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 minimize 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.
Erie Pride is next weekend (August 29) so we are focusing on individuals from Northwestern PA leading up to that event. We connected with David several years ago during a campaign to focus on ENDA.
Name: David M.
Preferred Pronouns: he/his/him
County of Residence: Erie
How do you describe your identity? I am a father of three children, married to a woman, and openly gay. I happen to have light skin tone, and my ancestry comes from Germany, Ireland, Poland, and French-speaking Canada.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I first came out to a high school friend. At first, I broke down in tears, but as I opened up, I became much more calm. It was 1986, and I had very few people that I could talk with about being gay. I eventually came out to other close friends, but I did not say anything to my family until the 1990s. I told my mother over the phone. She didn’t seem that surprised, but she wondered what took me so long to tell her.
How would you describe yourself in terms of “being out”? As a high school teacher in a rural area in northwest PA, I have to be somewhat cautious about coming out at work. However, I am out to family members, and I am the leader of the Pennsylvania Equality Project. I come out to students who ask me, and I come out to those students of mine are struggling with their own identity issues. It is my hope that if they see me as a role model, that their lives might be a little better.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first guy I dated made a powerful impact on me. We first met in high school, but he helped me come to terms with my being gay. I went through a phase during which I felt I was bisexual, but as I aged, I knew that was not quite right. I realized that I am gay, thanks to him.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I post stories to the Pennsylvania Equality Project’s website and Facebook pages, which means I read the Internet for stories from all over the world from a variety of sources.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? If I had to pick just one character, I would say Matthew Broderick’s character in Torch Song Trilogy. It’s a classic movie, with dark overtones. That said, he is a close tie for Justin from the US version of Queer as Folk. He has such a hot body! Woof! *(I hope that is appropriate to say here.)
Describe your geographical community. Rural. I walk a block away and I am in farm country; however, right behind my house is a golf course!
Tell me about your local or regional LGBTQ community. Where I live (Edinboro, Erie County) is a quiet, suburban/rural community. We have only one gay bar of note in Erie, but we have numerous other regional resources. First, for college students Identity at Edinboro U of PA offers weekly meetings. Second, our region has the Erie Gay News, the Greater Erie Alliance for Equality, and the NWPA Pride Alliance which offer various activities and provide monthly news for the local LGBT community. Rep. Ryan Bizzarro and Senator Sean Wiley are very supportive of LGBT issues, and have fought for us in Harrisburg.
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 have been very fortunate not to have found discrimination at public accommodations. That said, I have had neighbors in the past who wrote the word “fag” in ketchup on my front porch. At the time I was living in Seven Fields, PA. That was 1993. Times have changed significantly since then.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not.) Edinboro is an oasis for the LGBT community. When the University is in session, more people locally are quite open and accepting of gay people. Nearby communities are less accommodating and accepting. While Erie lacks a true “gayborhood,” I have seen plenty of Pride flags flying in the breeze in the summer.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Bullying of LGBTQ youth on playgrounds is an ongoing battle. Few of the school districts in our area have solid and enforceable rules that protect LGBTQ youth from harm.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? We need to pass legislation that ends the legal use of discrimination for all public accommodations. People should not lose their homes, or their jobs because they are LGBTQ. People should not be bullied in schools, or on playgrounds. Parents should not be allowed to force their children into “conversion” therapy to attempt to change their sexual or gender identity.
Please share any anecdotes about life as a LGBTQ person in your community that might help outsiders better understand. While walking in the hallways at school this past year, I overheard two students talking, and one said to the other that a third student is a “total fag.” I had heard comments like that directed at me while I was in high school, so I brought both students to my classroom. After 20 minutes of talking, I explained in detail why their words were so hurtful. They left my classroom having to write me an apology, and a second letter for the student they had discussed. This summer, one of the students accompanied me on a field trip to Washington DC. I never heard any further negative words from him since.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Income inequality, lack of an Erie-based LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce that can be used as a focal point for the community. Not enough resources to inform local youth about the inherent dangers in unprotected sex.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? LBT Women of Erie, Erie Gay News, Greater Erie Alliance for Equality, Pennsylvania Equality Project, Equality PA, PERSAD, Unitarian Universalist Church of Erie, UU of Meadville, First Church of Christ in Erie, and PFLAG of Erie and Crawford Counties.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That they are becoming apathetic about obtaining full equal rights. Since marriage equality became law in Pennsylvania in 2014, many people stopped participating online and have stopped discussing equal rights, outside of Pride events.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I think that in 2016, we will have a legislature in Harrisburg that can craft laws that will protect the LGBTQ community. We have many activists and advocates who are taking this year to re-charge, regroup, and will resume our cause next year. At least, that is my hope.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I wanted to share my reflections on my local LGBTQ community, and to let others know that resources and outlets are available in Erie County.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Why is it important to you to “come out”?
If you would like to participate in this Q&A series, please visit our online form. You can also email pghlesbian at gmail dot com to participate. We welcome voices from across the community – everyone has a story to tell.
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