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

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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

Support PFLAG National Programs

A couple of exciting (and easy!) ways to support our parent organization are set for the fundraising extravaganza that will be May 2014.

giveOut-logoIn addition to our own rummage sale, for which we are still taking donations, and whatever support we can lend Spokane PFLAG on National Give OUT Day (our status is not ready this year for it), everyone can chip in to help the national nonprofit.

care with prideFirst, for the third year running, the Johnson and Johnson Company is partnering with PFLAG’s Safe Schools Program to raise money to go toward anti-bullying strategies. Johnson and Johnson understands the unique struggles faced by LGBT students, and with their Care With Pride initiative, they can help to make a difference. Watch an informative and heartwarming video about the way the world could be here and then be sure to text “HERO” to 41010 to send $5 to Care With Pride. Johnson and Johnson will match every dollar for up to $150,000 to PFLAG’s LGBT youth programs. That’s $300,000 to help make schools a safe place for all students. Just send the text and $5 will be added to you cell phone bill– easy peasy.

 

this day in juneSecond, there is an amazing new book that is available now for preorder on Amazon. It’s called “This Day in June”. Here is the Amazon.com description:

This Day in June is an uplifting and upbeat book that shares the experience of attending an LGBT Pride festival and a day when everyone is united. It includes back matter that informs the reader of various aspects of LGBT history and culture.

Inspired by founder, Jeanne Manford’s, bravery and hoping to instill in the next generation feelings of love and solidarity, this book is written for parents and children to enjoy and learn together. A copy of the book costs $8-11, depending on whether you want hard or soft copy and a portion of the proceeds will benefit PFLAG National when you order through Smile, Amazon’s charity giving program (as soon as we have the necessary documentation, we’ll have one of these too, so every time you order though Amazon, you    can support your local PFLAG chapter). Simply select PFLAG National as your chosen organization when you order.

amazon smile

So, that’s it! $15 later and you helped raise nearly half-a-million dollars for safe schools as well as provided your family with a valuable tool for educating our youngest allies.

Unitarian Universalists of North Idaho

Q: What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian Universalist?
A: Someone who knocks on your door and asks you what YOU believe.

Have you heard of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations? For short, and because meetings are generally on Sunday, we call it “church”. But it’s not like any church you’ve ever been to.

uua logoThe Unitarians promote and live their lives by seven pretty basic principles:

1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person

2. Justice, equality and compassion in all human relations

3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to grow spiritually

4. A free (as in uninhibited) and responsible search for truth and meaning

5. The right of conscious and the democratic process, both in the congregations and society at large

6. The goal of the world community with peace, liberty and justice for all

7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Sounds great, right? No dogma or doctrine. Just guidelines for living life well and respecting the lives you encounter along the way. A church that encourages the concept of “life before death”. Learn as much as you want by visiting their website.

coexist2The local chapter of the Unitarian Universalists has been serving the Coeur d’Alene area with meetings most Sundays, book discussions, dances and socials. I’ve attended a handful of times over the last year because, personally, I love the community feeling of a church without Jesus Christ being shoved down my (and my kids’) throat. Just one woman’s opinion.

If you are interested in learning more about the North Idaho Unitarian Universalists, please consider attending a mixer being hosted by one of the congregations members or sitting in on a service. The meetings are held at the Harding Family Center at 411 N. 15th St in Coeur d’Alene from 10:30 to 11:30AM. Childcare is provided for free most Sundays, and this is one of the most welcoming bunches of people I have ever met!  uuni bbq invite 2 jpeg

Indiana – Win for Same-Sex Marriage Proponents

A judge has ruled in favor of a lesbian couple who petitioned to have their out of state marriage officially recognized by the state of Indiana.

The couple, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, have been together for 13 years and were married in Massachusetts. The women have two children, aged 1 and 2, who were carried by Sandler. Sounds like a normal, run-of-the-mill family in this modern age, but Indiana still has a ban on homosexual marriage and does not recognize those marriages performed in one of the 17 states that grants them.

Sandler and Quasney’s petition to have their marriage officially recognized is a special case though. Quasney has been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and has just a few months to live. Since the children were born by Sandler, custody rights are not in question. However, the family which survives Quasney will not receive death benefits, such as her life insurance or social security payout.

The judge has granted the couple their official marriage license, so Quasney’s death certificate will show this status, entitling Sandler and their children to benefits taken for granted by “traditionally” married widows. The judge’s ruling, a restraining order placed on the ban, cannot be appealed.

Read the full article here.

This case does not officially challenge the same-sex marriage ban in Indiana, and it is still being defended by the state’s Solicitor General’s office.

Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 1199)

As you know, locally, we’ve been dealing with adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act, which would extend legal protections and due process to members of the LGBTQ+ community with regard to employment, housing and service. In addition, advocates are hoping to “add the words” to language in the school district’s anti-discrimination employment and student conduct policies.

