This is the first installment of our new blogging Q&A project: Flip the Script. I have invited a group of friends and acquaintances to design a Q&A for me to answer. As we near #AMPLIFY 300, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ‘flip the script’ and put myself on the opposite side of the question, to walk the walk of so many brave people who have shared their stories and to explore in a more personal way the power of storytelling.
The questioners will draft the questions, they will receive my answers, and they will review the final post before I share it on the blog. And then they will write a guest blog post about the experience in their own words.
I will blog as the project unfolds about my own experiences, perspectives, and feelings.
If you say ‘What a great idea!’ then please consider donating to our crowdfund. We’ll use these funds to compensate the questioners for their time and creative work with stipends. As funds allow, we will invite new questioners. I’m trying to represent lots of points in my own life in this project – including childhood friends, colleagues, perhaps even the occasional foe.
The Q&A’s will be published in the order in which they are submitted to me by the questioners. The ball is in their court.
Up first is Anne Lynch. Anne is the Executive Director of the Three Rivers Community Foundation and a devoted advocate for social justice, including social justice history. Anne is a cisgender, heterosexual ally and has become a much appreciated friend over the years. I’m zero percent surprised that she was the first to respond or that she asked such thoughtful questions. Anne’s comments/questions are in bold face and my responses are in regular font.
First off, thank you for this opportunity to help get to know the person behind the blog!
1.) I’ve been personally trying to move away from asking people what they do for a living, as it so rarely is linked to what they are truly passionate about. To that end, what makes your heart sing? What brings joy to your life? Making a difference, having an impact in the world is what brings joy to me. That could be anything from our current cat food drive to help homeless cats to blogging about the racist billboards and successfully raising awareness of a problem no one was acknowledging. Ledcat describes them as my projects and she’s right in more ways than one. I feel a responsibility to do what I can to improve the world. That’s the closest I can get myself to joy as possible – being useful and productive.
2.) What is your favorite dinosaur, and why? Definitely not a question I was expecting, LOL. I’m going with Brontosaurus based on childhood preferences. I did take a moment to look up the current Brontosaurus entry on Wikipedia and see that it, like the planet Pluto, has come a long way since my 5th grade science class.
3.) You talk about intersectionality a lot on your various blog posts. Who introduced you to Kimberle Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality? How has learning about that changed your life? I cannot honestly remember how I was introduced to the theory. Looking back, I believe I was primed by my third wave feminist sociologist friends when I was a young graduate student at LSU in the early 1990’s, then moved further along by several anti-racism trainings I took with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in the mid-1990’s, and then challenged by a few of my instructors while earning my MSW at Pitt.
But I wouldn’t really engage the theory until I was active in LGBTQ organizing through my blog and ran into the some queer analysis resisting intersectionality in favor of a class struggle analysis. I began researching the concept and putting together these various strands around 2013, a fact I discovered by searching my blog archives.
I did intentionally immerse myself in the writing created by Black women once I understood the concept and have tried very hard to take my cues from them. I do typically include an open-ended question about intersectionality in every Q&A I create. Maybe I’m recreating my own journey?
4.) You have spent some time in Louisiana (Baton Rouge, I think). Being from there (NOLA area), I’m curious to hear what similarities and differences you have seen between that region of the country, and our Pittsburgh region. What brought you down there, and what brought you back to here? When I reached my senior year in college (in Arlington, Virginia), I panicked because I had zero clue what to do next. Having spent six months interning on Capitol Hill (see below), I knew that life was not for me. So I decided to just go to graduate school, the time-honored tradition of many an aimless liberal arts student. LSU offered me a fellowship and it seemed like a cool idea to push myself into a new culture. It was not a particularly well-thought out decision. I studied in the Masters/PhD combined program, panicked again (turns out, I have anxiety!) and dropped out to become a missionary in Kentucky. That’s what eventually brought me back to Pittsburgh.
