My son started out in this world momentarily shattering my heart before he even took his first breath, as they rushed me to a cesarean section before his heart rate dropped again, with the cord wrapped tightly around his neck. Once they placed this perfect baby safely in my arms, I knew for the rest of my life I would do my best to try and protect him. Even at 19, barely able to make the right decisions for myself, I understood that to be a parent is to worry. I have worried for 29 years over so many things big and small with this first child of mine. I have worried over coffee table inflicted wounds and the stitches that followed, over the early sleepless nights and sicknesses, over how I could assure that Santa would bring him what he wanted for Christmas and pay the electric bill too. I worried over how I would replace his clothes stolen from the laundromat; how I would make it through school to show him a better life; and about how to teach him to be a good person while I was still growing up myself. He was my little boy and he loved me fiercely despite my many failings as a young mom. When I was in law school, I was in tears on the couch, stressed about school and money. Only three years old, he asked me why I was crying and as I often did with my oldest, I told him too much. I told my son, "Mommy is just worried about money, but it will be OK." He returned minutes later with his piggy bank, gave it to me and said, "Here you go Mommy, now you don't have to cry anymore." I knew his heart and I loved him as deeply as any mother can love her child. At the time, I thought I knew everything about him.
What I did not know until many years later was that my amazing, brilliant, kind son was gay. My involvement in the LGBTQ Community was previously limited to a mere quiet acceptance, no real opportunity for a vocal outpouring of support for a cause not my own, but I certainly thought I knew the struggles of many friends. Now, I was thrown into the trenches of a battle that has suddenly become very personal. I knew the obvious obstacles ahead of him. I knew there were people who would reject him. I knew there were people who would judge him. I knew both he and I might lose friends and even family. That was the easy part. I was well prepared by that time to understand if someone chooses not to be in my life for some shitty judgmental reason, I could certainly live with that. To me, he was simply the same sweet kid as he was the day before I knew he was gay. Navigating my feelings about how the rest of the world would respond was not so easy.
I talked to everyone and read everything I could about how to be supportive and loving, inspired by the paths of my friends and other parents before me. There were so many kind gay friends happy to usher me through when they learned about my son. Our only goal was to make sure he knew we were happy as long as he was ok. But I worried constantly. Was he really happy? Would he be accepted? Did he feel loved? Was he comfortable in his life? I now had a new insight into the struggles of my gay friends, ashamed I had never truly understood them before. Now we were part of this family. Every gay slur was a personal attack on my son, his friends, my friends and family, and on me. Every child rejected by strangers (or worse, their own parents) a pain directly felt in my heart. The thing I remember most about that time in my life was that not one of these concerns registered even a tiny bit like the fear that gripped me from the inside. The initial news he was gay resulted in a feeling of an overwhelming and persisting panic. I was in fear for his safety. I worried someone would hurt my son because of who he is. I worried someone would hurt him, despite who he was. I needed to know every minute where he was, where he was going, if it was safe, who he was with. It was as if he was in the middle of the street with cars coming at him, and I could not do anything to keep him safe.
But as the years passed and this became my new normal, I worried less and I learned to breathe again. My son was accepted, even by those I was sure would reject him. He was happy. He was safe. He was loved. He was successful. Life was good. Surrounded by my gay friends in long and loving relationships, surrounded by their happiness and success. I watched the changes unfold in the world as people began to outwardly support the love of all people. The Supreme Court finally got it right. It was the best time in my life for someone to be gay. Hope and love took over the fear. The peace I felt only interrupted by an occasional comment by Pam Bondi and others like her championing the "sanctity of marriage" from their sanctimonious pulpits of perfection and morality. It was easy enough to chalk up to fear and ignorance and political agendas. I learned to have sympathy for people just not knowing better, rather than allowing myself to believe in hate.
Until Saturday, June 13, 2016, and all the days that followed, is when the fear came rushing back. My fragile mother's-heart has been broken 49 times into pieces of a shattered light bulb, which I am not sure can ever fully be put back together. It was not my son, but my children, each and every one of them. I am angry at this senseless act! I am ripped apart by overwhelming sadness, as tears roll down my face, just randomly driving down the street, but mostly I am afraid again. Afraid because I am reminded of those who hate my son and others that I love, and those that wish them harm. More than I fear the largeness and randomness of this attack, I fear the hate that has been given a voice in this tragedy. God's will? What God do you worship that asks you to do anything but love one another? I am afraid for my children, all of them. I am afraid for yours too. I am afraid your young child might be gay and not feel loved and accepted and learn to hate themselves or feel anything less than worthy, believing they are not supposed to be just exactly who they are. I am afraid for the children, like my sweet six-year-old, who might grow to have their pure heart tainted by those who preach hate.
I will lean now in my fear and sadness on my friends and family. I will lean on my sweet loving husband who feels the pain and fear as if this were his own son. I will lean on my son's father who has had countless sleepless nights worrying about our son. I will lean on his wife, one of my best friends, who assures me she will keep on dancing in the bars with my son and his friends reminding me we have to keep going on. She is the first person I thought of when I heard about the mom who was killed at the club simply out for a night of dancing with her gay son. I will lean on my amazing father, the last one to be told his grandson was gay. He is the perfect example of #lovewins. At 77 years old, a Republican from birth, we wrongly doubted him and his ability to accept my son's revelation. His first response upon learning my son was gay was simply, "Tell him I love him." and after this tragedy, he reminded me he was second to no one in his love for my son. People are capable of great things when love is involved. I will lean on and stand with every member of my LGBTQ family. My friendships with people in the LGBTQ family have been my gift, my path to understanding, love, acceptance and celebration of our differences. These friends are his mentors and mine too. They give me strength and so kindly navigate me through with their words and through their loving example of how to be a good mom to my son. I am eternally grateful.
I was lucky enough to be taught to simply love by those around me. The heart we were all born with never questioned the love of anyone for another, until someone taught us differently. I have four children who affirm this truth everyday. They will move me past this crippling fear, they will bring me to a place of hope again. They will not let hate win. I understand not everyone will accept my son or his sexual orientation. I understand that for some people it makes them uncomfortable. What I will never understand is if you hate my son or others like him or wish harm to anyone else simply for who they are.
There is only one thing I know for sure. I love my gay son as much as you love your straight son. He is good and kind and loving and brilliant. He loves his friends and family. He is loyal and hardworking. He makes this world a better place. If you choose not to love him because of who he is, you are missing out on knowing someone fabulous. Being gay is not a choice. Being a hateful bigot is. Choose love, it's the only thing that really matters in the end.