Downtown Williamsport, Pa., as seen from the roof of the Scottish Rite Auditorium (WikiPedia/DJ Orion photo)
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Dan Maneval, 74, has been an anchor in a frothy sea of homophobia and prejudice for decades. His first serious tangle, in 1978, involved anti-gay orange juice queen Anita Bryant, whose granddaughter Sarah Green recently announced her engagement to a woman.
Forty-three years later, he’s still in the change game. The Capital-Star talked to him about his life and work, and what the future holds for his activism. The conversation below has been edited for content and clarity.
Capital-Star: You are committed to queer activism because…
A: Being a Williamsport native, and living in a rural conservative area, it was a huge personal struggle for me to come out. My activism began with finding ways to support myself and others. What I experienced is still going on today. People coming out or those already out need supportive circles.
Q: It’s popular to say You can be gay anywhere today. Does living in a rural, conservative area that describes much of Pennsylvania make a difference for a queer person?
A: It’s not the same as living in or near a gayborhood, an urban neighborhood or section of a city known for its gay residents. Where you find like-minded people, maybe even a few queer-owned or friendly businesses. A place where you can feel safe.
Q: And after nearly two decades of trying, Pennsylvania does not yet have statewide LGBTQ civil rights protections.
A: That’s right. There is no statewide standard for how any queer person might be treated with regard to employment, housing, or commercial and/or human services. (As of June 2021, at least 69 of Pennsylvania’s 2,562 municipalities have passed LGBTQ-inclusive local nondiscrimination ordinances, according to PA Youth Congress. That represents about 35% of the state’s population based on 2018 US Census estimates.)
Q: So, LGBTQ residents of rural areas like Williamsport, and elsewhere in the state, must literally start from scratch?
A: We do. The support systems needed to cope, come out to family, friends, co-workers, employers must be consciously put into place. I think that’s why we’re seeing such a vibrant response across the state. There’s now some form of Pride and related public education awareness programming in 11 locations throughout the state.
Q: The Williamsport region is enjoying a cycle of advocacy right now?
A: We are. Cycles of activism and advocacy by the LGBTQ community ebb and flow same as any other social justice movement. Here it began in the early 70s with HOW (Homophiles of Williamsport), the first of a long line of organizations I’ve been involved with from the ground up. Every group since then has functioned as support and social outlet. We’ve had just as long a series of gay bar outlets and their iterations as well. We’ve had an extremely hard time keeping things going, although we still have one small support group here called Alphabet Soup.
Q: Why is focused activism so hard to sustain?
A: So many young LGBTQ people leave the area as soon as they are able.
Q: Still, what begins within the queer community for itself quickly spreads outward as a form of awareness within the larger community?
A: That increased awareness creates an atmosphere in which change can occur. For example, our big goal right now is to more deeply establish West Branch Pride which started up three years ago. We want a Pride event in September 2022, an event already pushed back twice due to COVID-19, and lack of funds and fundraising opportunities.
Our activity for this year begins Sept. 18 with a public picnic and a dance party that goes monthly. And for the long game we’d like to establish an LGBTQ community center. I’d like to see that in my lifetime.
For more Pennsylvania queer history – PSU Press: Out in Central Pennsylvania: The History of an LGBTQ Community By William Burton and with Barry Loveland (psupress.org)
Q: You’ve seen a lot in your lifetime too. In 1978, orange juice ambassador and anti-homosexual Evangelical singer Anita Bryant brought her “Protect America’s Children” campaign to the Bloomsburg Agricultural Fair in Columbia County. You protested. You were harassed. Your home was vandalized by a teenage gang. Every window broken. Neighbors forced you to move. You feared for your life. Today’s reflections on this?
A: For me, this was a totally life-changing event and not for the good. I was an only child and my parents both died relatively young. I was a property owner at 22 years of age. Who can say that? If that teenage gang hadn’t come after me, my house, forcing me to flee for sanity and security, I know I’d still be there. When I go past the house, I just pause and reflect on what could have been. It’s still a painful memory. I feel like I deserted my parents but there was nothing I could do. And I won’t own property to this day because of it.
Q: At the same Bloomsburg Agricultural Fair 42 two years later (July 2020) trans woman Dr. Rachel Levine, then-PA Sect. of Health who is now President Biden’s Assistant Sect. of Health, was mocked at a dunk tank. Scores of LGBTQ organizations from across the state demanded an apology. Do transphobia and homophobia run that deep?
A: They seem to. Bloomsburg (Columbia County) is 50 minutes away from Williamsport (Lycoming County) is another rural conservative area. So, acceptance for those of us who are perceived to be different is, well, look out! That’s why education and visibility is so important. It’s not activism light. This is serious business. I used to give lectures to college psychology classes on homosexuality. One time the professor accompanied me to my car. She overheard students talking about what they were going to do to me. That was enough for me.
Q: But you’re still involved up to your ears. It is time for others to come forward?
A: A lot more people need to participate here in the Clinton-Lycoming region and all across the state to get anything accomplished. We’d like to add Williamsport to the list of municipalities with a civil rights ordinance. We’d like Pennsylvania to finally pass LGBTQ civil rights legislation. It’s time.
Opinion contributor Frank Pizzoli, of Harrisburg, is the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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