PFLAG: We Are the Change

Mom and I just returned to Seattle after attending the PFLAG national convention this weekend in Portland, OR. On the Bolt bus down on Friday, Mom wrote about the important role that PFLAG played for her and my dad shortly after I came out, and I added my two cents about why I loved PFLAG when I came out and why I am a member of Bellevue-Eastside PFLAG today.    Enjoy! ~Christopher

From Linda:

How did I find my way to PFLAG back in 1994?  I was hurting that March. Confused.  Worried.  Guilty.  I think I saw an ad in the alternative paper about PFLAG with a number to call for information.That was one of the better calls I made. A husky voiced woman answered.  She said yes, I know how you are feeling. Yes, my husband and I went through this too.  Come to a meeting.  Just observe.  You don’t have to say a thing.

So one Sunday soon after I found my way to Westminster Presbyterian on Delaware Avenue, a main line Protestant church. It felt foreign. Slightly wrong for a Catholic to be entering.  WASPY too.  In the library where the meeting was held I was greeted warmly.  The card table at the entrance had coffee, tea, and store bought cookies.  The room was lined with book shelves and worn leather bound tomes, musty with yellowed pages.  The room was small and overheated with an ancient massive carved library table. I took my seat on a cold metal folding chair in the discussion circle. Would I speak?

Some parents, a few single women without husbands, a gay male couple, and two teens shared their stories.  I found my voice too and shared my story.  They were inclusive and supportive, and gave me handouts and a lending library of great books.  By the next meeting I was back to giving advice, especially to the teens who did not have family support, and I haven’t stopped talking since!

The gay male couple really encouraged me. They had purchased a house in a middle class suburb.  Had nice neighbors.  Cooked at home most nights. They were like us!  The fears I had of losing my son to a life I did not understand dissipated.  Maybe he would have a life like them. Maybe he would find love and a committed partner too.

PFLAG was a great resource for many years.  I became active, even served on the board.  Got to meet lots of great people.  Learned about many gay issues.  Even a trans woman presented to us. She had recently transitioned at work.  And so many years ago this was such a new experience.  Though her immediate supervisor was supportive she encountered so much prejudice.  I was thoroughly unaware of this issue. It helped me so much when I taught future teachers  and they encountered trans students.

After a while I went on to other volunteer activities.  Plus I was steeped in teaching at Buffalo State and working on my dissertation for the University of Buffalo.  So I stopped going to meetings.  But when Christopher and I began our blog and shared it on Facebook a teacher friend who was active in our local PFLAG asked me to present to their chapter.

Again I went to Protestant Church.  This time it was not a mainline church but a UCC in a suburb.  This time I did not worry if I would speak.  I felt comfortable in my role as a LGBT ally.

And this time Bob came with me.  He had attended meetings back when Christopher initially came out.  But he did not speak to the group, nor did he want to do so.  The big difference this time was that he not only felt comfortable speaking, he counseled several parents who seemed to have concerns regarding their gay children.

I think we were both surprised that even twenty five years later so many parents are grieving and are uncertain how to support their children even today.  But PFLAG serves such parents and their children.  When we attended a meeting of the Seattle-area chapter Christopher belongs to we discovered that PFLAG was a great support to parents of transitioning young people. It provides vital support and resources in a still, disturbingly unfriendly political environment.

Outside the Portland Marriott October 22, 2017
Gender expansive terms on display during a conference session. 
With Michelle Dooley, an OFM guest blogger and our new friend!
With Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, and hero of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.

From Christopher:

The Pride parade in Seattle in the 1990s wound its way down Broadway to Volunteer Park through Capitol Hill, which was then the gay neighborhood in Seattle.  There were dykes on bikes, the hyper-drag Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and quite a few shirtless men to check out.

The group that always received the loudest cheers from the crowd —so loud you could hear the wave of sound approaching—marched behind the PFLAG banner.  With signs like “I Love my sons—gay and straight!” and “My two gay sisters rock!” they handed out stickers as they passed reading “I am loved by PFLAG.”

We wore those stickers with such pride, many in attendance knowing full well the shame and anger of not feeling love and acceptance from their own families, yet taking some solace in the fact that there were families and friends out there in the world that had enough to spread around.

