I had developed personal relationships with everyone in my workplace. It hurt me to know that they liked me when I didn’t talk about being queer, but when I did, I was met with backlash or side comments.
County of Residence: Allegheny County. I have not lived in other regions of PA, but I am from Southington, Connecticut and attended high school in Hartford.
How do you describe your identity? Bisexual/ Queer Woman
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Since middle school I was out to the majority of my friends. Going into high school, I was a little quieter about my sexual orientation as my freshman and sophomore year I spent the majority of my days at Southington High School, which is rather notorious for it’s conservative and homophobic/transphobic student body. When I transferred into the full day program at the arts academy I attended in Hartford, I was much more comfortable sharing my sexual identity as the student body there was extremely diverse and queer.
My official “coming out” occurred in October of 2017. Prior to that, in the summer of 2017, I had become much more aware and comfortable with my sexuality and had reached the point where I wanted to reach out sexually (and eventually romantically) to women. Through this journey, I met my currant girlfriend. With this in mind, I felt it was necessary for me to come out entirely to my grandparents and father who were not aware of my bisexuality.
When I came out to my grandparents, it went fantastically. I remember being so panicked, thinking that it would be a lot more dramatic and destructive when I came out, despite the fact that my grandparents knew all of my openly queer and trans friends. My grandparents had even allowed of my transman friends to crash at the house when he had been kicked out of his own home. For some reason, I had it built up in my head that because it was me that it would be an issue. When I bursted out in tears and told them that the girl sitting to my right was my girlfriend, not just a good friend, they weren’t shocked at all. They hugged me and told me they would always love and accept me as long as I was happy.
Coming out to my father was a different story. My father and I have been estranged for many years, and we commonly only see each other about 1-2 times a year (Christmas and my birthday) unless there was a big event (shows, graduation, etc.). It took me two attempts to come out to my father through text message, once on Thanksgiving, and once again on Christmas. Unfortunately, he had interpreted my spending time with my girlfriend as a “female friend”. When I did finally come out to him, I had to pull out the use of the word “partner” in order for him to fully understand that I was in fact queer and dating a woman. When we went to Christmas breakfast, it was one of the quietest hours I’ve spent with my father. Anytime my girlfriend and I attempted to talk about our relationship or even just touch hands, he would get quiet and tense. It was unfortunate, but since we are so estranged, it wasn’t as big of a deal that he wasn’t accepting, even if he didn’t outright say it.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? It feels fantastic to finally be out entirely, but at the same time it’s come with its frustrations. I think it’s fantastic because I can be completely open in all ways about my relationship with my girlfriend, it’s opened up discussions about LGBT+ issues within my family and has brought me even closer to my queer friends. The frustrations I have is the stigma against bisexual people within the LGBT+ community, and the reaction I commonly get when I mention that I am a bisexual woman dating another woman.
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 actually my first boyfriend. When we broke up, he dated a couple more girls, but eventually came out as gay. He’s always been very no BS about his sexuality and the LGBT+ community, and that’s something that I’ve strived to follow. He’s unapologetically gay, and I would say at this point that I am unapologetically bisexual. He inspired me to be open with myself and others about my sexuality, and to never, ever be ashamed of who I am.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I would say my favorite LGBT+ character in a TV show is Clarke from “The 100”. “The 100” is a dystopian future show, who’s main character is an openly bisexual woman who has a boyfriend and girlfriend throughout the duration of the show. It warms my heart because Clarke never faces any discrimination as a queer woman, making it seem as if in the future, someday, LGBT+ people will not be seen as a niche, but as common as any straight relationship.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I stay informed through word-of-mouth, Facebook, Instagram, and news sources through the internet.
Describe your geographical community. When I attended high school in Connecticut, the arts academy I attended had an extremely open and diverse student body with a multitude of queer and trans students. There’s always those few who are against the LGBT+ community, but I just think that’s an aspect of most communities unfortunately. The campus was in the capital of Connecticut, extremely urban and diverse.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I currently attend Point Park University in Downtown Pittsburgh and I would say that there is a very healthy LGBT+ and ally community. My roommate is a lesbian, there’s a non-binary kid on my floor. There’s a lesbian and bisexual girl in my speech class. There are clear allies throughout the school, and even a GSA.
When I attended high school in Connecticut, the arts academy I attended had an extremely open and diverse student body with a multitude of queer and trans students. There’s always those few who are against the LGBT+ community, but I just think that’s an aspect of most communities unfortunately.
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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. When I lived in Connecticut I worked at a family owned business where I would say I faced a decent amount of discrimination. Those who worked there besides the other boy who worked the cash registers and phones with me were from a different country. There were clear cultural differences between us, including our outlooks on the LGBT+ community. Due to their culture, queer and trans people were commonly closeted or shunned. They did not understand the concept of a sexuality other than straight and a gender other than cis. As much as I enjoyed working there, it would get me heated from time to time. My boss especially tended to strike up conversations with me about my bisexuality (and the fact that I was dating a woman), claiming that same-sex relationships are “unnatural” and that they could never produce a child “naturally”. The question from him that stuck out the most for me was, “are you really going to deprive your child of a father?”
There were also many conversations about transgender peoples, and how they didn’t understand, it was unnatural, etc. I remember his wife got upset because her son had to use the bathroom with a ftm student. She claimed she shouldn’t have to explain these things to her son (who is middle school aged), that it was inappropriate for the administration to allow the ftm student to use the boys bathroom. They hated how queer and transgender people were represented in television, and felt that it was “shoved down their throat” and “inappropriate” for their children to see since they shouldn’t have to explain it to their children (who are both around the ages of 10-14). Textbook homophobia and transphobia, but it still hurt to hear, especially because I had developed personal relationships with everyone in my workplace. It hurt me to know that they liked me when I didn’t talk about being queer, but when I did, I was met with backlash or side comments.
