Working around dress codes has always been difficult for me. I dress in men’s clothing and it isn’t always acceptable in professional settings (it is also not always easy to find clothes to begin with!). Every time I start a new job or show up to a dressy function, I worry what people are going to think of me and the way I dress.
Name: Mairin Petrone
County of Residence: I currently reside in Philadelphia County but grew up in Allegheny County
How do you describe your identity? Woman, Lesbian, Irish, Italian
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? During my junior year of high school, I snuck out to a “lesbian party” and told my parents that I was going to hang out with my ex-boyfriend. They caught me in my lie and in a long night of tears, hugs, and questions, I came out to my parents.
My parents were incredibly supportive. They discussed their concerns about how this might mean I would face discrimination in life and how they wanted healthy relationships for me.
To this day, I have never had a sit-down, “I’m gay,” conversation with anyone. I decided my sexuality was going to be a non-issue. After I came out to my parents, the rest of our family and family friends gradually found out as well. My parents and brother shared with whoever they wanted, my uncle saw me kissing a girl in my car, my grandfather saw a picture of me in a tie on Facebook and put two and two together, my cousins found out when I introduced them to my girlfriends, and that was pretty much that. If any one of my friends or family members had issues, I never found out about it.
The biggest challenge I faced during this experience was my own internal homophobia. I didn’t want to be different and I didn’t want to face the challenges of being gay.
My coming out experience wasn’t easy but it certainly was easier than it is for most. I will never take for granted the support I received during this process and still receive on a day-to-day basis.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I describe myself as 100% out. I correct people if they make an inaccurate assumption, I wear whatever clothing I want to wear, I share my relationship on social media, I’m out at work, and I’m totally and completely proud of who I am.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I was fortunate enough to grow up with some out LGBTQ family members. When I was 5 years old and began grasping the concept of being “gay”, my parents said to me right then that if I was gay too, it was ok and I could tell them. Having these LGBTQ family members made me aware that because my family was accepting of them, they would be accepting of me too and it significantly impacted my coming out experience in a positive way. It still impacts me everyday knowing I have this support system.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. This my not be a popular answer BUT Bette Porter from The L Word is my favorite LGBTQ TV character. She was complex, not perfect, worked to better herself, was relatable at times, and (of course) gorgeous.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I subscribe and follow just about every LGBTQ piece of media and content I can! I follow bloggers and LGBTQ media companies like Autostraddle and AfterEllen on various social media platforms. I get Out Magazine, I’m an HRC member, and more. It is important to me to be aware of what’s happening in my community and what I can do to help.
Describe your geographical community. My geographical community is incredibly LGBTQ friendly. The city of Philadelphia is so welcoming, is so diverse, and is so inclusive.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. My LGBTQ community consists of a mix of friends and family members that live in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This group of people is awesome. There is nothing quite like spending time with a solid group of gay friends.
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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. Yes.
At a Justin Bieber Concert at then, Consol Energy Center, my wife and I were pulled from our seats by a staff person. When we left our seats and entered the lobby area with the staffer, he proceeded to tell us that he received a complaint from someone in our section that we had been aggressively making out and engaging in inappropriate behavior (not true). He said this was a “children’s show” and that our behavior wasn’t ok.
Unsure how to handle the situation, we went back to our seats I started crying. My wife put her arm around me to comfort me and a few minutes later the staff member came back down and pulled us out of our seats again. This time he said he got a second complaint about our behavior from a different person. Because I was already at a complete loss for words, we just went back to our seats. I really couldn’t believe what was happening and couldn’t get the tears under control.
And then this man came back and asked us to leave our seat for a third time. This time he told us someone came to him accusing of us of hitting them. We had absolutely NO IDEA who had been complaining about us.
After this third complaint we were moved to different (and much worse) seats and a manager came to speak with us. The manager left us with this: “This isn’t discrimination because we aren’t kicking you out. Plus, my brother is gay.”
After an angry letter to Consol Energy Center we received two free Penguins tickets and this message, ““In taking the word of those complaining, we did not get first hand staff accounts of what was actually happening and therefore, should have tried to move those complaining instead of your party.”
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. I don’t think I have experience microagressions as a lesbian (if I have, I have not noticed). I do experience them on a regular basis as a woman.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) When I lived in Pittsburgh, my employer did offer domestic partner benefits but it was not something I took advantage of because my wife had he own insurance. I can’t say that I paid much attention to it at the time. In Philadelphia, my insurance and health care providers are very LGBTQ competent.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I do think that. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed around the trans community and LGBTQ people of color. I believe that dialogue is starting and that it is more on the radar than it has been in the past, but we have a long way to go.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Lately, I have been relatively pleased with Allegheny County, Philadelphia County, and PA elected officials and their work with, and in support of, the LGBTQ community. On a national level, I have no faith in our current elected officials at all. From all levels, I would like to see more work towards anti-discrimination policies and more support, funding, and resources for LGBTQ youth.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Working around dress codes has always been difficult for me. I dress in men’s clothing and it isn’t always acceptable in professional settings (it is also not always easy to find clothes to begin with!). Every time I start a new job or show up to a dressy function, I worry what people are going to think of me and the way I dress. Fortunately, I usually get compliments and most people don’t think anything of it! I also have only worked for employers who are comfortable with the way I dress.
In college, I was in a sorority and we often had functions that required us to wear certain attire. For example, during recruitment we were to wear dark skinny jeans, chapter “letters”, black heals, hair down and straight, and natural make-up. My sorority was so accepting that they altered the dress code for every function just for me! My dress code usually looked something like: dark jeans, chapter letters, black shoes.
I’m lucky and grateful to have been and still be so accepted.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Public opinion, religious institutions, health care policies, educational institutions, and many more.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? In Allegheny County, I’m aware of Persad, Dreams of Hope, PFLAG, Proud Haven, and Pittsburgh Equality Center as local resources thought I know that there are many more.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Hate crimes. I know that there has been a recent rise in violent hate crimes in our country and I worry everyday about those impacting the LGBTQ community in Western PA and other places in the US.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Growth of diversity within the LGBTQ community. I’d like to see more people of color and the trans community take on a larger role in (and be supported by others in) having leadership roles in Western PA’s LGBTQ community and organizations.
What pieces of local or regional LGBTQ history would you like to preserve and why? This! The stories of LGBTQ community members, of events, of people impacting our community on a regular basis.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Fight for our rights as much as they do their own! It is one thing to not get in the way of equality but it is so important to be right there fighting the good fight with us!
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Acceptance! There is enough discrimination coming from outside of our community that we don’t need it within.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I wanted to share my story and support this important project and the people behind it.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I think you asked everything I would also want to know!
Thank you, Mairin.
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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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