Name: Joseph Onstott
County of Residence: Allegheny
Pronouns: he/him/his they/their
How do you describe your identity? A HIV+ queer and gay man
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I feel like straight people have this idea in their head that it’s an overnight process when it is anything but such. I came out, fully, a month after my 19th birthday when I was in London with my friend Dustin. That was August of 2008, nearly 10 years ago. I was a product of growing up in heteronormative violence which to this day I am learning to undo. Growing up in a Christian household, it took everything I had to let go of any heterosexual privilege there could be. I clung on to straightness like a leech knowing damn well in the back of my mind that it was parasitic for me, just as heteronormativity has been a parasitic symptom of colonialism and capitalism.
My queer identity I somewhat separate from my gayness. Whereas I view me being gay as personal, liberating, sexual, and cultural; I view my queerness as personal (tho not as much), political, angry, radical, liberating and gay. My queerness is gay, but my gayness isn’t always queer.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? L.O.U.D., but in my own Joseph Onstott kind of way.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Ashley, when I was in 11th grade. She was one of the first people I ever came out too. We also both love horror movies very much, so that helped things a bit. I’m happy to say that she and I still keep in touch and she will always have a close place in my heart!
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I don’t know…I’m stumped on this question and what’s wild is I watch Queer TV all the time. Dumbledore? But his identity is poorly, atrociously, ABYSMALLY represented. Did anyone ever call out Sharon Needles and all her BS on national TV? If so, whomever that is, they’re my favorite.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? From the word and works of local queer and trans poor and working class! Support them by any means necessary! Any other “resources” beyond that is from local gay bourgeoisie. YES THAT IS VERY MUCH REAL. See: 5801 crowd of white gays.
Describe your geographical community. I see times are changing and certain (sub)groups within the LGBTQ community are being accepted. I grew up in the Carrick, Mount Oliver, Southside area my entire life. It is much easier being gay or lesbian now than it was 10-15 years ago. Any identity beyond that is a difficult discussion to be had. I know firsthand that Carrick is crowded with lower class white folks. The resources aren’t the best, the racism is loud, and trans folks aren’t safe there unless they are white or cis-passing.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Clique, dog eat dog. But I love my LGBTQ+ family unconditionally, so that is why addressing these issues are necessary.
DONATING = VISIBILITY
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Yes, fortunately mostly micro. I’ve mostly been stereotyped as a gay man. Overall I experienced the most disrespect through me being HIV+, even saying things like I should be quarantined, etc.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I’m a gay white man who went from middle class to working/lower once I moved out on my own. And despite some struggles, setbacks, and close calls overall I am extremely privileged. Since I’ve been diagnosed with HIV in 2015, my insurance has changed anywhere from 1-3 times a year, and thus jeopardizing as to whether or not I can get my meds in a timely manner, will have to pay out of pocket for any appointment, or if I can afford any copays to begin with. These issues, while valid and stressful, are micro. And the horror stories I’ve heard from others less privileged than myself speak miles about the healthcare in Pittsburgh. Just…no.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Every day. The liberal blindness by the white gay bourgeoisie has silenced a crowd that has been largely invisible until recently.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? To distribute their resources to poor and working class LGBTQ folks and to give them actual power, and not a lousy vote that just gives democrats a capitalist gain.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Having the honor of sharing many mind shifting and life changing dialogues with Michael David Battle, he has taught me the gift of accountability, of both accepting it and giving it and the power of certainty it has. This, I find, has been one of my most powerful resources to happiness, to justice, to closure.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? The hierarchy of the LGBTQ community, starting with cis white gay men sitting up top and then trickles down to non-white races and non-male genders getting minimal trickle down resources.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Project Silk, Garden of Peace, PERSAD, SisTers PGH
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I am in constant fear of my friends being homeless or dying in the community without me hearing a word for weeks. This has happened a few times, and frequently for others.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Dismantling capitalism…having the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh disband and to give their resources entirely to poor and working class LGBTQ folks.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? To support organizations such as Garden of Peace, Project Silk, and SisTers PGH and to demand that the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh to no longer be funded and to put protest them any way you can, especially during Pride in June
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Support SisTers PGH. Be unconditional in your love and labor. Offer financial assistance when you can, offer rides to any doctors appointments or any important errands they need to run and if you don’t have a car, offer bus fair or a bus pass or maybe pay for a lyft.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Seeing the diverse input from others around the community.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. N/A
Thank you, Joseph.
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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.