Freedom from want – a queer dream of freedom and existence

At the end of March, Pennsylvania observed Trans Day of Visibility in Harrisburg. But what made this year’s commemoration different was the fact that for the first time in Pennsylvania history, there were publicly queer and gender non-conforming elected officials who were there to observe the day and discuss legislation to protect and support LGBTQIA + individuals in the Commonwealth. Many of the LGBTQIA caucus hail from right here in Pittsburgh such as Representatives Mayes, Benham, and Salisbury.  They have used their positions of power to not only fight for our communities but also live openly and proudly as representatives of the LGBTQIA+ community.

I distinctly remember the tension in the air when the legislature was talking about passing gender nondiscrimination (Fairness Act)  in the Pennsylvania House. Hearing Representative Mayes talk about the need for the legislation by sharing her story and imploring people to stop demonizing the community was a much-needed moment of moral clarity and leadership amidst a dehumanizing process to beg for legal protections against housing and employment discrimination.

Freedom. Photos and art composition by Chad Isaiah.

Soon and very soon you will not be a second-class citizen anymore.

I think often of how despite her impassioned plea, the Pennsylvania Senate still refuses to approve the measure. It is a heartbreaking reminder that as more things change, the more they stay the same.

It seems that for so many of us, there is just a want to exist, to be without being a cause, a photo op, or a rallying cry. There is a hope that one day we will have the opportunity to live full lives without having to worry about an election or if a vote will drastically change the ways in which we are able to live our lives, express our love, and share our experiences. As such, there is a need for us to showcase who we are and what we believe in by pursuing opportunities that afford us front-facing positions of power to defend our communities and to share our stories.

 As we advance representation, there has been an intense pushback on how our communities are perceived, supported, and able to exist.  Unfortunately, the ACLU has tracked over 400 bills that are legislative attacks used to target the LGBTQIA community including proposals from right here in southwestern Pennsylvania. This legislative attack on the existence of queer people to work, to live, to retire, and to engage in commerce, reflects the hidden truth that representation and visibility have yet to bring us full liberation.  Despite queer actors such as Billy Porter creating and filming movies and shows here that highlight the LGBTQIA talent, both of our Senators refused to sponsor an LGBTQIA+ center when a homophobic social media account accused the center of allowing adult-focused programming for consenting adults to happen at its space.

Yet, we are still fighting for freedom from want as we are still working toward a queer dream of freedom and existence. Being queer in Pittsburgh comes with some of the best legal protections in the country and elected officials are working to make sure that Pittsburgh is seen as a safe haven city for the community. With robust legal protections that prevent workplace and housing discrimination as well as healthcare support, this has become a safe environment to exist and raise a family.  We have our own gayborhoods and affirming spaces, gay business owners who are expanding, and a growing elderly population who have reduced fears of being discriminated against in retirement communities.  We have won so much, but we are still fighting for more. 

Our youth are still being harmed in schools, our trans siblings still have not gained equality, our communities are often fractured along racial lines, and we still do not have equal protections across the Commonwealth.  With drones and gentrification, treks to the fruit loop are less common.  We have to create yard signs to say our trans youth are welcome here. Many of our favorite queer owned bars have shuttered their doors causing us to find new ways to connect with others in our communities.  There are folks who are still struggling to find safe, sober spaces to expresee themselves and explore their identities without becoming a target.  There are brilliant queer artists and creatives who are brimming with talent but need places to showcase their abilities and develop their skills in nonexploitative fashion.

Over the past few decades, the fight for queer acceptance has moved from one of survival to one of existence.  We no longer have to worry about literal gay bashings when we exit our houses or fear medical discrimination because those who we love as practitioners are themselves members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  It is no short feat that there are actually medical centers and foundations created by and led by out and positive community members themselves to ensure our community has the best care. This comes after Pittsburgh had to deal with predatory and discriminatory healthcare options despite having a robust medical infrastructure within the region. Now our local medical community is not only breaking barriers but also leading the nation in community-based medical care and treatment options. Our trans siblings can proudly walk into medical facilities and receive gender-affirming care without having to risk getting medicines from an unknown online vendor or basement practitioners.

We have lesbian judges on the bench who help people change their names, get married, start businesses, and build better lives. We have a gay chief of police who shows up to local programs to be a part of the community and not to harass or arrest individuals for being queer, dressed scantily, or engaging in adult activities. We have extended legal protections beyond gay marriage here in the city and are working to ensure these rights are codified at the commonwealth level with gender nondiscrimination. We have elected officials who seek out our community’s input for policy decisions and who invited us to participate in programming not as an afterthought but as featured attendees.

Our communities are here to stay but are still fighting to substantially exist in person and online.  We are still here. Still Queer. Never Going Anywhere.

Miracle Jones is a community organizer and queer activist who works in the Pittsburgh area to advocate for equity along the intersections of gender, race, and class.Her work focuses on implementing abolition based principles and transformative justice through writing, policy, and advocacy.  Headshot by Emmai Alaquiva.