Baton Rouge and Louisiana and the South was truly like a new world to me. Nothing was like Pittsburgh – the topography, the weather, the food, the flora and fauna, the accents, the worldview, even the legal system was based on French law, not English legal traditions. The biggest shockers for me were Hurricane Andrew, finding Jack Daniels for sale at the local 7-Eleven, and the climate of perpetual rain and humidity. Granted, I was in a college town and a very tight-knit community of graduate students so I was pretty protected and had lots of gradual exposure to ‘authentic’ local culture through their families versus any tourist adventure.
I clung to what felt familiar, especially during my darker moments – the Catholic Church, franchises like Wendy’s and McDonald’s, movie theaters, and taking long aimless drives. I remember feeling so lost in the aftermath of the Hurricane and going to a Wendy’s as a treat for myself, only to realize how familiar it felt which instantly relaxed me. That was a valuable lesson that I had taught myself in Pittsburgh when I felt overwhelmed by home life – I’d go get lost in the local food court with a book.
Typically, a white Northern person who lived in the South for multiple years would try to compare the racism of the North (so repressed and polite!) and the South (so open and polite!) – that’s ridiculous. Racism is part of American culture and it is everywhere that white people exist in the United States (and beyond.) I learned more about racial justice in Baton Rouge because I was a young adult having complicated and nuanced conversations every single day as part of my academic work. I learned almost nothing about racial justice as a kid in Pittsburgh because I was a kid with no one teaching me these lessons and had no foundation to build upon. Those differences were as much about my age and the adults around me as it was about the region. Pittsburgh’s racism is appalling and real and something that in no way can be minimized because it is perceived to be not as bad as Southern states. There were human being enslaved in the mid 1700s just one mile from where I grew up in West Mifflin by the man who founded the City of Clairton, but I have yet to hear anyone ever talk about that historical foundation of racial injustice when they discuss the Clairton of today.
Let me add that while I did not complete the degree, I do not regret having the experience of living in Louisiana for three years. I met wonderful people, learned a lot about myself, and had many chances to experience genuine cultural moments with my local friends and their gracious families. This experience taught me that I could take care of myself as an adult.
5.) What sparked your passion for history and genealogy? Have you turned up anything unexpected in your genealogical research? I started building my family tree in the mid 1990’s using manilla folders and paper and pen. I think the family’s acknowledgement that my grandfather had dementia propelled me to try to capture the family information from other living members of the family while I could.
The biggest cluster of new information was the length of time the various branches of my families have been here in these United States, as colonizers and immigrants. The most recent immigrant among my direct ancestors was my 2x great-grandmother Jennie Tarelton Remley Murray who emigrated from Scotland in 1885. Almost every other branch of my family was somewhere in this land before 1800, many as early as the 1600’s. Jennie’s aunts and uncles arrived before she did so even that facts of her arrival are a little misleading. I have a huge family presence from Southern states through one person – my great-grandmother, Harriet Hackney Pryor, whom I was taught was a grand old Yankee lady and not the poor rural Tennessee kid who descended from massively big white families with deep roots in slavery.
Finding living relatives is just the best. I am disconnected from most of my own biological family, so feeling kinship with other people is important to me. Perhaps what is unexpected is that someone who has no real contact with living family has a family tree of more than 70,000 people?
6.) Your blog is called Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents – but it covers so much more than what are traditionally seen as “lesbian” issues. For instance, yours was the first outlet where I heard about the racist billboard in Armstrong County. Some of the reactions and comments you got from following that story were shocking to me, but it seemed that you were almost used to that sort of threat. Have you ever had a reaction to a story that has actually shocked you (for good or ill)?
I used to blog about Letters to the Editor that were homophobic and mock the writers by name, a sort of public shaming. In 2017, I received the following email: (identifying details removed by me)
“In 2006, you wrote a blog entry in response to a letter to the editor I had written to the PG about an upcoming Dixie Chicks concert. Your piece bothered me greatly. I could not understand at the time how you could possibly be so wrong about me! Your post made me take a hard look at what I believe about myself and my world.
