Editor’s Note: It seems appropriate to share that Keith is the first openly LGBTQ person that I knew; we grew up together. He was the second person that I came out to myself. And even having that history – and decades of friendship – his answers took me by suprise, in a good way. ~ Sue
County of Residence: Grew up in Allegheny County, now in North Carolina
How do you describe your identity? Gay, Male, White
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I don’t know where to start. It was more of a roller coaster. I was the center of attention at school when I did come out. But honestly I don’t remember anything bad about it. I know a lot of people said how bad I had it being bullied and such. But I don’t remember it that way. I sort of used it as a weapon to keep people away from me. The one thing that was bad was I always had the idea that there was a “secret society” of other gay people at school. They were closeted and didn’t want to risk the ridicule like I was subjected to. So they never wanted me in their group. Later in life, I learned that this in fact was true to an extend. But in my eyes, they were the weak ones since they couldn’t stand up for who they were. I had no support. I was thrown into the deep end of gay life and ended up doing all sort of “adult” things when I was still a teen-ager. I should have been experimenting with kids my own age, but I was fooling around with 23 year old when I just 16. Not a good mix when I look back on it.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Totally out. And it’s not a big deal. If it is, I don’t want that person, company, organization in my life.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBT person I met, was someone who came out later in life. That actually had a bad influence on my life. I saw how conflicted they were with their sexuality and how they denied and played that game that they weren’t gay. I promised myself that I would never be like that. I would own it no matter what it was.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Kenny O’Neal from the Real O’Neals. He kinds of sums up what I thought I wanted my high school life to be like. In some respects it was similar.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I read the normal gay publications. But more often than not, just opening the daily newspaper now days gives you all of the news you need since things are so wide spread now.
Describe your geographical community. Growing up in a suburban West Mifflin was horrible. It was not gay friendly at all at that time. I still live in a suburban community but it’s much more open and accepting.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Since I now live in Raleigh, NC, the community is pretty open. I think one thing that people are missing is since marriage was legalized everywhere, a lot more acceptance and visibility was achieved. At least I know it has been that way here.
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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. I think I can honestly say no to this. I don’t think I look like a gay man and never really experienced any sort of discrimination because of it.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I really can’t answer this since I haven’t used health care in PA for a number of years. I guess I can say LGBQT competent for the most part. If you really wanted that type of service such as anonymous AIDS testing, you knew where to get it.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I can say no. This isn’t an issue.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Not just for PA, but we need a country wide non-discrimination policy/law enacted.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Once I got married, I stopped used “partner” in every and all cases. I use husband or spouse if it’s a little touchy situation. But the teaching moment is I correct everyone who says wife to me. At the doctors office, with the insurance agent, opening a checking account. When I am alone, and they say “Do you want to include your wife’s contact information?” I always correct them and say “Or husband’s…..” People need to stop assuming people are married to the opposite sex.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think public visibility and comfort level of being who they are. We need more same sex advertising. I want to open a magazine or newspaper and see 50% opposite sex and 50% sex sex ads.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Really don’t know. I really never had to use them here.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Backsliding. We’ve made such good progress. I am afraid the current administration could wipe all of that out.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I really don’t have any except they need to come together and a strong community. That’s the only way we can survive anything that might come our way.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? I make it a point to contribute $5 to any and every charity that mails me. It’s the price of a coffee at Starbucks, but it adds up. During December I even give $10 each.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? I personally need more education on this subject. So I think the community does too. There still are too many misconceptions about what these groups.
What motivated you to take part in this project? My long time friend Sue.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I would be interested in some real life situation questions such as when out to do hold hands. Stuff like that. Just to gauge where the community is at this time.
Thank you, Keith.
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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.