Straight Until Proven Gay

(Disclaimer: Permission has been obtained to publish this article from all parties involved. All contents herein remain under the ownership of the original writer.)

 Straight Until Proven Gay

by Jamie Sebby

When I was thirteen or so, I tried to tell something to my mom. We were driving home, and I remember the pit in my stomach as I realized that there would never really be a perfect time to say what I wanted to say. I can still see the trees lining the Garden State Parkway, blurring as we drove past. There was no way out.

In the most high school of phrases, I started, “Mom, I think I like two people, at the same time.” She nodded her head, the wheels in her head turning in a predictable direction: how to tell her daughter it’s understandable to have a crush on more than one boy at this age. “Oh yeah? Who?”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. Just rip off the Band Aid.

“Evan,” I said. “And Heather.”

It took her a millisecond to process. She had always known I was different. I think she had held on to the hope that it was something else, anything but this.

“No,” she countered, “You’re not gay. Honey, I don’t have a problem with gay people, but not you.”

It was then that I began to take issue with statements like that. Statements that were so contradictory, they were hurtful. What would be the problem with me being gay if she legitimately “had no problem with gay people”?

The specific situation is moot at this point. I dropped it, and when I kissed Heather and Kat and Julie throughout my years of high school, I did it without telling her. Through college, I identified as bisexual. However, I dated men exclusively. (Two, specifically—one of whom is now my husband, so the issue of my sexuality is not important. I’m Mattsexual.) Even though I had a boyfriend, I joined BGLAD (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians and Allies for Diversity) at Boise State, proclaiming my membership of the “B” initial of the acronym.

"I'm A Straight Ally Because... I want my children to be able to live in a society that is truly equal."

“I’m A Straight Ally Because… I want my children to be able to live in a society that is truly equal.”

I know now that the “A” initial was equally, if not more relevant to me. I thought my involvement in LGBT activism was made more understandable, more potent by the fact that I was “one of them”. But just saying I’m part of a community, does not truly make me a part of it. Now, as an ally I see what I can truly accomplish when I apply myself to this cause. Not as one of the victims, but as an advocate for those who were born a specific way. I was born a cisgender, heterosexual (basically, despite a few stolen kisses in high school), white woman. It is my duty to use my place of cultural privilege to help those who are without.

People have to swallow a terrible fear of backlash in order to be true themselves and their loved ones. There are so many reasons to embrace the movement for equality. Listing them all would take hours. For my part, I want my children to grow up in the generation where people are not “straight until proven gay”. I want my children, and all people, to be able to embrace who they are with ease and joy, rather than the pain and adversity of today’s society.

Jamie and daughter, Auri at a PFLAG children's event

Jamie and daughter, Auri at a PFLAG children’s event

A lot of good points have been made for the difficulties of “coming out” as a straight ally to the LGBT community. As for my part with my family, they know what I do; they know what causes I proudly and loudly stand up to support. At this point, it’s surprising to them if I don’t have something to say about a particular issue. Their views landing somewhere between conservative and ambivalent, I am the black sheep. Every family needs one, and I belong to them.

 

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God Is Great And Annie Is Awesome

(Disclaimer: Permission has been obtained to publish this article from all parties involved. All contents herein remain under the ownership of the original writer.)

Vanessa and her daughter, Annie

Vanessa and her daughter, Annie

God Is Great and Annie Is Awesome

by Vanessa, her mom

 

Born this way? Yes, I’m sure, sure, sure she was born this way. I knew it, felt it, sensed it when they put her in my arms in the hospital. I knew she was different. Of course, different is a relative term. I mean she was different than me– a controlled, sensible, follow-the-rules-at-all-costs and do what “they” expect type of human. She was born a freedom-seeking, do the opposite of what “they” expect kind of person. But not necessarily to ruffle feathers– simply because the opposite of the norm expresses exactly what’s inside of her.

annie 4

Annie- born a freedom-seeking, opposite of what “they” expect kinda girl!

Ya, ya, we’re all special, but she makes ‘special’ seem so… ordinary. Half a dozen times in her 10 years, I have heard the same comment from grown women: “I want to be Annie when I grow up!” I suspect it’s her style, her views on life, her desire and ability to connect with people of every age. Her perceptiveness, her charm, her humor, her confidence are what make her an unassuming role model. Words are hard to find to fully capture the richness of character she has been granted.

She has changed me deeply with the wide and explosive array of color she has brought into my basic, black and white life. All the colors of Manic Panic in her hair, brightest of 1985 fluorescents in her outfits, every color of the palette shining through from her electric energy… now, folded into the mix of color and light: the rainbow of course, the gay pride rainbow!

