County of Residence: Allegheny, formerly Butler County. Lived prior to that in Southern Virginia.
How do you describe your identity? Mostly gay. Most of my life I identified as bisexual. A lot of guys come out as bisexual to “soften the blow” for when they later come out as gay. That was not my case. When I was younger I was attracted to men and women equally. When I saw ladies in Victoria Secret ads, and shirtless guys in shaving razor commercials they equally had my attention. As I grew older I became mostly attracted to men. To this day I have never been with a woman but I would be open to it. Since I moved to Pittsburgh I am just now getting used to being around other LGBT+ people. I have found myself being attracted to trans men, trans women, and non-binary at times but never really pursued it. I do see the potential for me to be sexually fluid. I have never had a relationship but at the same time I have not had the desire to be in one. But who knows maybe that will change one day.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I feel like I had multiple coming out experiences. I am originally from SW VA near the NE TN and E KY boarders. In high school I confided in someone about my sexuality and she immediately blabbed. Luckily the rumors died down. I stayed in the closet for the rest of high school up until senior year of college. I would not confirm or deny my sexuality, or I would lie and say I was heterosexual. Although most people assumed my sexuality anyway I knew in my heart if I was open I would not be physically or mentally safe. It’s one thing to be suspected of being gay, but once it is revealed IT GETS WORSE! We had one student who came out. The amount of bullying he received was much worse than when he was in the closet. That was the moment I truly though I would NEVER be abIe to come out. That student could have cured cancer, and the whole town would still call him a faggot. I did not want that to happen to me. I did not come out to my mother, she found out by accident. Let’s just say it was the ONE TIME I forgot to delete my internet history. We had much discussion about my sexuality after that. Not because of her because my mother loves me no matter what. I just was not ready to talk to ANYBODY about it.
Later I had to return to my home town, and get a job there. I stayed in the closet because I worked with children. In my hometown most people cannot tell the difference between a homosexual and a pedophile. I did not discuss my sexuality until my final 2 years of employment at my home town. It was not until I moved to Pittsburgh that I felt safe to be completely out in my personal life, my job, and on social media because now I could care less what people think. My mother has continued to be supportive, and is now very passionate about LGBT causes (although there were a few times she called it the BLT community but her heart was always in the right place).
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am not a very confident person unless it involves social work. But since coming out I feel way more outspoken, and sure of myself.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The student that I referred to that got picked on later became friends with me. Looking back if the both of us had lived in a more LGBT+ friendly environment we probably would have never been friends. Looking back our friendship was more for survival purposes, and toward the end our friendship was toxic. But he did mean a lot to me. Before he came along I felt like the only gay guy in the entire world. Just the idea of meeting anyone in the community would be like saying I met someone from the Addams family.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Ellen DeGeneres Rosie O’ Donnell because of their coming out stories. Jonny McGovern because of his music and podcast. The cast of Will and Grace and Queer as Folk. Also Danny from Real World New Orleans because I had the hots for him.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? When I grew up the internet was starting to become more of a big deal. All I had was the internet. I tried looking up things at my local library to help me understand my sexuality but it was hard to find anything positive. Everything I could find was under “abnormal physiology” which did not help my self-esteem at all. When I was a pre-teen and up until my teenage years chat rooms were very popular. So I would go under gay chat rooms, and make internet friends. Keep in mind the internet was new and that was not thought of as a dangerous thing. Looking back now that I am an adult I am so glad I had enough since to not give out my personal information, and meet any of those people. I just think about any other young child in my situation just looking for someone to talk to, and then be taken advantage of by an adult. If this would have been more accepted I would have not needed to be in the chat rooms in the first place looking for strangers to talk to. Later in my adult life I learned more about gay history, gay culture, and sexual health information since that was not taught at my school. I learned about Stonewall, The Gay Rights Movement, the gay ball room scene from Paris is Burning, Drag, Harvey Milk, and gay podcasts. That was the closest connection I had to my community but it did make the loneliness hurt less.