Since that time, my son has come out as gay and I have left my church and my politics. That woman about which you wrote 11 years ago seems like a foreigner to me now! I went back and read your post and the related comments this morning and had a chuckle at how life can change.”
What a pleasant surprise for me to receive this message.
Regarding the threats, things have definitely worsened since Trump took office. Two years ago, I would have pointed to the lesbian who wished I would ‘choke on my own bile, croak and die’ over a cupcake eating contest post as an example of how my own community can be the most brutal to me. Those days are long gone, a fact brought horrifyingly home to me in October 2018 when I criticized the decision by the Pittsburgh Marathon to accept a six figure sponsorship deal with Chick-fil-A for their youth programming. FOX News targeted me, something that’s never happened before. The misogynistic vile ignorant hatred has been nonstop. I’m not used to it, but I have a process to deal with it.
7.) I’m not a fan of holding people up as “idols,” but would love to know both a Pittsburgh woman of color, and a non-Pittsburgh woman of color who you look up to, and why. This question is a little uncomfortable because I don’t want to tokenize or reduce my relationships with specific women. But I also know it is very important to lift up and signal boost the work and teachings of women of color, especially Black women whenever possible.
A local woman whom I greatly respect and value is Joy KMT, a healer and creator and warrior. I met her in 2014 and have just found her intelligence, grace, passion, and courage to be sources of inspiration for me as well as sources of accountability.
From outside of Pittsburgh, I would say Monica Roberts, a Black trans woman from Houston, Texas. She is a blogger, activist writer and more. We met at a Netroots Nation conference in 2013 and I had a big lesson in transphobia when she told me that the wi-fi of the hotel hosting the conference was blocking her blog in the “blacklisted” spam filters. Monica’s fierce and unrelenting commitment to advocate for the trans community is important and necessary work.
8.) Having a blog that has run for 14 years, and been nominated for several awards (including GLAAD Media Awards), you’ve covered some vitally important issues in the LGBTQ community here in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Some have been resolved well, and some incidents have ended badly. What is one topic that you’ve covered that you think is the best “victory” you’ve seen? What about tragedy?
In terms of tragedy, the unrelenting epidemic of violence targeting the trans community, especially Black trans women, is by far the most difficult topic I address. At the request of a local tran friends of mine in 2013, I made a commitment to write an “In Memoriam” type post for each person who was killed. Each death hits me hard, erodes a little bit of my hopefulness. And I don’t see that the mainstream LGBQ communities or the mainstream cis het communities have made much progress beyond starting to consistently acknowledge this epidemic. What I have witnessed is the growing empowerment in the trans community and that’s what we should all be attending to with our resources.
The best victory is tough. Sometimes it is being right even at a great cost. In October 2018, I was targeted by FOX News for my resistance of Chick-fil-A’s sponsorship of the Pittsburgh Marathon. Thousands of people piled on me in the comments sections, in my email, on my social media feeds, in real life. It was the most awful experience and I thought it was for naught because the Pittsburgh Marathon Board of Directors didn’t give a damn about any of that or care to extrapolate what that means for kids running in the Chick-fil-A marathon. Then earlier this month, IRS documents proved that Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-LGBTQ orgs had grown over previous years. They lied to everyone and they continue to lie. That’s an odd victory, but it is about listening to my gut.
Unfortunately Pgh Marathon board members Charlie Batch, Chelsa Wagner, Troy Schooley, Chip Burke – they don’t care about what I experienced because there is no sponsor in the LGBTQ community that could write checks to the nth degree of Chick-fil-A. So they just never listen to people like me. Being proven right by IRS documents made me feel a sense of victory, but it was accompanied by the reality that under Schooley’s leadership – the Marathon will never care about harassment, abuse, bullying, etc. It is a very sad and necessary truth to take away from this experience.
