WILKES-BARRE — NEPA Rainbow Alliance board member Dr. Helen Davis grew up in North Carolina, at a time when “coming out” would draw a harsh rebuke.
“One of the reasons I was in denial about my sexual orientation was because I grew up in a very conservative, religious area where people said I would burn in hell forever,” Davis said this week at an event for LGBT Pride Month.
The Rainbow Alliance, a non-profit created to support LGBT individuals, teamed with the Osterhout Free Library for a seminar and to offer a “safe place” to talk and give information about resources.
Davis, who teaches Women and Gender Studies at Wilkes University and also serves on the Rainbow Alliance board, started the presentation by emphasizing the differences between sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
She described herself as a “proud bisexual/pansexual person.”
Davis went over the “coming out” process:
• Coming out is not just a one time thing, but happens repeatedly for some.
• Coming out is easier for some more than others.
• Do not “out” someone to others unless you have permission.
She also offered tips on gender interaction with transgender individuals:
• Use preferred names and pronouns.
• Transgender individuals should be permitted to wear their preferred attire.
• They should also be allowed to use their preferred restroom.
Davis is also pushing for better transgender health care in the area. Since 2014, a transgender health conference sponsored by Geisinger Health System and the NEPA Rainbow Alliance has been held annually in Scranton to further educate nurses, doctors, and other medical providers.
Many transgender individuals in the community have to travel to places like Harrisburg or Philadelphia to receive hormone therapy or sex change surgeries because Davis said there is a lack of doctors who are familiar with such treatments and procedures.
“There’s a lot at stake when you’re talking about those things,” she said. “Trans people also experience the highest rates of prejudice and discrimination and are most likely to be unemployed or underemployed, so they’re the least likely to be able to afford the health care in the first place, so access really matters.”
Even though Luzerne County has not yet adopted an anti-discrimination policy to protect LGBT people from being fired from their jobs or denied housing or other services, both the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Pittston approved anti-discrimination ordinances in 2016.
Local resources include LGBT awareness training, support and discussion groups facilitated by the NEPA Rainbow Alliance, as well as social events where people from the community can interact.