Tag Archives: Civil Rights

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.

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Outside the Portland Marriott October 22, 2017
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Gender expansive terms on display during a conference session. 
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With Michelle Dooley, an OFM guest blogger and our new friend!
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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.

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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.

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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,

Mom

Why Marriage Matters

Dear Christopher

While sitting with Dad in rainy West Virginia in July, we went through the album you and Mark put together to celebrate our 50th Anniversary.  So many years, so many memories.

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One photo stood out to me in light of our recent conversations about the Supreme
Court decision on marriage equality.  There Dad and I were all dressed to the nines going out to dinner with our friends in Florida during a 1966 car trip south for Easter vacation.  Besides looking so young it brought back memories of the travel through the South, the shock of seeing “colored” and “white” drinking fountains and restrooms.  It was shortly after the Civil Rights legislation was passed, but not quite implemented yet.

Of course after years of watching the Civil Rights movement right in front of my eyes on TV I certainly knew of conditions in the South.  I was so very impressed with the courage of black and white people who came together to fight and even die for the cause of greater freedom and dignity.

Yet even in our Northern living rooms and classrooms I saw discrimination against African-Americans.  As a first year teacher at an integrated school in the city, I remember my chagrin when another teacher said something to the effect that black kids can’t learn.  And there were jokes about these students when white teachers got together in bars and living rooms after hours. I remember Dad and I having all night debates with family members about the justice of greater rights for African-Americans. Some thought there were too many breaks being given by that “crazy” President Johnson.

But coming face to face with reality of separate and unequal in the South was sobering.  On the back roads we saw many shacks with poor black people living in poverty.  Our white Cadillac, compliments of Gram’s loan, stood out for its width and its New York plates which brought many suspicious stares from white Southerners.  Were we those bleeding heart agitators instead of four kids looking for Florida fun for a week?

After the passage of legislation there were opinion pieces critical of the strategy of focusing on voting rights for African-Americans, there were other issues more vital commentators said.   There was criticism of the move to integrate public places like restaurants and even restrooms.  More important issues the naysayers said.  But in that spring of 1966 traveling though the South I saw first-hand the insult to dignity to some of our citizens.

The issue of dignity seemed very clear just two weeks ago when my dear friends, Jimmie and Geri, were married in front of family and friends.  It was a perfect day.  The sun shone in the garden and they were walked down a short path escorted by their family. All of us dabbed the tears from our eyes.  Jimmie, a wonderful poet, and Geri her dynamic partner of 35 years, could finally be recognized as a married couple by their state.  Yes, most of us knew of their love over the years.  Yes, a few years ago they were married in Canada, but now their own country and their own state publically recognized them.  It reminded me how long this has taken to be real.

At the beginning of their relationship, 35 years ago, Jimmie and Geri had to be secretive, especially in work situations.  Geri’s work in the business world made it hard for them to be out in that venue.  As a teacher Jimmie could be freer. Some years ago they were featured as a gay couple in a story in the Buffalo Spree, a glossy magazine that has a large following in the Western New York area. The Buffalo area tends to be very conservative.  Geri has private clients she works with in the business arena.  So it was brave for her to be out.  They have seen lots of changes in their years together. On that day it felt a privilege to celebrate marriage with them.

It made me think how things have changed so much in the 20 years since you came out.  During the party Geri said to me, “This means a lot to you doesn’t it.” Yes it does.  And each time I see and hear of a gay couple married, it makes me understand the importance of that public affirmation.  It is much more than taxes, or even visitation in the hospital, and parental rights, though all of those things are important.  It is the recognition of a common humanity.

I can see all the more clearly why African Americans fought so hard for voting rights, and integrated public venues.  It makes clear the recognition of their very humanity.  And that is what marriage equality does for you and Patrick, for Jimmie and Geri, and for all the LGBT community.

Love, Mom