Gay Pride for Parents

A phenomenon that occurs when one's progeny is so amazing that a parent feels compelled to tell everyone he or she knows about his or her child -- ad infinitum --, is something I call Parental Bragging Rights. For example, when I was a practicing dental hygienist I had a patient that I saw on a six-month schedule who would tell me, in minute detail, all that her only child, Charlotte, had accomplished since her last appointment. I often ran behind schedule as a result. However, one day she came in and was unusually quiet. I took advantage and got right to work, but it started to bother me. I thought perhaps something terrible had happened and it might help her to talk about it.

"How's Charlotte doing?"
"She's fine."

Okay, then -- back to work. It wasn't two minutes before she blurted out, "She got a tattoo and had her nose pierced!" If this distraught mother hadn't been close to tears, I would have laughed. Charlotte had done something that apparently was not on her mother's list of approved parental bragging rights.

Fast forward seven years when my 37-year-old daughter, who kept me amply supplied with reasons to brag on her -- Air Force Academy graduate, second woman to fly the U-2 spy plane, captain of a major airline -- called me one night and told me she is gay. The devastation was on the other foot now, and it wasn't so funny. As an evangelical Christian, I thought my world was ending -- this was the worst thing that could have happened. This wasn't about a tattoo or body piercings, this was something that, I thought at the time, would keep my daughter out of heaven.

I was obsessed with thinking about a tragedy that occurred when a woman in San Francisco was mauled to death by dogs in her apartment building. I live in West Texas, and people here were appalled over the news reports... until it was reported (for what reason I couldn't tell you), that she was a lesbian. Then the conversations went something like this:

"Did you hear about the woman in San Francisco who was killed by the dogs?"
"Yes, wasn't that horrible?"
"Well, I heard that she was a lesbian."

That "oh" spoke volumes. Translated, it said, "She wasn't really worth much, so it's not such a tragedy." I know this because as hard as it is for me to admit now, that thought flitted through my mind as well. I was not one who loved unconditionally. If you believed as I did, thought as I did, worshipped as I did and belonged to the same political party I did, I would love you -- maybe.

I became obsessed with the idea that people would think that about my daughter -- that her life wasn't worth anything.

I convinced myself that this was my only reason for not wanting anyone to know about her orientation. Surely, I was not so shallow as to make this about me -- but surely, I was. In April of this year, nearly eleven years after her call, I was preparing to speak at a Unitarian Universalist church in Lubbock, Texas, on the topic, "Love Your Neighbor and Love Your Enemies." (Yes, I've come a long way!) I realized with a jolt that my daughter's being gay had not been on the Evangelical Christian List of Approved Parental Bragging Rights.

During that telephone conversation in 2002, I told Cholene that I loved her and nothing would ever change that. I also told her that I wouldn't be marching in any gay parades. When she pressed me for what I thought about what she had told me I said, "It's wrong." I hurt her terribly that night, as that was the reason it had taken her to the age of 37 to tell me. It's a shame that life doesn't have an "undo" button.

I am now president of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Odessa, Texas -- and when the time comes that we can march openly here, I will proudly be marching in that parade. As the parent of a remarkable woman, I have Gay Pride -- I am proud of the person she is; her compassion, her kindness to others, her integrity, the obstacles she has overcome, and the setbacks she has had to endure just for being who she is and was always meant to be. I am proud of my daughter -- not in spite of her being gay, but because she is gay.