Well, turns out, adding the words at the federal level is moving along as well, if not better. The Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) has the possibility of heading to the House floor, and with just 25 more co-sponsors (that is, legislators willing to vote in favor), it has a good chance of making it up to the Senate. PFLAG National participated in National Safe Schools Partnership coalition, and by persistently contacting lawmakers, they were integral in attaining 11 additional co-sponsors, bringing the total support to 193. Go here to see what you can do to help. You can also use the information you find there if you plan to attend this event. (We need 218 out of 435 to have a majority vote.) Watch this informative video from my friend, Bill, to learn how how a law is made.

Learn more about the SSIA from the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign conducted the largest survey of LGBT youth ever conducted, over 10,000 respondents aged 13 to 17. For the resulting statistics on the unique struggle of LGBT youth, go here.

lgbt bullying

 

Straight 4 Equality

Straight 4 Equality is an organization established in 2007 by PFLAG National in order to have a place specifically for straight allies (who may not necessarily have a family connection) of the LGBT community to go for education and outreach opportunities.

If you’re one of the roughly 8 in 10 people who can say “I have a gay friend (or coworker, or acquaintance)” this is the place for you.

Straight 4 Equality was conceived to address a growing need for people who are supportive of equal rights for all but who don’t directly benefit from policy changes or new legislation. It’s an outsider, standing up for a marginalized group.

I-am-an-AllySeveral campaigns have been launched recently to engage “straight, but not narrow” advocates, including signing an online pledge to stand up to bullies, support individual members of the LGBT community and encourage others to watch their mouths! They also have a campaign intended for both straight allies and those who are in need of straight allies.

Simply download and print out one of these signs (according to your personal affirmation), fill out the form and take a photo of yourself holding it up. Put it someplace visible and get a conversation started! Submit it to all of your social media followers with the tags #straight4equality and #iamastraightally or #ineedastraightally. Share it on Straight 4 Equality’s Facebook page or email it to info@straightforequality.org!

i need a straight ally because  i'm a straight ally because

For those of you who will be attending the next meeting for PFLAG Coeur d’Alene, I will have signs for you to fill out and have your picture taken. Your photos will be shared on the blog, on our local facebook page and with PFLAG National and Straight 4 Equality.

“Out With Dad” – video

Out With Dad is a web-series written and directed by Jason Leaver. In three (and counting) series and 34+ episodes, a story unfolds about Rose, a closeted teen lesbian, and her relationship with her single-parent father, Nathan. The 10-20 minute episodes deal with themes such as the challenges that face LGBT youth in coming out as well as the struggles of the parents of said young adults. PFLAG Canada officially endorses the series.

View the entire series, as well as more information on Out With Dad, here.

This episode show a meeting with a local PFLAG chapter, attended by both seasoned members of the LGBT community, parents and people who are just making the first step. According to the video, the stories told are truthful and only minimal changes have been made for dramatic purposes.

Part I:

Part 2:

Jamie Sebby – Why I’m An Ally

I shared this on my personal blog last month after being asked by Juli to join up with the new local chapter of PFLAG.

I get asked this question kind of a lot. Why do you care so much? You’re not even gay.

Well, the long answer goes something like this: The saga of my husband and I began eight years ago. We were only together for six months before we got engaged, and although we planned to wait a few years to finish college before tying the knot, we were married the following June. And, you know why? Health insurance. He had great health insurance and a deal on course credits since he worked for the university. We were already living together, so we got married sooner rather than later, without a second thought. It wasn’t a religious act– it had nothing to do with “living in sin”; it was just cheaper.

I am an ally because there are people who don’t have the luxury of making that decision. And the time to change that is long overdue.

My husband and I have two children together, and the laws are such that if something were to happen to me, I know, without anything written down, that my children would be taken care of by him, their second parent. If my husband were to be hospitalized, I could visit him outside of regular hours—I could sleep by his side if I wanted to without worrying if someone is going to call the legitimacy of our relationship into question. When we file our taxes, we both get credits for our children and joint household expenses. There are couples, families, who are denied these basic human rights simply by being disallowed a piece of paper which would consider them deserving.

I am an ally because, even though I try not to, I can take these rights for granted. The only reason marriage is a religious institution anymore is for the sake of tradition. My husband and I were married in a backyard, by a friend who had become ordained over the internet.

why i'm an ally || motherhoodhonestly.comIt’s about human rights. Everyone has the right to work and live and love without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, being gay is something a person can hide. But at great personal cost. Those who oppose the fundamental human rights of the LGBT community say “don’t ask, don’t tell”, placing blame on the victims for wanting to live freely and true to themselves. People go nearly their whole lives suppressing a central part of their individual identity to avoid victimization and hate. Teenagers grapple so violently with inner demons or are bullied mercilessly by peers and take their own lives as a means of escape. It is unacceptable to judge people by their sexuality.

I joke with my husband that I’m excited for one of my children to come out if and when they know, so that I can show how good a parent I am by being okay with it. He says, “You know it’s not about you, right?”

