Giving to Us Straight | Opinion

OutSFL file photo.

“How did your parents react when you came out?” is the first question I’ve been asked by members of the audience in my 50 years of public speaking.

My answer was honest but incomplete. “They were great. Mom cried because she was afraid for me, and Dad thought it was a hormone imbalance. But they welcomed everyone into our home, including my boyfriends. Ray became one of their favorite people.”

I’ve said I regret how my public coming out impacted their lives, but it was only recently that it dawned on me that my parents, and people like them, are as responsible for the success of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement as are the heroic, most vigilant members of P-FLAG, once known as Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gay people. 

I was stunned by the realization that every day for the rest of their lives Mom and Dad were put in a position of affirming their two gay sons or sidestepping the issue. Initially, it was very difficult for them when I came out in 1974. In the arena of public opinion, gay people and axe murderers were equally valued. For weeks, I was the talk of the town because I was interviewed on every TV and radio talk show, and in every newspaper in Detroit. My folks couldn’t be anonymous. 

“Yes, that’s my son,” they were forced to acknowledge, but each time they did, and they did so with increasing pride, they changed the world. Their friends at General Motors and at the Warwick Hills Country Club were educated by my parents' refusal to be embarrassed. Each visit to the grocery and drug stores entailed preparing themselves for looks from other shoppers. Mom just smiled.

I never asked whether my family got threatening phone calls and letters as I did. I was so wrapped up in my own gay crusade that I imagined their heterosexual privilege protected them. Now it’s too late to ask, but it’s not too late to say that we LGBTQ people did not get here on our own. We were always surrounded by an army of straight people who stepped forward in our defense, willingly or not, eagerly or not. But every “Yes, my daughter is a lesbian” impacted not just people in the U.S. but around the world.

When our family members, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins stood their ground for us, they helped change the culture to the point that in a little over 50 years most gay, lesbian, and bisexual children are no longer a source of shame. 

We have much work to do on the transgender issue. There’s still a lot of confusion about gender identity. But the cisgender parents and family members of transgender children and adults are helping us change the world when they say, “Yes, my daughter is now a happy man.”


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