Tag Archives: Pride

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.

58E424BA-FE05-495F-9B8A-B116FD75F45E
Outside the Portland Marriott October 22, 2017
EC620E92-C9EE-4858-8821-C9745C2A6B98
Gender expansive terms on display during a conference session. 
F2982FA2-8634-4E7A-A35B-FDBA20AD7BAE
With Michelle Dooley, an OFM guest blogger and our new friend!
A8DC1C61-6049-4C24-90B4-AD41C2AC23C7
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.

Advertisements

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,

Mom

The Line from Stonewall

Dear Christopher,

freedom ridersLiving long has its rewards. (It’s problems too, but we won’t go there.) During my lifetime I have seen several movements that brought sweeping changes to our country. When I was growing up the Freedom Riders were making their dangerous journeys down South to integrate restaurants and everything else. They were brave and noble and made a huge impact on so many of us growing up in that era, both black and white. The nation was changed radically by the whole Civil Rights movement. We saw in the papers and on TV white people in the South shout horrible epithets at African-American school children trying to integrate schools. It could not leave one unmoved. When I started teaching in a mixed race school system I saw first hand both the racism and the need for change.

How it saddens me to see these same issues rise to the fore yet again. But to have the conversation in a supposedly post-racial society is important. Racism remains alive. Some of the opposition to our president seems to have no basis in reason, but a knee jerk emotional racism, perhaps unrecognized.

As a teacher it disturbed me when my wonderful African-American male students would tell me how they were harassed in stores. Dad and I had male colleagues of color who told us they were stopped and questioned in their own suburban neighborhoods. I met with Black parents who told me they had to harshly punish their children to prepare them for a larger society that would judge them because of the color of their skin.

Police and teachers, like other civil servants, get the brunt of the blame. But it goes much deeper. It is built into the societal system. Yes, those underpaid over worked civil servants can do something. But the constructs of a racist society need a fundamental re-ordering. Not only these killings of unarmed Black males tell us something is very wrong, but the high incarceration rates of men of color. Bad schools seem to begin a pipeline of African American youth right into prison. When we in the U.S. have higher incarceration rates than even South Africa we have to do something drastically different.

Isabella and I saw the demonstration in front of Westlake Center. I wish I talked to her more about it. Too focused on shopping I guess!! It was small, composed of young people. But haven’t young people always been on the cusp of change? The demonstrations for Civil Rights, the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, even the Stonewall riots and subsequent gay pride actions were largely made up of young people. That gives me hope. We do need change. Maybe the young will lead us.

But a social movement that had the most impact on our family was the movement for gay rights. Recently I read about the Stonewall riots and their aftermath. I am amazed how awful it was for gay people before drag queens and gay homeless kids started fighting with police that day in 1969. The police were the perpetrators of stonewallviolence against gay people, but they were also part of a larger society that turned people out of jobs and even hospitalized or imprisoned them for being gay. The FBI collected information on gay government workers and had them fired. Senator McCarthy’s infamous hearings did the same. It was a dangerous time to be gay. But the street protests begun there on Christopher Street started a movement. Started a way to be gay and proud.

The line begun at Stonewall to this day makes our lives as a family so different. Maybe in the bad old 50’s and 60’s we would have lost you as a son. We would not have you in our lives because you would feel a need to be closeted. Yet, here we are, ready to celebrate a family Christmas, in provincial Buffalo, with family and friends clamoring to see you and your family. I wish I could thank those Stonewall rioters. They have cleared the way for our family.

While it’s easy to blame police, and maybe they deserve some blame, but also we have to look into our society and our selves. Bigger changes have to be made. And while homophobia has not disappeared, nor has racism, some real changes can and should be made. Laws outlawing discrimination cannot change people’s hearts, but they certainly can change behavior. And that is a great start.

Love, Mom