This is an open letter to all parents of gay people who resist talking to their adult children because they think they no longer need that parent-child connection. (I am using “gay” in this letter to represent all people who fit into the – LGBT—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning categories.) Most leaders keep these kinds of personal things to themselves, but I believe that sharing them helps others who may also wear my shoes.
Now in my mid fifties, I thought after 32 years (I came out to my parents in 1978) my parents would be able to at least have a conversation about my being gay. I am President of the (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) PFLAG Baltimore County chapter, helping others who seek help and I still don’t even know how to describe my parents’ position because both are still uncomfortable talking about anything concerning my being gay. I wish they only knew that many other PFLAG parents feel the same way at first.
My father, who may be farther along than my mother is recently said to me, after an invitation to one of our public presentations, “I don’t think I can attend. I don’t want to say something that might embarrass you or me. You are my son and I love you.” My mother, on the other hand did not even respond to my invitation. I would have been satisfied with, “I can’t make it.” I didn’t really expect either one would be there anyway.
So I called my mother and asked her if she got my invitation. This immediately made her uncomfortable, so I tried to relax. I listened to her talk for forty-five minutes about everyone else in the family and what they were doing even while she expressed delight with what some of them were accomplishing. So, again I felt left out of the “delight.” This is nothing new, but I thought I was “over it” a long time ago. I guess the comment, “I am just not interested,” was the dagger that hurt the most. I just don’t understand how a parent can be so disinterested in her child’s life.
Other folks, mothers and fathers, teachers and ministers, parents of lesbian, gay and bisexual children and one mother of a transgender teen have expressed to me their positive thoughts about the work our organization is doing. I am grateful, but I always express my feelings that the organization functions well because there are several others who work hard to reach out and make our mission work. I truly feel this way. On one hand, I do admit that I am very dedicated to achieving LGBT civil equality for my partner and myself. On the other hand, I am dedicated to helping family members of my LGBT brothers and sisters understand our joys, concerns, responsibilities, similarities and differences.
During my years at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Baltimore (GLCCB) all of us worked to get “sexual orientation” added to Baltimore’s Employment, Education and Housing nondiscrimination law. The first attempt in 1980 failed. My partner and I burned out just before the second failed attempt in 1985. The Bill finally became law in 1988. After volunteering at GLCCB for four years my partner and I decided to buy and renovate a house. I was less politically active during those years.
We both decided it was time to live our lives. There was less family stress during that time because there were fewer gay topics in the family conversation. When that partner relationship fell apart after fifteen years my mother expressed disappointment. In another conversation a while later she suggested I try to repair the relationship, which I believe was because she had grown attached to my first partner and thought less of my second partner. There was no pretense, she just didn’t like him. This conversation ceased when I asked her if she should try to repair her relationship with my father. This was a rhetorical zinger; they have been divorced since I was four years old. My intentional implication was our similarity.
When my second partner died unexpectedly after we were together for ten years, the situation of life threw me back out into the world. At that point I was refocusing on what I might do and how I might reintegrate myself into LGBT political activism. It wasn’t as hard as one might think. I have always been an avid letter writer and donated peripherally to political organizations and candidates working to move LGBT civil rights forward. I am a voracious reader and have been interested in the political tug-of-war since Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972. I was in the eighth grade at the time. Ironically the same time I was first admitting to myself that I am gay.
Four years after my second partner’s death I found my current partner and expressed to him a desire to get reinvolved with community activism. The thought was, we could meet some like-minded people and hopefully, advance our civil equality in the process.
PFLAG presented itself to us, and it so-happened a colleague from my Gay Paper (a newspaper published by the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Baltimore) days was a member of that group. So, I called him and we talked about getting together. He invited us to a PFLAG meeting (an hour from home) and we went. My opinion of PFLAG at the time was a group of parents who sat in a circle crying about the tragedy of having a gay son or a lesbian daughter. I viewed it only as a support group for grieving parents. I didn’t think there was any room in this organization for someone who had been out and comfortable with being gay for thirty years. I was completely wrong about that.
When we arrived at the meeting I was astonished to find a room filled with forty or fifty of a variety of kinds of people. The program was a panel presentation with six or seven speakers ranging in age from sixteen to sixty-something. I was transfixed on the variation of stories. Each seemed to get less and less difficult as each younger person told his or her story. My initial thought was, “Ah well, I can go home now. There really is no need for this work anymore.” You are smiling. I know. Like I said it was my initial impression. Needless to say my partner and I returned, and became members. A year and half later we were seeking people in our neighborhood to form our own chapter. And, if it weren’t for meeting them the chapter would haven’t got off the ground.
I thought about inviting my mother, but never honestly thought she would accept the invitation. Even though we talked weekly then and saw each other once a month or so, we are not as close as she is to my two sisters who have children. I truly thought the PFLAG community could provide her with some comfort. While talking to other parents of gay children, I see how much they blossom after spending some time with PFLAG. I have joked with the women at PFLAG that I come to PFLAG because I have many accepting parents at PFLAG. They hug me and encourage me as if I am one of their own. I love that about my PFLAG moms.
While my lesbian and gay peers of various generations are getting legally married in a growing number of states, raising families of their own and being accepted in their workplaces for who they are. I realize some in our community who want to live authentically have been able to move on while others are still working on bringing the past into the present. As I write this I have to admit that both my parents are people with struggles of their own and they should know I understand and have accepted that. What I have difficulty accepting is that sometimes it appears to me that they wallow in those struggles instead of trying to resolve them.
It would be nice if they were occasionally engaged or at least interested in what I am doing with my life. After all, they both encouraged me to do well in high school and go to college. And maybe as my mother has pointed out, I can take care of myself, but as long as my parents are alive I will feel the need for their acceptance. And I just don’t think they understand how estranged it makes me feel to have parents disinterested in the good things that happen in my life.
Marriage and family is as important to me as it is to my sisters. I am happy the times are changing. I am working diligently to preserve the Civil Marriage Protection Act in Maryland which Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law last March on my father’s birthday.