Westmoreland County training program highlights LGBTQ community
Jo Tauber knows firsthand the challenges that members of the LGBTQ community face every day in Westmoreland County.
Tauber, 30, of Penn Township, said she’s been lucky to have been accepted by her family and friends but she understands her story may be different from others who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“Despite the conservative nature of the area, I’ve been overwhelmingly lucky to be very well accepted by my family and my community as well,” Tauber said.
Tauber was one of several speakers and panel members who participated in training Tuesday at the Westmoreland County Courthouse for local children’s bureau staffers, caseworkers and court staff to help county employees, lawyers and others learn about the issues members of the LGBTQ community face as well as how to better assist them in times of need.
The training was sponsored by the Westmoreland County Children’s Roundtable, which includes the children’s bureau as well as the county’s Court Assisted Special Advocates program and the Greensburg chapter of the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc.
“Our number 1 message is that, basically, the stories are what help change hearts and minds and, hopefully, some will be changed today,” said Federation President Jean Slusser.
Jim Galik, president of the Westmoreland County LGBTQ Interfaith Network, said estimates suggest that as many as 5 to 10 percent of the local population identifies as either gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. He said he hopes the training will provide a better understanding of the issues and struggles community members face to county workers, especially those who work directly with children.
“We want to make sure everyone in our community is respected the same way as everyone else,” Galik said.
Shara Savekis, director of the county’s Children’s Bureau, said the training also is designed to provide county staffers with knowledge about what resources are available to assist LGBTQ community members.
Mitch Samick, the program director for Westmoreland’s Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which provides volunteer adult liaisons to children who are involved with the family courts, said understanding what issues their young clients might have to deal with related to their sexual identity is essential to their jobs.
“We have to make sure we are not under-serving this community,” Samick said.
For Tauber, she said telling her story is a way to help.
“You don’t have to understand something or somebody to be respectful and to be polite, to understand that one person’s story is not everybody’s story. That you can learn a lot by listening to everybody and their story,” Tauber said.
“I didn’t get kicked out of my house, which happens to a lot of LGBTQ people. I’ve never been fired from a job for it. I do work in Allegheny County, which is important because Westmoreland County does not have LGBTQ protections but Allegheny County does, so I can’t be fired there for my identity.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .