June is the month for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) to celebrate nationwide in cities large and small. The recent Pittsburgh Pride 2012 festivities brought together more than 81,000 people for 10 days of celebrating the diversity that makes our region an inviting place for a weekend or a lifetime.

To recognize the importance of LGBT people to the region’s economy and quality of life, ImaginePittsburghNow.com is spotlighting some members of the community who are proud to talk about why Pittsburgh is their destination of choice for living and working. This is part two of a three-part series. The other profiles may be found here.

Loni McCartney is a supervisor and program specialist at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. She grew up in Ambridge, 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and graduated from Ambridge Area High School. She earned an associate’s degree from ITT Technical Institute and is currently pursuing a B.A. in Organizational Leadership from Point Park University.

Loni McCartney (R) with her partner Diane Richie

IPN: What brought you to Pittsburgh?

MCCARTNEY: I remember being a child and wishing I lived in Pittsburgh.  I promised myself that when I was old enough, I would move to the city. It took a bit longer than anticipated, but I have been a city resident for six years now. I love the hustle and bustle of city life and the fact that there is always something to do.

IPN: What does your job at Pittsburgh Mercy entail day to day?

MCCARTNEY: I am a supervisor of two group homes and run the day-to-day operations of the sites, in addition to overseeing 12 staff members. My job is to make sure that our clients are getting the best possible care and that my staff is recognized for its work. Another part of my job is to prevent burnout among the employees.

IPN: What do you do for fun?

MCCARTNEY: My favorite thing to do in the city is to choose a neighborhood and  explore it: walk or bike around when the weather is good, and in the winter, drive around. From an undiscovered piece of architecture to an event that we didn’t know was happening, my partner Diane and I love exploring neighborhoods and discovering new things in them.  Many neighborhood-based activities are also free, such as concerts, downtown gallery crawls, Saturday shopping  in the Strip and kayaking in West Park on the North Side. I also enjoy being on the board of the Bach Choir of Pittsburgh.

IPN: How welcome – or less than welcome, if that’s the case – do you feel as an LGBT person in Pittsburgh – both as a professional and as a resident of the Pittsburgh region?

MCCARTNEY: In my professional career I feel completely welcome, and for the most part, I feel extremely welcome as a resident. I am on the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Council and worked with him on his recent signing of the Freedom to Marry petition. I also worked with City Council to pass the Domestic Partnership Registry in 2008.

While Pittsburgh is taking steps in the right direction, there is still room for improvement.  Here, as everywhere, there are people who are close-minded and who are not comfortable embracing differences.

But because of organizations like The Delta Foundation and Persad which are keeping LGBT issues in the forefront, I feel much better about being a part of the LGBT community than I did even 10 years ago. I am very out and proud, and there is no hiding the person who I am.

IPN: What do you consider to be advantages of being LGBT in Pittsburgh?

MCCARTNEY: Pittsburgh is a small city that’s making big things happen in the LGBT community. Within five years Pittsburgh Pride went from 10,000 visitors to almost 80,000 this year. Seeing other small and medium-sized cities emulating Pittsburgh’s embrace of LGBT individuals is an amazing thing.

Who would have thought that 25 years ago Pittsburgh would have a thriving LGBT community?  We had Melissa Etheridge in town for Pride this June.  There was no bigger headliner for a Pride celebration anywhere else in the country. I can’t wait to see what we are able to achieve next – given the strong advocates we have in this region.  It’s inspiring to me.

IPN: What advice would you give to employers; civic leaders and fellow Pittsburghers about how to make our region and our workplaces more inclusive?

MCCARTNEY: Educate, educate, educate – yourself as well as the people who work for (and with) you. Diversity of all varieties is extremely important and leads to success in any organization. Cultural awareness classes should be offered to all employees, not only on LGBT awareness, but on all aspects of diversity.

And be vocal.  If you are an ally, be a strong ally. Saying you are supportive of the LGBT community is great. However we need more people who are not part of the LGBT community – our straight allies – to stand strong beside us and support our rights to live and pursue our dreams just like everyone else.