AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a new occasional series of blog posts designed to give a “signal boost” to the voices of our LGBTQ neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania. We are using a Q&A format and will mostly avoid editing their responses. The questions, however, may change as we ask each participant to tell us what we’ve missed asking. It is one of the vibrant elements of a blog format – evolution & growth.
Our intent is to highlight the voices of marginalized members of our community who are not always invited to the table or whose voices are not heard (because “we” are not listening?) Obviously, my choice of questions does shape the conversation, but beyond that – these are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices. If you would like to participate, please email me pghlesbian at gmail or visit the online Q&A.
I’ve known Jan casually for many years. She reached out to us to participate in the Q&A because she wanted to ensure that voices from community elders participate. Jan launched a monthly dinner/dancing event for lesbians over 50, one that circulates around various venues in Pittsburgh. I admire that she creates the space that she sees a need for in our community.
County of Residence: Allegheny
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I was a late bloomer. My lesbianism hadn’t really occurred to me until I started to meet gay people. I met gay men before anyone I knew was lesbian. They helped open the possibilities for me. The first time I heard someone identify themselves as lesbian was at a Women’s Center meeting. I was kind of shocked, but intrigued. Later I met more lesbians and found that I was very comfortable with them. Starting seeking their company and eventually got my first real crush.
How do you describe your identity? I am a woman, lesbian, white, old dyke.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I am on several email lists and facebook.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Both characters in Desert Heart, because it was so wonderful to see two women together for the first time in a movie.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? I am very out. I have done a lot of speaking engagements to hs and college classes. I worked at Persad for 11 yrs, on the ESTHER project. Was part of the Lesbian Health Collective, Queen Maeve Productions. I haven’t come out to my extended family because they live far away and aren’t really apart of my life.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. Pittsburgh is a varied community with not a lot of interaction between the different groups. The men and women have traditionally been separate, think that is changing as there becomes more of an LGBTQ identity. Age divides us, race divides us, identity divides us, income divides us. If you are able to find your group you can get some support, but I think it is very difficult for individuals to find their group.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity in a job setting? How about in terms of being served by a business? Please explain. I believe that part of the reason that I was fired from a job was because I was a lesbian. I had come out at the job interview and they said it would not be a problem, but later I heard gay jokes.
Back in the 70’s four of us lesbians went out to dinner and a fancy place. Our relationships were fluid, so there was a lot of flirting with each other. I’ve never gotten such good service in a restaurant. The whole staff wanted to see the dykes up close, so everyone waited on us. Think most of the other patrons wanted to be at our table too. We were lucky. Think we were having so much fun with each other it was contagious.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Most people seem to just accept me as an old maid, and that is fine with me. I think Pittsburgh has changed a lot in terms of general acceptance. I am amazed at how freely young people show affection with each other, I think it is wonderful.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? The biggest issue that I see is the large elderly population. Pgh has a huge elderly population, many of whom are LGBTQ. Older women particularly often live in poverty. Things like the Pride concert where you had to stand up for hours. I don’t know any older people who could do that. I know they are trying to squeeze as many people into the space, but it seems like some accommodation should be made. Of course there was the whole race issue around the concert and the Delta foundation. We can do much better in inclusiveness.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I don’t know that this is a government issue. I think our city officials are pretty supportive of our community.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. I came home from one of the first marches in Pgh, back in the 70’s. My landlady who lived on one side of me and the neighbor who lived on the other side were in my back yard talking. I walked up to say hi and they said they had seen me on tv. I said, “Oh,” Then they said I looked real nice. I almost cried, I was so happy.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? There is the discrimination that the larger community shows to us, but we are still so intolerant of the differences within our community.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad, Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Several bars.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I fear a backlash. We have made so much progress in the last 40 years, I fear that the more conservative elements will try to turn the clock back. I think that many young people don’t have a clue about the way things used to be. I have friends who are retired school teachers who are still afraid to come out because they fear for their pensions. I’m not sure this is rational but they still live in fear.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? We have accomplished so much, I do have hope that we will be able to hold onto the advantages we have made. I would like to think that the community includes a lot of well-meaning people who will help to fight the racism, classism, ageism, and otherisms that still separate us.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I particularly wanted to participate because I wanted an older perspective to be included.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I can’t think of anything.
Thank you, Jan.
If you would like to participate in a future Q&A, please visit our survey or contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.
Good news – AMPLIFY is going on the road this summer. We’ll be traveling to some Western PA events where you can meet with us face to face to complete the Q&A or learn more. Upcoming events include:
- July 11 Pittsburgh Dyke Trans March
- July 19 at Butler PFLAG Pride Picnic
- July 26 at Pittsburgh Black Pride BBQ
- August 14 at Washington County GSA Summer Picnic
- August 16 at Westmoreland PFLAG Pride Picnic
- August 29 at Erie Pride
- October TBA Johnstown Halloween Parade