Well, the truth of the matter is: it’s not about me, but it is. I am a part of the human race, and I am an ally because standing up and being an activist for the equal rights of all people, and teaching my children the same views of tolerance and love, is what I have to offer. And I am proud to say that when the tides finally change, my family and I will be on the right side of history—not the people who stood by and said nothing. We were part of the solution.

Juli Stratton – On Coming Out

I met Juli while organizing a last-minute candlelight vigil for the Add the Words campaign. We quickly realized how much drive and passion we share for some of the same issues: namely, human rights and equality for all. She asked me to be a part of PFLAG, and I was (and am) incredibly honored. After reading her story, I can appreciate so much more the struggle, both internally and outwardly, that she (and I suspect many) face and, hopefully, overcome. I am proud to know her and have a budding friendship as well as be a part of the change she hopes to see in the world.

Here’s Juli’s story, in her own words:

January 29, 2014

I just finished watching the documentary “Bridegroom”. It is a love story, tragedy, story of family (biological and of choice), of coming out and of self-acceptance. It made me cry, laugh, it enraged me and it made me reflect on my own coming out and journey of self-acceptance. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you watch it.
This writing is about love and acceptance. Coming out is just apart of that. I came out when I was 15 years old. There wasn’t a big party, there wasn’t much talk, it was just the time when I finally realized that I likes girls more that boys and acted on it. It made me realize that for years, since childhood, I fought these feelings and as a result developed poor and harmful coping skills. My life has been a journey of unlearning, relearning, believing and accepting what is good and real.

Recently, I was visiting my mom after she had a serious health scare. We agreed that we would talk about anything that was bothering us, had questions about or just needed to say. We agreed that we would “get it all out on the table”.   I feel very close to my mom and have for some time but there were a couple things I had never talked to her about or asked her. One of them was my “coming out” to her. I told her that I don’t remember ever having a conversation with her about being gay and I wanted to know what her recollection of that time was. As she shared her memory of that time in our lives it became painfully clear how much other “shit” was going on in our lives and that my being gay was way down on the food chain. As a terribly self-absorbed adolescent (I really think self-absorbed is part of the official definition of adolescence) I was not aware of all the struggles that my mom was going through. It was just she and I, and most of the time it was just her and she was trying to provide for us in every way. I was nowhere to be found – even if I was physically present, I wasn’t there.   My mom loved me no matter what…this I believe with all my heart. She didn’t turn her back on me, she didn’t condemn me to a fiery hell, she didn’t shame me, she didn’t do a lot of the horrible things that I hear almost on a daily basis that parents do to their children for being true to who they are. She loved me! And she loves me even more to this day.

Mom, Amy and I at Amy's and my commitment ceremony in 2006.  It meant so much to me that she was there to share in such a special night.

Mom, Amy and I at Amy’s and my commitment ceremony in 2006. It meant so much to me that she was there to share in such a special night.

It is still difficult to believe that there are some people, even in my family who may not like me simply because I am gay. Intellectually I get it but in my heart it makes no sense. Living in North Idaho gays are continually bombarded with the strong Christian belief that homosexuals are an abomination and are all going straight to hell. It baffles me that they can judge without even knowing me or any number of wonderful gay friends I have. I will save that rant for another time.

juli name calling

Juli, with members of NIC’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, illustrating the damage of name-calling

Back to love and self-acceptance…and coming out. After I got out of college I met a man (who was also gay) we spent a lot of time together, grew to love each other and got married. Wow, life was so much easier – for a while. It was easier when I was coaching to tell a parent “I’m married” and not have to field questions about being gay like I know a lot of coaches do. It was easier in the work place to say “my husband”. It was easier to go to family gatherings and not feel bad for introducing my partner as “my roommate or my friend”. It just seemed easier, until it wasn’t! After 15 years of marriage and most of it playing the straight game I finally came back out…this time for good and for real. It was the first time I used the words “Mom, I am gay”. Once I told her and she said “honey, it’s ok, I just want you to be happy”, my world opened up again. You see, my world had been reduced to the size of a thimble. For the last ten years I have worked to build that world back up one truth at a time. Today I can honestly say I am happy being exactly who I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do and that I am all put together but it does mean that I will never again deny my truth and who I am. I am loved and accepted, by those who matter.

In October I got a tattoo on my forearm that reads “Truth * Passion”. The Spiral is a sacred symbol that reminds me of my evolving journey in life and the power to flow and change. This is a constant reminder that I must live my truth and live with passion.   I can’t imagine my world without my mom in it. She is my constant champion and role model.   When that day comes that she is not physically here anymore I know that she will always be in my every thought and action when I am living true and she knows that I will always be loved and accepted.

juli speaker

Speaking on allyship and the importance of “adding the words”

Until next time, be true and live with passion!

See the original blog post here: My Journey in 2014: Love and Acceptance.