 

Annie's Electric Energy!

Annie’s Electric Energy!

In May, she came out. I asked. She told. She cried. I hugged her with the tightest grip of love and joy and utter relief that she would not have to be the only one to know anymore, not for one more minute. Not for one more lonely, scared, shameful minute would she be alone in this. I eschewed her terror about going to Hell and what she thought the Bible said about homosexuality. “The BIBLE??!! Oh honey, it’s all about love and our unconditional, loving, huge God made you exactly the way you are, in all the ways that you are. He loves you desperately and remember, sweetie, fear and shame are NOT from God. God’s on our side, as always.”

 “God is on our side, as always.”

One of my first motherly responses was to assume a protective, defensive posture against the world at large. I thought, as people learn about Annie’s sexuality, we will simply and surgically separate the men from the mice, no second chances. You’re in the “Annie Is Awesome Club” or you’re dead to us. Then, after a day of that toxic mind set, I started to see the similarity of that line of thought with that which fosters homophobia and intolerance. Back to that ‘love’ thing. I will choose love and acceptance of our community, wherever each individual stands on the issue, I decided. And now I stand firm on that. As much as anyone’s “pray the gay away” tactics won’t be necessary, I will not need to pray in a condescending manner for those people who don’t turn in their “Annie Is Awesome” membership form for immediate approval.

PFLAG meetings: check! Gay Pride Parade: check! LGBT Gay Pride Exhibit: check! Even a Rainbow-themed Christian Fish Bumper Sticker!

LOVE ONE ANOTHER (photo credit: newegg.com)

LOVE ONE ANOTHER
(photo credit: newegg.com)

As we identify with and choose our Christian faith as a way to get through and beyond this life on earth, I recently thought about the rainbow that God created as a sign to His people. It says in Genesis, “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” I know it’s about God not sending another flood, but now, when I read that and reflect, all I can dwell on is that phrase “creatures of every kind.” Yes!!! An everlasting covenant between God and EVERY KIND OF CREATURE, EVERY KIND OF PERSON, EVERY KIND OF GIRL, EVERY KIND OF BOY. Lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, questioning and everything in between. EVERY!

Thank you, PFLAG CDA, for providing us a community of love, acceptance, pride and support. Right now, it appears the world is set up for people coming out in their teens or later, not when they’re 10! In all my research, in Arizona and in Idaho, only PFLAG has been able and equipped to welcome the youngest of the gays. Our whole family thanks you.

 

Our whole family thanks you!!

Our whole family thanks you!!

PRIDE and Fathers

What a crazy amazing weekend!!

pride 2014 logo 2-1 jpegPFLAG Coeur d’Alene had the honor of marching in the 23rd annual Pride Parade with Spokane PFLAG, and it was a wonderful, colorful day full of laughter, hugs, love and community. While some amateur WBC wannabees paced in their square, sequestered off with yellow caution tape, right at the entrance to the park, throngs of people blocked them with both their bodies and their cheers as floats of proud groups walked past. They waved their message of hate, and we waved our messages of love and family, and we were the vast majority. Even though the clouds loomed threateningly above, nothing could rain on this parade!

WE ARE FAMILY!!

WE ARE FAMILY!! (photo credit: Juli Stratton)

 

PFLAG showed up strong with nearly two dozen marchers– parents, friends, advocates, couples, familiar faces, newcomers, children, a dog and even some supporters from the Unitarian Universalist Church of North Idaho. There is nothing like the feeling of belonging to something great, something meaningful. The parade route covered several blocks of downtown Spokane and there was not a space on the sidewalk where no one stood watching. The best was when a marcher would recognize someone from the crowd and they would run up to hug them, grateful for being surrounded by support and joy. A cacophony of “I love you!” and “We are family!!” and “Out and proud!!” drowned out the hateful amplified voices as we turned the corner to end the parade and enter the Rainbow Festival.

A heartfelt thanks to Spokane PFLAG for inviting us to partner with you in this special celebration!! It was certainly a memorable event.

pflag dad

(photo credit: PFLAG National)

And we also need to thank the fathers. All you dads out there who love your children unconditionally, who are raising your children in an adverse society. Those fathers that nurture us, that worry for us and that sit up nights with us while we talk it out. Whether you’re just beginning this crazy journey of child-raising or if you’re a seasoned professional who has been there through the trials and triumphs– WE THANK YOU! If you were there for us, thank you for listening, for understanding, for being patient.

happy father's day

(photo credit: Human Rights Campaign)

 

 

Mother’s Perspectives: Part Two

Once again, thank you to the speakers who, on Tuesday, decided to share with us their experiences. From what I could tell based on the conversation that followed, there was a great deal of takeaway from these two families’ stories.

