I I know it is hard, it is hard to live in a society that does not fit you, but there are people like you. It’s hard every day knowing that your identity is up for debate. It is not fair. But the only way to change this is to prove them wrong. They want you to be scared, they want you to feel ashamed and lonely — don’t, because then you are only giving them what they want, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Earlier this month, we published a Q&A with Sean O’Donnell of Observatory Hill on Pittsburgh’s Northside about the impact of harassment from a neighbor on his family. You can read that interview here. Two of his children wanted to share their own perspectives as they have also absorbed the impact of this behavior. In particular, 15-year-old Ke’Juan was the person most directly targeted by the most recent actions of the neighbor.
So we asked Ke’Juan to tell us about her life, her family, her hopes and dreams, as well the impact of this harassment. Ke’Juan also stood up in court to offer testimony and is committed to continuing to speak up for herself, her family, and all trans and LGBTQ kids. Her older brother, Chris, also wanted to speak out after he, too, testified. He wants to center Ke’Juan, but knows that speaking out himself is important to support her and other youth.
Your Name: Christopher Eagleton
Your Pronouns: He/him
Your Age: 16
How do you describe your identity? I identify as gay
Tell us about the first LGBTQ+ person that you met and what impact they had on your life. The first LGBTQ+ person I met were probably my parents when I was 7 years old. They changed my life.
Tell us about your family. What sorts of things do you do together? What would a typical day look like in your household? A typical day for us consists of getting breakfast, and depending on the day, we go our separate ways and go to work, school, camp, etc. But at the end of the day we eat dinner together and we share our day. We do things such as go to the movies or restaurants, and we also go on vacations a few times a year.
What sorts of activities and interests do you and your siblings have? What makes you smile? My siblings and I are into gaming, not so much my parents. We also play board games. Personally, I am very into law and politics. It’s always been a significant area of interest to me. And so while I do not actively participate in the field, I like to watch the news. I consider myself extroverted, so I like to meet people, and you can always see me hanging out with my friends.
How involved are you individually and your family in general involved with the local LGBTQ community? We participate in Pride month by going to parades. A lot of my friends are LGBTQ+, I go to a really accepting school, which I am really thankful to say. And so wherever I am I try to make it an inclusive space.
Even though I am gay and am Native American, I appear white and people make assumptions that I think a certain way when I don’t. So I get to see certain things maybe others don’t. I know the privileges that I have and that I need to use those privileges to make change.
For the past several years, a neighbor has been harassing and attempting to bully your family. What sorts of things have they done? Have they targeted everyone or just some of you? Most recently our neighbor has put up an atrocious sign saying extremely radical things such as accusing my parents of abusing us. The neighbor has threatened to call the police on my black brother for doing nothing. The neighbor has posted on social media that my dads kidnapped us. The neighbor has never directly confronted me, but nonetheless, the hate that the neighbor is spewing has a detrimental effect on me and my family.
Tell us about the impact this conduct has had on your lives and the life of your whole family. It has emotionally impacted us all. We do not feel safe to go on our back patio because we do not want to deal with another situation. It has impacted my parents, they cannot sleep at night. We also have to spend a lot of time on the court case and that is extremely stressful.
How did your parents respond to this neighbor’s behavior? At first, my parents tried to have a discussion with the neighbor, but that discussion had grown tense because the neighbor was screaming and so the neighbor’s tenant at the time came in to calm the situation down. We never really responded to her directly because we knew that would not help. And so we took the course of action of going to the police.
Your family previously had a no-contact order that expired. What difference did that order have on your day-to-day lives? Honestly, it really helped. I kind of forgot that she was there. We could live our normal lives, but then it all came back when the order expired and she started harassing us again.
Do you feel safe in your home? What makes you feel safer? I feel safe in my home because I always know my parents will be there to protect me if something happens. I don’t think that she will attack me directly, but I am scared for my younger siblings, who are not as equipped to handle this and might be in danger.
Tell us about your other neighbors. I did not really talk to my other neighbors before this happened. But now I have met many of them, and they’re nice, good people.
You both attended a magistrate hearing with your parents. Why was it important for you to be there? Was the experience of being present and speaking to the magistrate helpful for you? Yes, I think it was extremely helpful for us to be there because we are a part of this, it affects us directly. Our voices needed to be heard and we needed to speak out. So I am glad we went. It was interesting for me to see how the trial played out, the process.
