It's a weekday night at Cruze Bar in the Strip District and Michael David Battle is rushing from room to room, creating a blur as he scurries through the crowd like a football running back avoiding tacklers. As founder and executive director of the Garden of Peace Project, he's attending to myriad details to make this fundraiser successful and fun, but he's also making certain everyone there feels appreciated and welcome.
That's his nature, caring for others. And that's why the Munhall resident started the nonprofit project in September 2012 to improve the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and financial wellness of the communities comprising LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, invisible minority, asexual and allies).
"We want to increase the health and wellness among all marginalized people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression," Michael says.
Such an organization is necessary, particularly for the trans community, "which really needs resources," noted Michael, 26, who identifies as an intersex man, meaning his anatomy or chromosomes don't fit the typical definitions of either male or female. He transitioned to male at age 21.
He holds a bachelor's degree from Chatham University and a master's degree in public administration with a focus on LGBTQIA disparities from Barry University in Miami, which notes it "inspires students to foster positive change in the local and global community."
That would apply to Michael, who in addition to his work with the Garden of Peace Project, is a nonprofit consultant, writer and a local and national speaker on LGBTQIA issues.
A Brighton Heights native, he lived in Virginia and Florida before returning here. He's pleased to report the Pittsburgh region is relatively progressive when it comes to marginalized people.
"Of all the places I've been, I think Pittsburgh is definitely ahead of the curve. When I think of Pittsburgh in relation to Philly, L.A., Milwaukee, Cleveland, we don't have the same rates and levels of harassment and discrimination issues or the murders [of transgender people] happening here.
"When you look at the LGBTQIA community, there is so much progress in this area. There are 27 colleges and universities in the region and when you have that, it changes the culture."
Culture change has been a goal of his since he was a child and was raised female.
"I always knew I was male my whole life. When I got potty trained, I stood. I knew I wanted to play football, not be the cheerleader. My mother, a single mom, let me be myself. When I was 6, I started wearing boys' clothes."
Initially, Michael didn't want medical intervention as part of his transition, choosing binding and wearing up to seven shirts to hide breasts. But on New Year's Eve 2010, he changed his mind when he couldn't find a gender-neutral bathroom.
Hormone replacement therapy and chest reconstruction surgery followed. "You changed my life," he told his surgeon.
His life also has been changed by his fiance, Evelyn Pavlova, 32, a native of Estonia who holds a master's degree in mental health counseling. The two met before Michael's transition, but Evelyn recalls, "I thought he was a guy, but later I found out he wasn't biologically a guy."
When Michael said a few months later he planned to transition, Evelyn said, "OK, cool. That makes sense. Awesome."
Evelyn said their relationship works because "we're more dedicated to work on ourselves and our relationship. A lot of people are not willing to look into themselves and change, and that's regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Like most people, Michael says with a laugh, "I have a very boring male life. I take the garbage out, I have to fix things around the house and my fiance definitely has a 'honey-do' list."
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The couple is open about Michael's transition, but it's not something they broadcast.
"I almost never out myself," Michael says. "It has nothing to do with who I am as a person. I feel this is my medical history. We don't ask people if they have cholesterol or high blood pressure."
That said, Michael realizes people are curious and "ask questions all the time [like], 'When did you know?' 'How about your family?' I'm very open. You can ask me anything. I've not only lived the experience, but also have studied it."