County of Residence: Butler, formerly Crawford and Clarion counties
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you describe your identity? I am a queer, disabled, pagan, working-class fat white chick.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out to my family and friends in high school. I’m almost positive my mother still hopes I will take it back. I found a supportive group of friends at Clarion University. Going back to Crawford County after college was difficult; the lack of diversity there could be depressing. I combatted it by being unabashedly out, even in the face of harassment. I fortified myself by hanging with my high school boyfriend (who had come out in college) and making frequent trips to the Erie bars (The Village and The Zone) to cut loose and DANCE. Unfortunately, my high school bf & good friend could not handle the stress of rejection by his family and our small-minded small-town peers, and took his own life at the age of 26.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m out. Period. I dont go out of my way to tell people my sexual identity, but when they mistakenly assume I’m straight because I am currently partnered with a man — and this happens ALL THE TIME — I gently correct them. Some find this off-putting. I don’t care. My sexual identity is a part of who I am. I have cared for and been intimate with people of varying sexes, genders, and gender expressions. Even if I stay with my current partner for life, I would never want to erase those people from my history. They were all unique and wonderful, both in their own rights and for what they taught me. They helped create who I am today, and that’s someone I like very much.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBTQ person I knew was my great uncle. He was a wonderful, generous man. He was a Korean war veteran, a teacher for 30 years, and an antiques dealer after he retired. He was a quiet example of finding happiness and fulfillment in being true to yourself.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Allen Ginsberg. He was so marvelously flawed and complex and he put his “queer shoulder to the wheel.”
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I don’t watch tv, so primarily the internet.
Describe your geographical community. I have always lived in small rural communities. I spent much of my life in a town of 300. I was something of the local eccentric. My current community is home to a state university, and so is more of a diverse place.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. There doesn’t seem to be one. There probably is at the college (I live in Slippery Rock) but I don’t feel that’s”my” community. I don’t make it into Pittsburgh, as I really can’t tolerate cities for more than a couple of hours at a time. The folks at Ginger Hill Unitarian Universalist Congregation are loving and supportive of me (I’m a member as of 2014) and I have a group of supportive friends that I mostly communicate with via the internet. I’ve got a loner’s heart, really.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I was reprimanded at work recently for being “out” to my clients. I took it. It’s worth it to me to be lectured and to have someone attempt to shame me if it means being true to who I am and being honest with the world.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I honestly wouldn’t know.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Begin by recognizing that we are human, with the same needs as everyone else. Acknowledge that we are entitled to the same civil rights and liberties.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. My day-to-day reality is that everyone I encounter assumes that because I look pretty much like them, I am pretty much like them. I get so tired of being talked to like I’m part of “us” when I’m really one of “them” and it can be exhausting, constantly having to set people right. But I continue to do it, because other people’s visibility — the way they owned who they were — helped give me the courage to do the same. I owe it to people like my great uncle and his partner of 40 years to pass it on. I know there were queer people in my small hometown, but so many of them hid. If that weren’t true — would my friend still be with me? I don’t know. I do know that I recently had a client express gratitude to me for the way I am honest about who I am, because it helped him do the same. It makes every akward conversation and every disgusted look worth it.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Disconnection.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? The internet. I’ve met mire local people through the internet than I have by physically going out and trying to meet people.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That minds and hearts will stay closed to us.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we can just have rich, fulfilling lives — whatever that means to each of us individually. That we can have families if we choose, or not, if we choose. That we can participate as full and equal members of whatever communities we elect to be a part of, and that those contributions will be recognized as valuable and meaningful. And that those of us who don’t want any of that can be free of shame and scorn for not wanting it.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? DON’T ERASE US. DON’T TELL US OUR IDENTITY DOESN’T MATTER. IT MATTERS. WE MATTER.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? SEE ABOVE.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I feel like bi, pan, and queer folks too often have no voice, or are assumed to speak in the same voice as gays and lesbians. And sometimes we just don’t.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I think you did pretty damn good.
Thank you, Mel.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a 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.
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. 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.