Describe your geographical community. Now that I am in Pittsburgh I do feel like it is more accepting. However I am deeply disappointed in the 18-29 age range. I admire their creativity, and how they are able to be true to who they are. It just bothers me that the privilege they have to be more open to who they are that they feel entitled to engage in infighting. I have heard so many transphobic and racist comments from them. Just the ignorance of not realizing that trans people of color started the gay rights movement, and if it was not for them there would not have the rights they do have now. Let alone having a Grindr profile. These children are on their phones and tablets all day long. The least they can do is learn their history or we are going to end up starting from scratch. However I do feel there is more hope with the younger generation, and I think they will be the champions of being on the right side of history.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. In order to go to a gay bar I had to drive 1-2 hours (depending where I was living at in VA at the time) and had to cross the state line to TN to get to. It was good to go to the bar because I could meet other gay people. The problem was that the LGBT community there was not a supportive community. There was a lot of slut shaming, and there was the belief of not having sex before marriage. This was in the early 2000s when marriage equality did not exist. Hooking up was frowned upon because of a lot of the community suffered bigotry to the point internalized homophobia. If you were a drag queen you were considered scum. It just blew my mind how conservative the gay community turned out to be over there. I found out that most of my local gay community back home voted for Trump. It honestly feels like a dagger through my heart.
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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. Back home I went to restaurants with my gay friend at the time. We were completely platonic, and never even seen each other naked. We could overhear waiters not wanting to serve “…that faggot couple”. We later considered moving in together and went apartment hunting. Even though we were looking for a two bedroom apartment we were told that “We don’t rent to gay couples”.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I cannot speak to Western PA because I have actually don’t currently have a doctor yet and I have lived here for almost 2 years. But I can describe my experience back home in VA as it applies to so many in the community. There have been times I would see doctors because I had strep or the flu. The doctors would ask me about my sexual history, and later ask if I have had sex with men. I answered questions and in my head I would panic because I started thinking “Oh no. There must be a new sexually transmitted disease that I don’t know about and its going to be the AIDS crisis all over again!” I then would ask why they were asking these specific questions. Did they think I have an STD or STI and I don’t just have strep or the flu?! Then they would say that they wanted to know so they could educate me on how destructive the homosexual life style was, and I should abstain from being with me. This has happened to me twice. I would just say “I came here to talk about my attic and instead we are talking about my basement!” then I talked about their incompetence and walked out the door.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I feel like trans people and LGBT people of color are treated so poorly by our community and it is disgraceful. I also feel like non-binary people are treated like they do not exist or that they are just trendy attention seekers.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? To acknowledge our existence and treat us as equals because so many of us in the community pay taxes just like everyone else. Our money is just as green. We just want to same rights as everyone else. Not just say they support us but to show it through action. I am proud of how Pittsburgh is coming along and the direction it is going. But they need to move much faster.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Ladies listen up. I love you. I support you. Girl power all the way. But when someone reveals they are gay your automatic response should never be “Oh my God you’re gay?! We should go shopping together!” I appreciate the positive enthusiasm/support but just looking at me you should know I am not a fashionista! Just because you’ve watched a few episodes of Will & Grace growing up does not mean you know everything about our community. The internet is there. They are resources out there to educate yourselves about the community without having to take college classes and consume a lot of your time.
Also when I go to a bar ask see some ask a trans woman “So did it hurt when they cut ‘it’ off?” or “What’s your ‘real’ name?” it just makes me furious. I realize sometimes people are just asking questions because they want to educate themselves but there’s a time and place, and a more tactful way to ask questions.
I also hate when people go into a gay bar and treat it like it is a zoo. We are not freaks and this is our safe space. We came to the bar to get away from people treating us as freaks and in return our space is invaded. It’s just not okay.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I met a lot of people that want to be an ally for the community and that makes me so happy. But even the most supportive allies get it wrong. There needs to be more education about pronounce usage and how to avoid misgendering people .
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad Center, Proud Haven, and the GLCC
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Since Orlando Pulse night club shooting and Trump being elected I do get anxious before going to gay bars, LGBT events, and LGBT trainings for fear of getting shot.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That one day children can define what labels they fit under, or that they fit under no labels at all. That they can be empowered to do that without being told they are wrong, sick, disgusting, or going to hell. That people be judged for their character, and how they treat others.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? I love allies in our community. But I cannot stand when someone outside of the community “educates” me on the plight of LGBT people when they really know nothing. Listen more. Educate yourself more. If you get it wrong it’s okay, just learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat it, and move on with your continued support. 🙂
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Stop saying bisexuality does not exist or that they are just confused or greedy! Especially if you know how it feels to hear “Oh you aren’t (gay/lesbian) you just haven’t found the right (man/woman) yet!” You are basically doing the same amount of damage that was done to you. Also never forget trans and queer are family too!
What motivated you to take part in this project? It is important for me to share my story in hopes that it helps someone else who may be going through something similar. There’s been too many young people who kill themselves because they are not accepted. Young me would have NEVER imagine at the age of 31 that I can be myself, and have people around me who love me for that. If this helps someone be like “Well if that guy made it then I can” that’s good enough for me.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. What resources have you utilized for gay history?
Thank you, Reece.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
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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.