My own pride swelled, knowing that Mom and Dad were PFLAG members back in Buffalo, regular attendees of meetings where they went for support, guidance, and later to share their own journey with others who found themselves needing an open heart and someone to listen.

A few years ago, I began attending meetings of the Bellevue-Eastside chapter of PFLAG, a group that serves, in part, the community where I teach.  The first hour of each meeting is for support circles, and I easily recognize the new members, looking grim and determined and unsure.

I watch and marvel as board members and other regulars reach out with welcoming smiles and gentle questions. I am comforted listening to the energy, enthusiasm, and passion of family members and allies who are there to speak their truth—warts and all—about the fear and challenges they faced after learning something new about their child or sibling or nephew, and struggled to make sense of the new-yet-same person in their life.  I am proud to be a part of this wonderful community, and love sharing my own story of the impact that questioning, supportive parents played in my life.

Thank goodness these new parents and family members are there.  Thank goodness they ask questions and voice their pain and worry.  Thank goodness many return again and again.

The second part of the meeting focuses on education and advocacy. Parents, community members and activists have presented about issues—both local and national—that remind us of how we can work together as a community for change. The meetings I have attended in the past year have been infused with a sense of urgency and recognition that the efforts of groups like PFLAG are critical to combating hate, intolerance, and discrimination that is as pervasive as ever in the United States and beyond.

Mom and I are thrilled to be attending the national PFLAG conference this year in Portland, OR. The theme of the conference is We Are the Change. So true, PFLAG. You always have been, and will continue to be, an agent for change, providing comfort and support and strengthening pride for our vast community.


The Quiet Activism of Truth

Dear Christopher,

Recently I was at Spot Coffee with friends.  There was a big sign on the wall for Pride Week, which started earlier this month.  It made me think about how many years we have been celebrating Pride Week in Buffalo and nationwide.  Gay rights activists have made this happen. Their decades long efforts contributed mightily to the current state of gay rights now.

pride flag

One example is the proliferation of Pride events throughout the nation. To see the expansion of our own Pride Parade from the early days of the 90’s to now is amazing.  In addition, when I was teaching high school then, there were no Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.  Now there are 63 from schools all over our region.  Many march in the Pride Parade. Activists helped to make this happen. Thankfully activism works, perhaps slowly and not always in a straight line. And I count you as one of those activists.

When you told us you are gay we were changed. Since you were so honest, Dad and I knew we could not be silent either.  It spurred our activism, albeit in quiet ways. I wrote op-ed pieces for our local newspaper, joined PFLAG, hosted gay-friendly events at the college where I taught.  Dad told his jock friends at the high school where he taught and raised their consciousness so that even the new physical education director became more aware of LGBT students and teachers.

So many achievements are due to the many gay rights activists, from the Stonewall drag queens to the Act Up marchers, to the Pride Parade founders. But also there is the quiet activism of telling the truth about your life.  That is what you did back in 1993.  That is what thousands of gay people did over the last several decades.  That truth telling activism caused a societal shift that led to marriage equality as well as the new visibility and rights for the LGBT community. Even staunch church goers had to change when they knew they had family or close friends who are gay.  Even Republicans, who used gay rights as a wedge issue for voters in the 90’s, changed when they knew they had gay sons or daughters.  A prime example of that is former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Of course that does not mean bigotry is dead.  After this past presidential election it has reared its ugly head.  Unfortunately, our current Vice President, Mike Pence, has promoted anti gay legislation when he was in congress and when he was governor of Indiana. Even though we have so many Gay-Straight Alliances in our community, it took the threat of a law suit by the ACLU to get one local principal to allow one.  But the inroads made both legally and culturally will not change (I hope).

Last month I had breakfast with both my granddaughter Zoe and my grand niece who made that clear to me.  Both girls told me that no one cares if someone is gay or straight or trans.  No one cares about that anymore.  It’s up to the person, they said. (I love the wisdom of teenagers!) But I think polls have shown that attitude is true among most young people today.  So I have to hope that society will continue to evolve.

Scan 1CRD and Dad

Your honesty has had many branches.  Besides your family and friends, your students know who you are on the first day of your high school classes.  To be sure that everyone knows you have photos of your husband and children for all to see. I am sure you are a powerful role model to any gay students.  Something you did not have as you were growing up! Now across two coasts and in the middle of the country your extended families are gay affirming and very proud. There is your brother Mark’s family in Maryland, your husband Patrick’s family in Long Island as well as Philadelphia and Orlando.  And us, in upstate New York, trying to be sure our friends and colleagues are aware of gay issues.

