat knew what that was. Basically confusing teenage hormones meant I could not explain why I was having crushes on other guys in school when I also thought “you’re a boy, you date girls.” I clearly remember my 11th grade year-long crush, his name was Alex and he was 2 grades below me. Looking back, however, what I was feeling was definitely sexual attraction towards those other guys.
College is when I came out to myself and ironically it was a girl I went on 2 dates with that cemented it for me that women do nothing sexually or romantically for me. It helped me realize that everyone I subconsciously found myself attracted to were other guys. Even then, it wasn’t until after college that I actually told other people that I’m gay.
As for challenges, the only one I recall vividly was the fear of other people i knew finding out I was gay. I recall going to my first gay bar (Images) back in 2009 and wondering “would anyone see me go into the bar?”. I literally spend 10 minutes walking around the block outside before I finally had enough courage to step inside the bar. Looking back, I’m glad I went in!
Support? Simply immersing myself in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community and being around those who have gone through the same struggle has helped a lot.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Now most everyone I know knows I’m a gay man. Friends from high school and most family members are on my facebook, so they can see my life and how active I am in the LGBTQ community. My siblings definitely know and have no problem with it, though I notice my parents never really bring the subject up. Obviously I’d have no problem discussing it with them if it was ever mentioned, but I’ve decided that if I ever managed to get a date with a guy that my brother (who also lives on northside) would definitely be the first to know who the lucky man is, because him and his girlfriend aren’t bothered about my gay identity.
As for being active in the community I’ve been to pride events non stop since 2010 and unlike the story above about images bar, I now have no problem going to LGBTQ owned bars or businesses or expressing myself in public. At this point, I basically don’t give a flying f*ck what other people think of my sexual orientation because it’s MY life, not theirs, and I will defend myself in public if someone makes my sexual orientation out to be a negative thing.
I’m also a novice sister with the Steel City Sisters as Sister Leia Orgasms Solo, whose goal is to eliminate stigmatic guilt, spread joy and serve the community, with 1 more general meeting to get out of the way before i become a mission sister (which is the highest rank you can get in our house at the moment until the house becomes fully professed). Basically we’re drag nuns who wear fancy habits and makeup when we go out on the town to help others ans spread joy. My siblings are even aware of my drag Sister persona too! That reminds me how I need to talk to the one sibling’s girlfriend who was mentioned above, as she offered to help me look for some fancy dresses to wear while sistering.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Coworker at a clothing store. He was just so open about being gay that it helped me be more comfortable with it to the point that I eventually outed myself to everyone else one day at work. No real negative responses to that, but the funniest part was when said gay coworker told me “I should know these things!” when he found out I also was gay.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Does it have to be a character or creator from television, film or literature? Can it be a creator of music? Because for famous people who are artistic, I’m immediately drawn to Sir Elton John as his style of rock music has always been a favorite of mine. He’s one artist who I will never turn off when he comes on the radio and my go-to song of his when I want to listen to him is “Tiny Dancer”. Not only is he an amazing internationally known musician who’s done rock albums and movie soundtracks (“Can you feel the love tonight?” from The Lion King being my favorite soundtrack song of his), but he has been extremely active in LGBTQ and AIDS causes since the 80’s. I simply love that he uses his privilege as a gay celebrity to advocate for more than just music and to actually help the greater LGBTQ community.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Facebook, social media, and word-of-mouth from friends.
Describe your geographical community. Well in Johnstown where I grew up support for LGBTQ people is half and half now, as in half the town is Catholics whose religion and interpretation of the bible influence their daily lives and how they see others. There’s only one gay bar (Lucy’s Place) in all of Cambria County that’s a safe space for the local LGBTQ community to gather and socialize, so more needs to be done in getting more LGBTQ businesses and resources into the area.
As for Pittsburgh, the people here are much more gay-friendly and open to our community. About 10 gay bars in total? That doesn’t include all the LGBTQ-owned businesses that aren’t bars operating in the area. I’ve never had any issues out in public as myself or when I’m done up in nun’s habits with the Sisters,
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I think Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community is sizable and pretty diverse, though the one thing I have to explain to most out-of-towners is that we don’t have a dedicated “gayborhood” like other cities do and that all the bars and resources that cater to our community are spread out all over town. The drag scene is also very vibrant ,with shows happening every week at different bars in the area .
As for organizations, we’ve got many different organizations serving several different groups within the LGBTQ community. Pittsburgh Equality Center, Sheppard Wellness, , just to name a few, and lastly the Steel City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, of which I am active with as Sister Leia Orgasms Solo. Spreading joy and eliminating stigmatic guilt while serving the community
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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. Yes the first time I set foot in the former Pegasus back in 2009, I was standing outside waiting to get in and an older gentleman waiting at a nearby bus stop saw me and said out loud after wondering why I was standing there “Wait a minute, you’re a faggot!” or something to that effect. The word faggot was the one word i clearly remember him yelling out, though. I didn’t do anything in response at the time because i was too scared to cause a scene,. but nowadays I would have no problem calling him out right then and there on his bigotry and hopefully educating him or other bystanders on equality and why that slur is wrong to use.
As for housing and jobs, it hasn’t been much of an issue since it is illegal to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation in Allegheny County. Everywhere I’ve been for housing has not had a problem with it.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) UPMC health through my employer and they are gay-friendly. For an actual doctor, Dr. Stacy Lane has been amazing when I’ve gone to the Central Outreach Wellness Center van for STD testing, and now it’s just scheduling an appointment to make her my primary care physician.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Yes as we see nationally, Trans Women of Color have the highest discrimination and suicide rates in our community and I feel that here the group isn’t mentioned nearly as much as it should be. We saw this most explosively during the controversy of the last 3 years with Delta Foundation’s running of pride and how other marginalized groups in our community feel left out of a Delta-run pride that as critics say focuses only on what white gay men want. It’s my hope that more gay men realize they are not the only members of the LGBTQ community, and that in particular white gays use their privilege to help Trans Women of Color and other marginalized groups in our community.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Finally add LGBTQ people to anti-discrimination laws to the state and then federal level. Also eliminating bullying in schools and for adults increasing minimum wage and access to healthcare (not all insurances will cover gender reassignment surgery, for example).
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. That I’m a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence whose goal is to eliminate stigmatic guilt, spread joy and serve the community. Everywhere we go, we’ve been met with nothing but positive responses and people love us. That’s everywhere from gay bars to the Three Rivers Arts festival where we posed for pictures in front of the point state park fountain. The only negative response I’ve ever received in my year since starting was a lady who was caught off guard entering Bloomfield Sure Save as we were leaving the store in full nun’s habits.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Income inequality . I could go on and on about how our elected officials too often only care about the 1% and their money in this country,.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Pittsburgh Equality Center, SiSters PGH, PERSAD center, Proud Haven, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the religious right gets their way and that we won’t be protected in public businesses due to owners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs”.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we come together and are triumphant in dismantling systems of oppression that keep us down.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Be vocal and call out homophobia and transphobia whenever you hear or see it happening. Also when they know nothing of our struggles to just shut up and listen.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Learning to take a step back to give these other members of the community a voice and letting them speak and share their stories at public events, etc..
What motivated you to take part in this project? To allow others in the area to see my story and know that it is OK to be who you are.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. What is one thing you would tell your past self about being LGBTQ? Just come out already, you will be accepted and there is an LGBTQ community waiting to embrace you and make you feel at home.
Thank you, Ben.
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.