9.) I love the AMPLIFY series, as it gives people the opportunity to tell their own stories, something which is rarely offered. But sometimes, people can be reluctant to share, thinking their lives are not significant enough to be archived. I believe, to quote a friend of mine, “Every person is a person of worth,” (Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski). Have you had to convince any of your contributors that their story is worth sharing? Can you give an example of something positive that has happened as the result of an AMPLIFY contribution (either to the person who contributed, or to someone who read one and decided to take action in some way – maybe even contributing to the AMPLIFY series themselves)? I have this conversation every day. Every day, I am trying to convince people that their story is worth sharing. It is probably how I spend 50% of my AMPLIFY time and energy. Some people are simply private about their lives, others don’t see themselves as historical figures, and others just can’t find the time. And then there are people who are afraid.
As for a positive outcome, many of the contributors mention that they were inspired by others sharing their own stories or that they felt it was important to ‘walk the walk’ after they read existing contributions.
Oh this happened – some friends created their own zine about being queer around the holidays and told me that they were inspired in part by AMPLIFY. It is a great zine and I’m thrilled to have been some small part.
10.) How did you get involved in animal concerns (rescue, feral cats, wildlife, etc.)? Do you believe that animal rights/welfare should be considered a social justice issue? Again, I cannot remember exactly how I got started – I grew up with family pets, my childhood best friend became a veterinarian, etc.
Living in an urban neighborhood (Manchester on the Northside) has been eye-opening for me. I grew up in the suburbs surrounded by light woods. My partner grew up on a non-working farm in rural Mercer County. Discovering that we are surrounded by deer, raccoons, opossum, groundhogs, and many other forms of wildlife in our urban backyard is surprising – we live next to a highway, a casino, and Heinz Field. So we’ve made a point to educate ourselves about well, how to be a good neighbor to urban wildlife. And along with that comes homeless animals that aren’t supposed to be on their own – feral cats, abandoned ducks and rabbits, even off leash dogs. I’d point to Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh, the Homeless Cat Management Team, HAR Wildlife Center as resources.
In 2012, Bitch Media published a piece that transformed my world – CO-OPTING THE COOPWHAT’S THE REAL COST OF HOMESTEADING’S NEW HIPNESS? by Marianne Kirby. I read it via a hard copy of the magazine; I can still remember being sprawled across our bed one evening, just absolutely fascinated by this new perspective on urban life and gentrification. It was a huge a ha! moment for me as a relatively new urban resident. And I think about it often when I’m doing this current work around urban wildlife issues.
11.) What would an ideal day look like to you? When you live with disabilities, ideal is too distant and remote. For me, it is about successful days – days when I feel well, when I complete my tasks and commitments, when I feel the sun on my face, when I am useful to another person, when I take the time to count my accomplishments and give myself credit, when I survive and endure.
My favorite days are when I get to spend time with four of our niblings who live in Pittsburgh – dinner at Eat n Park and a movie or any activity where we can talk, laugh, sing, tell jokes, and eat.
I am sure that you have covered this in one of your blogs, but if so, I have missed it. Please direct me to the link!
You rather famously interned with Rick Santorum. Considering how virulently anti-queer he is, how did that come about? Do you think he learned anything from you? What did you take away from that experience? Short version – I won the James G Fulton Scholarship from the Pittsburgh Foundation in 1991, was assigned to Santorum’s office. I wasn’t out at the time (even to myself.) I doubt he learned anything from me, but perhaps my blogging about that experience has taught him something? Here’s my Rick Santorum coverage from over the years.
Thank you, Anne. Great questions. I’m appreciating the opportunity to revisit some of these moments in my life.
Please bookmark this series. Up next is a Q&A created by Tereneh Idia. I will also write my short post on how this first Q&A experience impacted me as well as publish Anne’s follow up post. And please consider a modest donation to our crowdfund to provide stipends to the questioners.