Part Two: Verna and Josh

“I taught Josh when we was younger, and he’s teaching me now.”

Josh is twenty years old, and he came out to his mother, Verna, two years ago. Verna, having been brought up in the same generation as Susan, faced the same situation in a very different time.

She said she had an idea about Josh’s sexuality when he was as young as three. “If any one of my four boys is gay, it’s Joshua,” she retells this thought jokingly.

But she opened her story, not with the distress of Josh’s coming out to her, but with the unconditional love she felt then and still feels now for him and all of her children. She strives to teach them to be strong, knowing they (especially her second son) will face adversity. She taught them to take others’ opinions with a grain of salt. It is within your own self and the people that love you that you should find comfort.

One day, Josh called his mom, and she could tell he was nervous. She could tell he had something big to tell her, and it was tough for him.

“Mom, I’m gay.”

“And…? I know Josh; I’ve always known.”

And the simplicity of realizing that maybe his identity was not as secretive as he had thought has forged an even stronger bond between mother and son. She never pushed him; she never even asked him. It was his story to tell. When asked a direct question, Verna’s advice, based upon her own experience was: wait for them to tell you. Even if you have an idea and you want to test the waters, be vague, generic and open-ended. Don’t make them feel pressured to tell something they’re not ready to tell yet. They’ve got to come to terms with it themselves before they can trust others.

For a time, after that confirming conversation, Verna felt legitimate fear for her child. As a Catholic, she honestly believed that, as a gay man, Josh could not go to heaven. Reconciling her feelings for her son and the knowledge that this is something with which he was born, with the belief system of the Catholic church has been a struggle. From the beginning, Verna told Josh to never “lose his faith in God.”

Josh is adamant that he owes all his success to the encouragement from his mother. As of next weekend, Joshua will be a college graduate, having served on the North Idaho College student senate body (ASNIC), as President for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance and as Treasurer for the NIC Signers’ Club.

Verna said of Josh’s accomplishments, “I couldn’t be more proud– not because he’s gay, but because he’s my son.”

josh and verna

Josh and his mom, Verna

josh swan 2

This award was presented to the North Idaho College Footsteps Committee by the Task Force On Human Relations for their work in diversity and human rights.

josh swan

Josh (center) and his siblings

Mothers’ Perspectives: Part One

First off, a heartfelt thank you to Bev Moss, her daughter, Susan and Verna Swan and her son, Josh. It was courageous to stand up the way you did last night and bare your honest experiences with the group. It was wonderful to see how perspectives the same exact situation could differ, even to the point of reminding one another what had happened.

Part one is for Bev and Susan Moss:

“Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

In the case of Susan Moss, her coming out story began at age 16, nearly 25 years ago. Obviously, the societal climate toward the LGBT community was much different. (If you think we’ve got work to do now, just imagine how far we’ve come.) Susan noticed something different about herself as she entered her teenage years, but didn’t have a definitive answer until her first relationship with another girl at 16.

She didn’t want to tell anyone. It is important to note that Susan and Bev never really talked about it.They began the reminiscence by disclaiming that neither one really new what the other was going to say. “Let’s see how this goes,” they said. Bev, Susan’s mother, chimed in to take over a little of the story then. She told us that she had confronted Susan. “Are you gay?” After giving the confirmation, Susan felt like a ‘failure at coming out.’ She felt as though the control she had over her own story had been taken from her, and she ran from the situation, eventually leaving North Idaho altogether for a period.

In the year 1988, Bev cried over the news that her daughter was gay. Not necessarily the fact, but the struggles of disclosing the information to other family members, the unhealthy high school relationship Susan was in and the widespread misinformation of HIV and AIDS during that time. Even though, she’d had suspicions, the confirmation meant she couldn’t hide with her “head in the sand” anymore; she had to wage this uphill battle alongside her daughter.

Advice given to Susan’s parents is universal and so important for all to hear:

Ask your child for three years to fully adjust. It’s likely that it took that long or longer for your child to come to terms with this part of themselves. Do as much research as you can. Get the facts because having knowledge is the best way to assuage fear. Remind yourself that this person is the same person you called your child yesterday; you’ve just learned some new information about them.

This wise, before-his-time man was also quoted as saying “Isn’t it wonderful when one person loves another?”

Bev has long since fully accepted this piece of Susan’s identity, spending years manning the hotline for concerned parents of LGBT persons and providing a safe, accepting place in her home for Susan’s peers. And Susan has returned to Coeur d’Alene and is working tirelessly to make Coeur d’Alene schools secure and inclusive for all students.

Bev

Bev

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family

Susan (2nd from the left) and her gorgeous family