As a junior in high school in the late 1980s, my parents shared the sad news that my uncle was very ill. Gravely ill. I thought back to the last few years and his less frequent visits from California, his steady weight loss, the nausea he suffered during his last Thanksgiving visit, and how his usual spark had faded some. He had been tired.
This hadn’t concerned me. I didn’t anticipate any health situation that my “always positive, always smiling, always kind” uncle could not overcome.
A few days later more news — there was no cure. He would pass and probably soon. He had AIDS.
Wow. My uncle had the scary four-letter disease that had been in the news, a disease that filled some people with fear, hate and condemnation. And he was going to die.
Was my uncle gay? I did not know he was gay. No one had ever told me he was gay, and he had never told me he was gay.
Yes, he was gay. How sad that he had to hide who he was.
My parents wanted to protect him and us from bigots, so they asked us to keep the information “in the family.” In my grieving I had already shared with my closest friends and my boyfriend (who soon became my ex-boyfriend).
But then my voice fell silent, as silent as my uncles’s had been.
I was struck by the silence, not able to give a voice to my sadness, a voice for my uncle’s plight, a voice against the hate in the media. But that didn’t compare to my uncle not having the freedom to speak about his loves, his concerns and the disease he did not share with us until he was no longer able to hide it.
No one in my family believed this was a biblical punishment, as some around the country thought. We were just trying to wrap our minds around two sad facts: someone we loved was going to die soon and there were those who hated him and others like him.
Years later, I explained to my young daughter that some men fall in love with men and some women fall in love with women, and some people think it is wrong and have a problem with it. But “mommy doesn’t have a problem with it. It IS OK. There is nothing wrong with love.”
Fast forward to my daughter coming out to me in her middle school years, first as “bi” (those who are attracted to both males and females) and then later as “pan” (not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity). Some have told me she is gay today because she was allowed to watch the Teletubbies television show as a toddler. Was it Tinky-winky’s gay agenda, that he carried in his shiny big red purse, that made her gay? Because, it couldn’t just be that she was “born that way.”
My daughter created the first Gay-Straight Alliance club in our small Texas town, south of Fort Worth. Her club posters were ripped off the school walls, and members received a few threats via social media. None of this made her friends less gay, queer, trans, ace or gender fluid. And none of her friends who were allies changed their orientations either by joining the group. Just saying.
During her high school years, our house was a judgement free zone for her friends. It was a safe place to be themselves. One particular friend of hers struggled early in his transition. To ensure his safety and proper pronouns were used, I became his emotional support during many social situations. I was present when he requested his chosen name be used rather than his birth name. I attended visits to doctor’s and counselor’s offices, the driver license offices, even tuxedo rental stores. It has been a journey. He has achieved so much. He now lives as he was meant to, legally and authentically. Although he has a birth family that loves him, I will always love him as a son.
I’m so fortunate to be able to freely express my beliefs as an ally with my family. Not everyone has that peace of mind. It feels good that I have found my voice, and it has cost me some friendships, some strained relationships, and a divorce. Instead of seeing it as losing friends and family, to me our family is evolving and expanding.
My parents also have found their voice and firmly support equality. My big brother has always been an ally for as long as I can remember. A few years ago, before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, two of his friends had trouble finding someone to marry them. He became an officiant and performed their wedding.
Now that we’re living here, I’m able to continue working on behalf of the LGBTQ community thanks to the Highland Lakes Equality Center. I am so grateful for the HLEC and what it provides: much needed support, connections to resources and wonderful fun and affirming events like the Gay Prom Thursday, May 17, at 7 p.m. at Spicewood Vineyards (go to https://hlequalitycenterprom.weebly.com to buy tickets or apply for free passes).
I’m honored to volunteer, even in small ways, which allows me to add to the HLEC’s mission of unity. Being part of the HLEC gives me hope for this generation and the next one.