Telling the truth has it’s own important activism.  That is not to discount the more voluble activists.  Their work is vital.  But quiet activism can speak loudly too.

Love & Happy Father’s Day,


Fostering Fathers

Dear Isabella and Jordan,

On June 15th, your papa and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date.  We met at a café for brunch not far from where we currently live.  After that we went roller blading.  Can you picture that? I wish we had cell phones back in the day so that we could have captured selfies of that moment!

It was Father’s Day, but neither of us spent any time with our dads that day.  Pops was in Buffalo, probably crying over his grill because neither of his sons were there to celebrate him.  Papa’s father had died almost 10 years earlier.  Our talk, however, did turn to fatherhood.  We both talked about our dads, and about our childhoods, and about how we both knew that someday, somehow, we wanted to be dads ourselves.

This is not usually first date conversation. This was especially true for two gay men in 1997.   Having children was the farthest thing on the minds of many gay men then—in fact it still is—and neither of us knew any gay men, single or coupled, who were raising children.  But the idea that I had met someone else who wanted children as much as I did was very attractive.  Well, that plus Papa’s beautiful smile and his great sense of humor (and by that I mean he laughed at my jokes).

I knew from that day that Papa was the man for me.  I’m not sure if it was that instantaneous for him; you’d have to ask him.  What I do know is that every Father’s Day since then, Papa and I remember our first date and how we started on that day envisioning the existence of our family.

This year I’m also remembering how challenging it was to actually make that family become not just a dream, but a reality.  As you are both well aware (now that Jordan has graduated from the 5th grade sexual health curriculum), its not possible for your dads to bring children into the world in the way a mom and a dad might.  You get my meaning here Jordan? Not something you want to think about?

After getting married, we spent time thinking about other options.  We could find a woman to be a surrogate. We could go overseas and adopt a child.   The option we decided on, the path to fatherhood that felt most comfortable to us, was to become foster parents and eventually adopt children who needed a forever home.

When I was interviewed by Gays with Kids earlier this month about our experience with the foster adoption process, it brought back many memories of the long and rewarding process.  In the bedtime story we told both of you when you were little, we glossed over the details: “Papa and Daddy decided we wanted to be dads, so we went to Amara, an adoption agency that said ‘You will make great dads!’ Soon, we were matched with you. We fell in love instantly!”


Before the instantaneous love part, however, there were a good many hoops we had to jump through.  There were long and often boring training sessions that we had to attend.  We were interviewed by staff at Amara. Then we were interviewed again. We wrote answers to more questions they had; my answers took up 10 pages! Then they came to check out our house. Even the house had to be interviewed!

We set up a crib.  I learned how to change diapers.  We talked to Grandma and Grandpa and Mimi and Pops and all your aunts and uncles about the big changes coming, and what we might name a little munchkin if we were given the opportunity.

Oh, also we went to see lots of movies and slept in on the weekends.

All that changed on October 31, 2003 when an Amara caseworker delivered Isabella to our front door.  She cried! She giggled! She pooped! Man that pooping just didn’t stop. I was convinced we would never sleep again, and I spent many sleepless nights worried about the variety of ways that our precious little baby might get hurt.

Jordan, when we met you in 2007, your smile—even through all that drool—and affection convinced us right away that you were the perfect addition to our family.  Mimi told us that we had a millionaire’s family.  We certainly felt like we had won the lottery, blessed and rich beyond belief.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have our challenges as a family.  We yell. We get frustrated. We cry.  We are all good about apologizing and trying harder.

Some of our challenges aren’t with one another.  Each of you, when you were young, experienced loss and trauma not fit for a human of any age.  Although Papa and I would like to squeeze and love all of the hurt away, it’s not something we can do.

But every family has it’s challenges. And every family has it’s blessings too.  I can’t speak for Papa, but I know that being a parent has been the most difficult and simultaneously most exceptional and rewarding experience in life.  The blessing of you two—when it wasn’t clear if or how we could make that Father’s Day dream from twenty years ago become a reality—has transformed me.

I’m so glad we dreamed you two into our lives.

Love, Daddy