Note: Paul was part of a USA Today story about Gay Pride which is how I learned about his role in a significant moment in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ history – the 1973 Gay Pride March.
Paul Ellis has seen a lot of Gay Pride parades. He marched in Pittsburgh’s first one in 1973 with just 40 other people, flanked by angry residents holding glass bottles and rocks with only two unhappy police officers for protection.
Name: Paul Ellis
County of Residence: formerly Allegheny County, now lives in San Francisco
How do you describe your identity? gay male
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I had a coming out that was pretty unique. Though I was entirely prepared for my parents to send me packing, I had completely misread their regard for me and willingness to support me. They made little of my admission, only asking if I wished to see a therapist in order to deal more effectively with the transition I was facing. They remained staunchly supportive til their dying days. As for challenges, they were mostly about my having come out at age 17 in Pittsburgh, where, being underage there were nearly no options socially. I found a coffeehouse environment through the Unitarian Church that welcomed gay people. It was my first contact socially with other gay men. So, it was some years before I could enter the social scene of Pittsburgh gay life.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I live and work in San Francisco now, in the heart of the Castro district. My sexual identity is simply a non-issue now. So, I guess you’d have to say I’m all the way out.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I had sex with a man I met at Schenley Park. My first sexual experience was a revelation and like the sudden opening of a flower. he was a kind man who in no way took advantage of the situation. He seemed surprised when I told him it was my first go at sex. lol
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Patrick Stewart’s character in the film “Jeffrey”. He skewers the conventions of gay male iconography so very well, and with such loving understanding.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I’m at Gay Ground Zero, living and working in the Castro. I hear everything all the time.
Describe your geographical community. Urban. San Francisco. My being gay is a non-issue in nearly every part of this city.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. It’s about as good as it can get. Tons of resources of every sort.
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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. No. I have been immensely fortunate.
Have you experienced microagressions based on your identity? Think everyday indignities & slights that you experience, but would not characterize as discrimination. Please describe in your own words. of course I have. There are ill-mannered and uneducated people everywhere. I used to wear a kilt every day, and occasionally someone would make a pejorative remark that it made me look gay. To which I usually responded, “then it’s working!”
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) When I lived in Pa, it was well before the AIDS crisis hit, so the Health community we unaware of what to do. Things have changed immensely for the better, because doctors and nurses had to deal with the reality of gay relationships, quickly coming to realize their validity.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Not really, no. Every aspect of gender fluidity and expression is being looked and addressed. Not always perfectly, but change takes time.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Make sure that adequate protections are on the books to make sure that relationships get the legal respect that they are due. Survivor rights rights of inheritance, etc.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Working where I do in the Castro, I see people from all over the world each day, and very often I am struck by the role I play, wordlessly for them. So many people come here and when they see me at my workplace, I am a visible symbol that life can be very different from wherever it is they come from. I have seen the shining eyes of LGBTQ people who are first experiencing San Francisco, and the Castro when they realize that yes, it can be different, it can be better and there really are places where whom they choose to love is not a subject for disapproval.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? As we become more attuned to the reality that gender is fluid, breaking apart the edifice of bifurcated sexuality continues to be a challenge to others. As more persons are choosing to visually identify in ways that are harder to categorize, it sets a challenge both to that person to stand up and be entirely themselves, and to those who see them to grow enough to be able to understand.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? To give a true list would take ages. There are organizations and supports for everyone from our youth to our elders, persons of all identities, and ethnicities, professional organizations, healthcare options abounding, and educational resources.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Social backsliding of the sort that is every day more apparent in our culture.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That things will continue their upward trend without interruption till like here in San Francisco, it all becomes a non-issue.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? The more non LGTBQ identified people who rally around the faster and more effective the needed social and political changes will be.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? By first working through our own issues with regard to gender ID.
What motivated you to take part in this project? It is vital that we share our stories.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I feel you addressed things fully.
Thank you, Paul.
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.
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