Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
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.
Skip reached out to participate after reading other Q&A’s. Her responses delve deeply into enforced gender norms and the harm those cause to individuals who can’t or won’t conform. I’m grateful she took the time to share her thoughts.
Preferred Pronouns: They or She *
County of Residence: Allegheny
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My mom had a friend named Chuck who loved rainbows, and so did I. He gave me a rainbow necklace, and in response I gave him a placemat I had embroidered a rainbow on in school. Everyone thought it was sweet but also very ‘funny’. That’s when I first learned what being gay meant, and that it wasn’t considered normal.
How do you describe your identity? White cisgender lesbian (to the extent that these labels exist/can describe personality)
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? The community, friends, the internet
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? I fell madly in love with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (don’t think the actress is actually LGBTQ though…)
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? Everyone who I love most deeply knows. However, the act of coming out is a continuous process because the way our society treats gender nonconformity is still very misguided. I feel as though I will never fully be able to let my true self show in front of every person I meet. At least not in the present climate.
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. I honestly haven’t been too engaged this year. When Delta showed their true colors with the Iggy Incident, I withdrew from celebrating Pride and haven’t yet come out of that initial frustration. There were some great protests and attempts to hold a more unified and all-inclusive celebration, and as soon I find the motivation to search again I’m sure there is something great going on. But all in all, not much opportunity for the minority LGBTQ community, and that makes me really miffed.
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’m lucky to be able to blend in when I see fit, which is not great for the movement but it has helped me avoid these situations so far. Not looking to hide much longer, though.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Pittsburgh has lots of LGBTQ members, but it’s also home to many people who are homophobic or simply don’t understand. There are many second glances and surprised faces when a girl has a shaved head or a transgender woman is walking down the street. But most hate crimes stay out of the city. That doesn’t stop bullying or catcalls or sexual assault or exclusion from church communities or communities in general but…it could be much worse
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Access to health care. Job and adoption exclusion. Political leaders creating issues to fight for (same-sex marriage, DADT,etc.) while the fight for true equality fails over and over again.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I think my visions are a bit too radical to be practical, but I think we need more representation. We need the voices of minority communities to give us a voice. I would love to see a black transgender woman in office. The only way to break the gender and race binary is through accurate representation and collaboration from all sides.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. Most people don’t take me seriously. Maybe because I have a high-pitched voice, or because I look ‘too much like a girl’ to be a lesbian. When my hair is shorter, people consider me more queer by default. The community is much too centered on ‘appropriate gender’ appearance instead of true beauty and identity expression.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? My answer is pretty much the same to this as it is to the question about issues that are not visible or discussed. Just add racism, sexism, classism, and any other systemically produced way of dividing people.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? There are some community centers and Unitarian Universalist churches.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? The continuation of white male dominance and disregarding those who do not fit with the gender binary.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we overcome our fears of not fitting into this patriarchal system and embrace ourselves and each other as we are.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I want people to understand that being LGBTQ is not a choice, and that it is important to accept all humans the way they come. I want people to realize the stress and trauma they place on others when they enforce gender stereotypes.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I don’t know, when did you realize you were LGBTQ? I was 18, just out of a breakup with a guy who was more my best friend than anything, and confused. I was feeling such intense things for the girls around me, but all of them were distant when it came to romance. This was normal for me. But then, my one friend broke up with my other friend and I found myself helplessly flirting. I would make eye contact with her when she was driving and it was so intense she would start swerving into the other lane. And that’s when it became clear. I started having flashbacks to moments in my life where I forced myself to put on an act of straightness, starting from when I was five and hopelessly in love (and suspiciously didn’t have any male friends). And since none of the girls I fell for ever seemed interested in me, I only ever developed close friendships that mimicked relationships in many telltale ways. It’s miracle to me that I ever rooted my way out of that subconscious mess. But here I am. Thank goddess for that.
* While we have included a question about preferred pronouns in the actual Q&A for the purposes of writing the narrative content, we have been asked to share that information so it has been added to the published version.
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
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