When Rick Allison was growing up in Westmoreland County in the 1970s, being openly gay was easier in an "urban environment."
"It was difficult in smaller, rural areas," he said. "It was a time when people didn't talk about bullying or social justice in the areas of sexual orientation.
"Even though we do talk about it now, we still see bullying going on, and we still see people being discriminated against," he said, which is why he works hard to ensure gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are comfortable in their community.
Mr. Allison, 58, of Point Breeze, was recently named a Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh by the Dignity & Respect Campaign, "an awareness initiative designed to join individuals, community leaders, community organizations, educational institutions, businesses and corporations under the common notion that everyone deserves dignity and respect," according to the campaign's website.
Mr. Allison, who is dean of academic affairs and coordinating dean of allied health at the Community College of Allegheny County Boyce Campus, said he moved to Pittsburgh because he wanted to be around people like himself. He said gay bars used to be clustered along Liberty Avenue, Downtown, but now LGBT-friendly bars are all over the city.
"Pittsburgh's really come along," he said.
Mr. Allison volunteered for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force and the Shepherd Wellness Community, and he helps organize a monthly bingo night -- OUTrageous Bingo -- at the Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside.
OUTrageous Bingo -- which will celebrate its 15th anniversary on Dec. 1 with "a blowout of several performers, extra prizes and hopefully some surprise guests" -- features drag queen performances and draws nearly 500 people every month. Proceeds from the bingo nights are donated to the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and the Shepherd Wellness Community.
In the past, he has supported gay-straight alliances at CCAC and served as board chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, working to move the center from its Squirrel Hill location to Grant Street, Downtown.
He said it was important to have a centrally located center that's visible to the public and easily accessible by public transportation.
"My interest was that we have that safe place, that we have a place where people can feel comfortable being themselves and finding the resources they need, whether they're 15 or 51," he said.
"We want people to know they aren't alone, and there are others like them, and there are people that will help."
He said Pittsburgh still has a long way to go, from routinely seeing same-sex couples walking down the street holding hands to the legalization of gay marriage.
"The importance of being out -- as more and more of us come out -- is that people who are questioning or don't understand get to know us and get to feel comfortable with us.
"We're every facet of society," he said. Anyone who says they don't know a LGBT person isn't "being true to themselves."
At CCAC, Mr. Allison said he enjoys the diversity on community college campuses.
He said CCAC provides a diverse group of people with the opportunity to "live the American dream" -- a lot of students are the first in their family to go to college.
"It's amazing, the success stories we hear from our students," he said. "You're working with people who might not get a chance at higher education."neigh_east
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.