You both also spoke to the media along with your parents. What did you think of the media coverage of the entire situation? Why was it important for you to speak out? A lot of the media wanted to hear what we had to say and to hear about our experience. I think that it is important to call people out and cover stories like ours because you read about stories like this online, but when it is close to home you realize that these things are real and that they can happen to you.
Where could the systems involved here – the police, the courts, the City, private organizations, etc – done better? I think that the city should have laws protecting people against this behavior. I wish that the criminal charges were higher in a magistrate court.
What sorts of microaggressions do you experience in your day-to-day life that other people might not notice? NA
What scares you about this and similar situations? What scares me is that this will happen to other people. People who don’t have voice or access to the supports we have. It is scary to think that this happens all the time. In the political environment we are in today it is a very dangerous world for LGBTQ+ people.
What gives your strength and hope? What gives me strength is knowing there are people like me, to know that I have a supporting family that has given me the confidence to be myself and tp go out in this world on my own.
Do you know of other youth and families in similar situations? Are these realities something you hear about at school or in community activities? I know people that have been targeted because of their identity. They have been bullied, for example. Sometimes it seems small, like a joke, but sometimes it happens on a larger scale where they feel excluded.
There is a theory called “two Pittsburghs” that describes two side-by-side realities, one for folx with privileges of being white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, and ablebodied while a very different reality for folx who are BIPOC, trans, queer, disabled, neurodivergent, poor, and otherwise having less privilege. How does that resonate with your experiences? I do recognize that I myself have a lot of privilege. Even though I am gay and am Native American, I appear white and people make assumptions that I think a certain way when I don’t. So I get to see certain things maybe others don’t. I know the privileges that I have and that I need to use those privileges to make change.
If you could create a type of community support for LGBTQIA+ youth, BIPOC youth, and others, what would it look like? What services and supports would it offer? I think there should be more community spaces. I also think there needs to be more accessible therapy to LGBTQ+ youth because there is a lot of trauma they need to work through. I think that would be very beneficial.
How can trans and queer, BIPOC, LGBTQ, and other organizations connect with young people in your generation? I think social media is a good way to get people’s attention. A lot of young people do not have a long attention span and so making posts on social media is a good way to connect with them.
I feel safe in my home because I always know my parents will be there to protect me if something happens. I don’t think that she will attack me directly, but I am scared for my younger siblings, who are not as equipped to handle this and might be in danger.
How can people reading this Q&A take action, big and small, to support your family and others? Voting, and talking to the people around you. It’s the small things that ultimately make a difference. Informing the people around you and having a conversation about what is going on in your own backyard.
How has the response of your OTHER neighbors changed your view on your neighborhood and community? Do you plan to engage those neighbors in the future? Honestly, before I was not really engaged in my neighborhood, but I am really grateful for the support my family is getting. I want to do what I can do to support other people in my neighborhood.
People often say that voting is essential to create the change necessary to stop some of this behavior. Most of your siblings are not old enough to vote, yet. What would you say to eligible voters who aren’t committed to turning out in November for the next election? Yes, voting is essential, it is the most important thing you can do. Voting pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ+ candidates into office is how you make change. You might think that these issues do not affect you, but once they are done with us, they will come after you.
What are your plans for your futures? Careers, education, activities, family, etc. ‘I am not sure what I want to do in the future. I want to get involved in law and give a voice to people who aren’t being heard. It is summer vacation right now for us so I am working a lot. Also, I just got my permit and so I am saving up for my first car.
Do you have a message for other BIPOC trans and queer youth in Pittsburgh? You are not alone. There are many people just like you. I know it is hard, it is hard to live in a society that does not fit you, but there are people like you. It’s hard every day knowing that your identity is up for debate. It is not fair. But the only way to change this is to prove them wrong. They want you to be scared, they want you to feel ashamed and lonely — don’t, because then you are only giving them what they want, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Thank you, Chris.
At the request of Chris’s sister Ke’Juan, Pittsburgh LGBQ Charities partnered with Commonwealth Press to create a yard sign reading ‘Protect Trans Kids’ for distribution in the region. We are starting with the Northside and moving outward. You can request a sign using this link bit.ly/ProtectTransKidsSigns.
Please keep an eye on the local media for coverage of the O’Donnell-Collar family experiences as they stand up with their children to resist.
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