WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania – Dan Maneval, 74, has been an anchor in a foamy sea of homophobia and prejudice for decades. His first serious entanglement, 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 game for change. The Capital-Star told him about his life and his work, and what the future holds for his activism. The conversation below has been edited for more content and clarity.
Capital-Star: You are engaged in queer activism because …
A: Being from Williamsport and living in a conservative rural 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 continues today. People who are dating or those who have already come out need circles of support.
Question: 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 to a queer person?
A: It is not the same as living in or near a gay neighborhood, urban neighborhood, or part of a city known to its gay residents. Where you find like-minded people, maybe even a few gay-owned or friendly businesses. A place where you can feel safe.
Question: And after nearly two decades of testing, Pennsylvania still lacks statewide LGBTQ civil rights protection.
A: That’s right. There is no statewide standard for how anyone who is gay could be treated with regard to employment, housing, or commercial and / or human services. (As of June 2021, at least 69 Pennsylvania 2,562 the municipalities have pass LGBTQ-inclusive local non-discrimination ordinances, according to the Palestinian Authority Youth Congress. This represents about 35% of the state’s population based on 2018 U.S. Census estimates.)
Question: So do LGBTQ residents in rural areas like Williamsport and elsewhere in the state literally have to start from scratch?
A: We do. The support systems necessary to cope, to manifest themselves to family, friends, colleagues, employers must be consciously put in place. I think that’s why we’re seeing such a dynamic response across the state. There is now some form of Pride and related public awareness program in 11 locations across the state.
Question: Is the Williamsport area currently going through an advocacy cycle?
A: We are. Cycles of activism and advocacy in the LGBTQ community come and go like any other social justice movement. Here it started in the early ’70s with HOW (Williamsport homophiles), the first in a long line of organizations I have been involved with from the start. Since then, each group has functioned as a support and a social outlet. We’ve had a series of gay bar outlets and their iterations as well for so long. We’ve had a lot of trouble getting things done, although we still have a small support group here called Alphabet Soup.
Question: Why is targeted activism so difficult to sustain?
A: So many LGBTQ youth are leaving the area as soon as they can.
Question: Yet what begins within the queer community for itself quickly spreads outward as a form of awareness within the larger community?
A: This heightened awareness creates an atmosphere in which change can occur. For example, our big goal right now is to establish West Branch Pride more deeply, which started three years ago. We want a Pride event in September 2022, an event already postponed twice due to COVID-19, and the lack of funds and fundraising opportunities.
Our activity for this year begins on September 18th with a public picnic and dance party that takes place every month. And for the long game, we would like to establish an LGBTQ community center. I would like to see that in my lifetime.
Question: You have also seen a lot of things in your life. In 1978, orange juice ambassador and anti-gay evangelical singer Anita Bryant presented her “Protect America’s Children” campaign at the Bloomsburg Agricultural Show in Columbia County. You protested. You have been harassed. Your house has been vandalized by a gang of teenagers. Every broken window. The neighbors forced you to move out. You feared for your life. Today’s thoughts on this?
A: For me, it was an event that totally changed my life and not for good. I was an only child and my parents both died relatively young. I was the owner at 22. Who can say that? If this gang of teenagers hadn’t come after me, my home, forcing me to flee for reasons of sanity and safety, I know I would still be here. When I walk past the house, I stop and think about what could have been. It is still a painful memory. I feel like I abandoned my parents but there was nothing I could do. And I won’t own any property to this day because of it.
Question: At the same Bloomsburg Agricultural Fair 42 two years later (July 2020), trans woman Dr. Rachel Levine, then PA Sect. health care which is now President Biden’s assistant sect. of Health, was made fun of a dunk tank. Dozens of LGBTQ organizations across the state have called for an apology. Are transphobia and homophobia that deep?
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A: They seem. Bloomsburg (Columbia County) is 50 minutes from Williamsport (Lycoming County) is another conservative rural area. So acceptance for those of us who are seen as different is, well, watch out! This is why education and visibility are so important. This is not light activism. This is serious business. I used to lecture on homosexuality at psychology classes in college. Once the teacher walked me to my car. She heard students talk about what they were going to do to me. It was enough for me.
Question: But you are still involved from ear to ear. Is it time for others to come forward?
A: A lot more people need to be involved here in the Clinton-Lycoming area and across the state to accomplish anything. We would like to add Williamsport to the list of municipalities with civil rights ordinances. We would like Pennsylvania to finally pass an LGBTQ civil rights law. It’s time.
Opinion contributor Frank Pizzoli, of Harrisburg, is the former editor and publisher of Central Voice. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star commentary page.