It’s important to hear multiple coming out stories and just listen for a while before assuming you know everything. Once you hear some stories, ask those individuals what you can do to help.
Name: Madelyne “Maddie” Moore
County of Residence: Cambria
How do you describe your identity? A happy lesbian
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Throughout my entire life I’ve had strong lesbian tendencies. I remember being eight years old playing dolls with my sister, and my doll being in a relationship with another girl. I always looked at other girls and felt so comfortable around them. I loved holding their hands and dancing with them and being with them. But I thought that was normal. I thought that all girls are born liking girls and then you reach an age and you learn to like boys. When my friends started dating boys in middle school I thought “Okay, it’s about to happen…I’m going to like boys one day.”
But time went on and not only was I not feeling any attraction to men, I was liking women more and more and these feelings were getting stronger. As I started making friends in high school, I thought it was important to not stand out, and I pretended to be straight. Eventually, my close friends knew I liked women (I’m still not sure how they discovered that) and while most of my friends supported me and made jokes with me and were accepting, I had a couple of peers who were not so tolerant. One of my closest friends refused to acknowledge the fact I was a lesbian and made me feel extremely self conscious. In fact, since coming to college I have not spoken to her because of the way she caused me to feel about my sexuality.
When I came out to my family they were not surprised at all, in fact my sister was just happy I finally said something. I come from a very loving, liberal, and supportive family who knows that being a lesbian isn’t something I can change even if I wanted to.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? When I came to college I met dozens of new people who were not only tolerant, but made it a priority to include and support the queer community. In college I publicly came out as a lesbian to my family, friends, and anyone who asks! Usually, in the case of my family I’ve found a deep level of love and support, but occasionally I’ve faced negative comments. But, at the end of the day I’m proud of who I am and who I love. (I am currently in a committed relationship with a woman who is indescribably wonderful)
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first openly gay man I met was my friend Logan in high school. He was one of the first male friends I ever had, and made all of my friends laugh constantly. It was very obvious that he was gay, but during my freshman year, he publicly came out. Other than helping me to enjoy high school, he taught me that you can keep friends simply by being who you are. Who you love isn’t a mistake and the right people will know that.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. My favorite LGBTQ celebrity is Andrea Gibson, a gender-queer (They/Them) and lesbian poet. They have written some of my absolute favorite poems including “First Love”, “Give Her”, “To the Men Catcalling My Girlfriend as I’m Walking Beside Her”, and “Your Life.” As a lesbian and a poet myself, their poetry strikes a deep chord in my soul. It speaks of love and loss and tender moments when we are most vulnerable, however it also dives into politics and the rage that can accompany some aspects of life. Their poetry is powerful and magical and chaotic if such a thing is possible.
On a personal level, Andrea Gibson has been an influence in my romantic relationship. I am in a committed relationship with my girlfriend, and have been for half a year. After we had started dating and I felt strongly that this woman was “the one” I showed her a performance of “First Love”. Since then, quoting Andrea Gibson and listening to their poetry on vinyl and Spotify has been a huge part of our relationship that can spark conversations about gender and love, or sometimes just starting into each others eyes for the entire poem.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I often visit the LGBTQ dorms on my campus. I also have many LGBT friends and am involved in clubs that support LGBT communities. I also subscribe to many Facebook groups that also keep me up to date on political as well as social news in the queer community.
Describe your geographical community. Johnstown was never exactly hateful to me and my sexuality, but it certainly wasn’t accepting. I had many friends who accepted my lesbianism but there’s a reason I was not publicly out of the closet. I had overheard many of my peers talk about homosexuality like it was a joke and that gay rights were something that weren’t really necessary.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. The mayor of Johnstown is an openly gay man who does everything in his power to make the city more friendly to queer peoples. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done as far as the mentality of people in Johnstown. Many people are very conservative and view the LGBTQ community as “People who ask for too much.”
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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. Occasionally some Westboro Baptist Church members come to my campus with signs saying “Gays Burn In Hell” and “God Hates Gays”. There have been multiple instances where I and other LGBT students have protested their presence. Eventually, they stopped coming, but it’s a clear sign that discrimination still happens everywhere and we have a long way to go before we are seen as equal in the eyes of the law or society.
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.
-When I was in high school my closest friend refused to accept the fact that I was a lesbian and we no longer speak.
– I was once told “You can’t be a lesbian. You don’t look gay.”