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. Most of the microagressions I’ve faced have been little comments or clear body language that alluded to the person having an issue with myself (and sometimes my girlfriend) as a result of my bisexuality and my lesbian relationship.
Specifically, there was a gas station I frequented in my hometown in CT. I was grabbing some snacks and getting gas to head over to my girlfriend’s and let it slip. The male cashier, who had always been rather complimentary of me, responded by saying, “Why are you dating a girl? You’re so pretty!”
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I have only had to go be involved in health care twice during my time in Pittsburgh, once at Mercy Hospital and once at the student health center in PPU. Personally, I have not faced any issues, but I know as a cis woman, I have privilege in that regard.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I feel a large issue impacting the LGBT+ community right now is mental illness. It is well known that trans folk have the highest rates of suicide in the LGBT+ community, but I feel like despite how much it is talked about, nothing is being done about it. I feel that instead of just hyper-focusing on the statistic, we should be working on expanding resources for trans folk, as well as reaching out to our administration to push for support for transgender citizens.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I want elected officials to acknowledge the LGBT+ community as a part of the population, not just this little isolated group in an after though. I was our officials to continue to fight for the rights of LGBT+ people, especially trans folk in our current, political climate.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I would have to say, my roommate here at PPU is amazing. They identify openly as a lesbian, and have a bisexual girlfriend. Throughout our day-to-day lives, we will commonly find ourselves talking about issues within the LGBT+ community. They will frequently ask me about the bisexual experience, wanting to further understand the issues that bisexual people face both in and outside of the community. It feels amazing to be able to have an open and candid dialogue about biphobia, especially with someone who is aware of the privilege they have as a lesbian (being more accepted in the community than bisexual/trans/non-binary/ace peoples). I really hope that as the LGBT+ community evolves, more gay and lesbian people will be willing to have similar conversations with bisexuals and be willing to not only fight for their rights, but also for the rights of those who are underrepresented in the community.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I would say race and age are the two biggest barriers in the LGBT+ community.
There is a big discrepancy between younger and older queer people in regards to the expectations they have. Many times, I’ve found that it is older gay/lesbian people who are the ones who have perpetrated the stereotype that bisexual people don’t know they’re gay yet or are cheaters. There’s a great deal of hostility in the dating world where many gays and lesbians will refuse to date someone based solely on the fact that they are bisexual. In addition to this, as the gender spectrum evolves, I’ve found that older trans folk tend to not be as accepting of younger trans folk and the blurring of the lines of the gender binary (gender fluidity, non-binary, etc).
In regards to race, I feel in media the face of the LGBT+ community is commonly white. This misrepresentation of the community is not only a part of the institutionalized racism we have in this country, but also the white-washing of the LGBT+ community. I had a peer in high school who was a black, gay man who commonly wore makeup and thigh-high boots. He would often talk about the stigma specifically against queer POC in their culture. I feel it’s important to not only talk about this, but to show this through our media. We need to represent all parts of the LGBT+ community, not just the white people. Stonewall, one of the most iconic LGBT+ protests, was started by a queer POC. Overall, race causes a division in the LGBT+ community, and it is imperative that we stick together, regardless of race or age. Why further alienate a community from the inside when the LGBT+ community is already alienated on the outside?
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? I am not entirely familiar with the Downtown Pittsburgh area, but I know that there are safe spaces for LGBT+ youth, counseling on my campus, a GSA on campus, as well as data bases online that provide lists of hotlines and online chats that provide resources and support for LGBT+ youth.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear is the deconstruction of the work that the LGBT+ community has done over the past decades as a result of the Trump administration.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest hope is full acceptance from inside and outside the LGBT+ community.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? I believe one of the biggest things an ally can do for the LGBT+ community is be educated. I feel that in order to fully support the queer community, you have to have an understanding of it. Ask questions, do research, learn the laws. I think there’s an issue with the stigma of people asking questions directed towards LGBT+ people. I believe that as long as the question has good intention, such as “can you explain to me the sexuality/gender spectrum”, “what are your pronouns?”, “what is it like to be in the LGBT+ community?”, etc.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? I believe lesbian/gay people need to acknowledge their privilege within the community. They are the most commonly represented and accepted. I also believe they need to recognize the biphobia that is perpetrated by them. Not wanting to date someone because they are bisexual is biphobia. Telling someone who is bisexual that they “aren’t fully out yet” or “you don’t know you’re gay yet” is biphobic. I think it all comes down to understanding one another and being compassionate. There’s no reason to have our own form of homophobia within the LGBT+ community. In regards to trans people, I feel it’s important that gay/lesbian people understand the process of transitioning. I’ve met many ftm who came out as lesbian before they came out as trans. I think it’s important that gay/lesbian people respect this process and understand that sometimes when gender changes, so does sexuality. Additionally, not excluding straight, trans people. They are still a part of the community like anyone else.
What motivated you to take part in this project? As a bisexual/queer woman I’ve been especially vocal since I’ve come out. I commonly speak on bisexual and trans issues, as those are some of the most underrepresented people in the community. With my passion for the issues in the LGBT+ community and my interest in speaking publicly about the way I perceive things, I was excited to see that there was an opportunity for me to speak on such an influential platform.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I believe there could have been more questions about the underrepresentation of the bisexual, transgender, asexual people within the LGBT+ community. Perhaps a question about how people feel about the state of our country in this particular political climate.
Thank you, Ashley.
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.