County of Residence: Allegheny
How do you describe your identity? Gender identity: cis female, sexual orientation: queer, race: white.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I sort of subconsciously knew I was queer from a young age. I remember being enamored with a variety of different women growing up, but I always just brushed it off as wanting to be like them. That was only natural for me, as I didn’t understand any of my interactions as being sexual. There was always an infatuation, an energy that drew me to women. When I was 16, it finally hit me like a ton of bricks. I very quickly developed these overwhelming romantic and sexual feelings for one of my high school teachers at the beginning of my junior year. A lightbulb immediately went off in my head, and suddenly had the courage to accept a thought I simply wouldn’t allow before. “I must be bisexual,” I thought. That weekend, I proceeded to tell my best friend, and she was fully supportive, though I was nervous, yet sort of proud and relieved in a way, to come out to my family. I didn’t know it or understand what was going on with my feelings at the time, but that woman really set things in motion for me! So I thank her for teaching me so much about myself.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I think I have come to identify as a cis queer woman, simply because bisexual wasn’t a label that I felt “fit” me. So, bisexuality, or really all sexualities have different meanings to different people. To me, bisexual meant, I have equal attractions to men and women. Which just isn’t the case…very rarely am I emotionally or physically attracted to men. But in life, I never rule anything out! So queer just fits.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Well, I’m going to go with the first “out” person I met. It was a girl in my grade in high school, and to me she was very “tomboy” or “androgynous”, gender fluid I suppose you would call it now. But she very openly liked girls, and was having a very “scandalous” relationship with one of my supposedly “straight” classmates. There was some cognitive dissonance there, I’d say. I used to think, “I’m not like her”. This applied to anyone in the media as well. Before coming out, I used to watch Ellen Degeneres or Rosie O’Donnell with a great pit in my stomach, and I never understood why they were so distasteful to me. “I’m not like her,” I used to tell myself. Little did I know, I was not only denying who I was, it was so hard for me to identify with anyone I knew that was out. That made it impossible for me to even recognize my sexuality. And that’s where my junior year teacher, a very femme looking, dressing woman came in…there was an immediate bond, a recognition of sorts. “Finally, a gay woman who LOOKS like me, who ACTS like me!” It was like stumbling upon a clear, cold spring after walking through a hot desert for miles and miles. It was a “hallelujah!” moment for me. It took me years after the fact to look back on meeting her and say, oh yes, she is the FIRST LGBTQ individual that I truly felt a bond with.
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Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Ooh, this is a tough one…And how trite it sounds, but Ilene Chaiken, who kindly brought us the L word. Though it was problematic in a variety of ways, watching that show in high school when I came out really allowed me to come to terms with who I really was, though at times it was a very painful process. That show is still my very favorite, I am SO glad they’re rebooting it!
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? They mostly pop up on my Facebook feed. I don’t have a shortage of queer feminist women from my college days!
Describe your geographical community. Where I live now, in Castle Shannon, I don’t believe there is any trace of an LGBTQ+ community. I am moving to Brookline next month, however, and believe I will see a wave of LGBTQ individuals out and about! (Hopefully).
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I don’t think there is enough representation in public spaces. I don’t know how to describe this well. I don’t think there are enough “out” women leaders, or people who are very adamantly out in business or in any workplace, especially. I think people should make a point of these things, and communities of them. People should never have to be afraid to come out in the workplace, to talk about their families. Where are all our lesbian and queer women bars, our safe spaces where it is just us? And why have they disappeared? Where are our out, queer women role models in our Pittsburgh community? Why aren’t some of them in office? I don’t know, perhaps ask the voters! Ask the women why they aren’t running for office! As for physical communities, I find Shadyside and Squirrel Hill to have the best energy for an LGBTQ population. And I can’t really tell someone, oh, here’s a bonafide reason why. If you go, and you just see and listen and open your heart, I think you will understand.
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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. Never. But I am privileged in many ways, also.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I don’t have a really insightful answer to this question.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think (and this isn’t really meant as an attack or critique, even) that gay men dominate spaces and don’t allow any real room for LGBTQ+ women. They’re only an afterthought. And women are starting to see this, and they’re starting to get a little miffed. This is what I was talking about when I said Pittsburgh doesn’t have a really good space that is solely LGBTQ+ for women.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Absolutely. But I want it to come to a point where gender and sexuality aren’t even issues, like they blow them up in today’s American society. These should actually be total non-issues, and everyone should be treated equally from a political and legal standpoint. Church and stated should be permanently separated, everywhere, period, no ifs, ands or buts. And that’s not even solely because of the LGBTQ+ population! Those kinds of things complicate the lives of a plethora of different people from different backgrounds, when it goes against the very ideals of what it means to be an American, and to live your life freely within the bounds of the law. I also believe there is more to be understood about the discrimination of the LGBTQ+ population, of people of color, of people who participate in non-christian religions on a unconscious, collective level (only speaking of the general American psyche), but that would be a topic for another forum. So in short, yes.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Being a femme is often more tough and traumatic than one might think. For instance, I constantly get told that there is “no way” I’m gay, “I haven’t found the right man yet”, and more pressures to be “bisexual” and “date men” than I can even count on two hands. It’s really frustrating, invalidating, hurtful, and I feel like people just refuse to accept me for who I really am sometimes. I could never get a date with another woman (until my current girlfriend) because even at gay events, no one would really mark me as gay! It was so weird. As for my day to day life, there’s not really much difference than an average person’s life. But again, I am privileged.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Speaking from the perspective of a realtor, I think the fear of trying to find a house with your significant other and being questioned about your relationship status and all those things can be daunting. It’s a really invasive process, and you’re under the microscope of your agent, brokerage, closing company, the sellers, the seller’s brokerage, your mortgage company, your future neighbors, etc. Nobody knows how anybody is going to react, if anyone is homophobic. And people have asked me questions. I once represented two unrelated people of the same gender in a transaction. They were not together in that sense, but people would ask me, “are they…gay”? I’m not going to name any names to remain professional, but I thought to myself, “who cares”?
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? There is, of course, Amplify. There is the Delta Foundation (with some alleged issues), Impulse for Women, PghLesbian Correspondents, Persad.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I am afraid more safe spaces will be taken away from all LGBTQ individual under the Trump Administration. That someday soon, it won’t be ok to be out, anywhere. Even worse than that, rights being taken away.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we continue to stay strong, stay out, stay present, and for goodness sakes, to support each other! Because if we tear each other down from the inside we stand no chance.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Stand with us. Be with us. Speak up for us, use your voices, Vote in our favor.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? As I said, we need to stop tearing each other down. One thing I will note is that lesbians need to stop the discrimination against people who identify as bisexual, specifically.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Simply when I heard there was a questionnaire available for LGBTQ+ individuals in Western PA!
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I think you should be asking how we can affect the community within our professional spheres. And the answer to that I think would to be out and proud, and stay safe in that out zone.
Thank you, Rachel!
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.