– People seem to believe that simply because I’m not in a heterosexual relationship it’s perfectly fine to ask about my sex life…even family members.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I have a physician who is very open minded. As soon as I walked into the appointment and we started talking about my health during the intake, she asked if I had a “partner” instead of assuming that simply because I am a women I am attracted to men. I also have been going to a behavioral health specialist for about three years and I have always found her to be welcoming and caring.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? While this is not a local issue, I do think we should talk about it within the queer community. We need to discuss the sexualization of lesbians. Often, lesbians are portrayed as women who are super feminine and pleasing to the male gaze. They’re seen as seductive and sexy trying to “turn” straight women. Pornography has led to men believing that lesbians just haven’t found the right man yet, and that it’s possible to “Turn a lesbian straight.” However, that is simply not true. Lesbians are just women who like other women, and we need to talk about the fetishization of them.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I would like to see better access to health care for transgender people. I would also like to start conversations about microaggressions that queer people feel on a regular basis.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. When I was in high school I developed a crush on one of my friends. She was always kind to me and supported me and wanted me to live a happy life. When I told her that I had a crush on her, she told me that she was straight but that she still appreciated me. I was terrified it would be awkward being around her after that, but she never made it uncomfortable and joked with me a lot. One day, in senior year of high school, she gave me a ring for my birthday and told me that I always had a place in her life. We never had a romantic relationship but getting that ring from her made me feel so accepted and loved. I still have that ring and still keep in touch with her despite the fact that I am in college. When I told her that I was in a committed relationship, she told me “I know you still have that ring. Whenever you feel like you want to, you’re welcome to give it to your girlfriend.” The moral of the story is that it’s important to take some risks sometimes and, even if it doesn’t go as planned, everything works out in the end.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Many people refuse to call transgender and non-binary peoples by their preferred pronouns. It’s important to validate others and their identity. It takes courage to come out, at least give them basic respect.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors?
-Planned Parenthood of Johnstown Pennsylvania.
-Lucy’s Place is a gay bar that serves food and hosts events.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I do have hope that throughout the decades we are improving in the way we think about people in the queer community. However, many people in Western Pennsylvania are very conservative and I’ve heard so many of my community members say that LGBT people should be removed from anti discrimination policies. I think I am currently most worried about the LGBT community’s rights being taken away by our officials and representatives.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I think the youth of Pennsylvania, is getting much better at going against the old ways of thinking about homosexuality and the spectrum of genders and sexuality. Honestly, my one hope is that we have a more inclusive sexual education program. Currently, most schools only have an abstinence only way of teaching, or they only teach lessons on heterosexual health. This leaves LGBT teens in the dark about their own sexual health, or simply questioning if there’s something wrong with not wanting to have heterosexual sex.
What pieces of local or regional LGBTQ history would you like to preserve and why? N/A
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? I think one important thing to do is not assume anything about someone of the queer community. Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s challenges are different. When you assume you know what someone is going through or you try to educate someone using wrong information, it can actually hurt the LGBT community. It’s important to hear multiple coming out stories and just listen for a while before assuming you know everything. Once you hear some stories, ask those individuals what you can do to help. Another way you can support the community is by donating to local inclusive organizations and donate to organizations like The Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention in LGBTQ youth.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? It’s important to validate the others thoughts and identities. If someone identifies as male when they have not started testosterone don’t say “You aren’t a man yet” and don’t keep asking if they “Got the surgery yet.” It’s none of your business what genitalia someone has and having surgery isn’t the factor that validates someone’s existence.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I want to share my story to give others hope. It took me almost all of my life to not only accept my identity but actually take pride in it. For so long I felt ashamed of my sexuality and felt I needed to fit a certain image with my friends. But my friends and family helped me to realize that I need to be who I am and love whomever I feel connected to. Many people feel ashamed of their attraction to the same sex or ashamed of their gender identity, and I want them to know that I’m here routing for you to stay strong and take pride in who you are! You are loved and you are validated.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Q: Why/when did you make the decision to come out? A: I made the decision to come out when I realized that I couldn’t keep hiding from who I truly was. There were so many times during my childhood that I showed strong lesbian tendencies, but I thought that was completely natural and normal until my friends started dating boys. When I first heard the word “lesbian” suddenly it seemed to make sense. While I knew I had these feelings I also wanted to be careful that I wasn’t, somehow, mistaking these lifelong feelings for “hormone imbalances” in puberty. As they got stronger and stronger, I came to college and started dating my current girlfriend and came out to my family.
Thank you, Maddie.
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.