I had the opportunity and honor to participate in a class discussion this week. The discussion topic was LGBTQ families and children aged 6 – 11. The course is part of the curriculum for master’s students who are pursing degrees in social work.
A fellow advocacy colleague, who has become a friend, mentor and inspiration – Jo Chang – recommended me to the discussion facilitator and after a brief inquiry, it was decided that Jo and I would both be pleased to participate and share our stories; I was to share my perspective as an LGBTQ parent raising a child and Jo would share her perspective as a straight mother of an LGBTQ child. Diverse perspectives … SO VALUABLE!
The class facilitators, Jayson and Emanuel, left enough flexibility and “space” in the course to allow for the conversation to form organically. Since it was on Halloween, I was working within a time constraint (keep in mind, we have a 7-year-old who doesn’t last much past 7:30 so trick-or-treating needed to be wrapped up by 7 pm) so Jay and Emanuel allowed me to jump right into the discussion by first sharing my story. I had brought along a brief bio page that included a picture of my family and a few tid-bit information bullets about myself (education, career, community involvement) and a few of the lessons that I’ve learned over the past three years dealing with family discord, legal custody challenges and personal healing fallout from the commitment to wife and our family. I can’t say that I was the most eloquent or ordered in my presentation – – well, truth be told, I felt as if it were a “talk story” session between myself and the class. <WARNING: Detour Ahead == “talk story” is a term that we use in Hawai’i to indicate that people are just casually sharing in a process to familiarize themselves with one another; or , if already friends – a process of catching up and deepening their relationship through sharing. It is what it says, a time of just talking and sharing the stories of our everyday lives. Okay … detour ended.> I drifted between story threads – talked about my past relationship being 8+ years with our son’s father, being raised in Hawai’i in a multi-racial and diversely-ethnic family, the meaning of diversity to me as a student affairs professional, meeting and marrying my wife, the tenets that we are trying to instill in our son as we raise him in a non-traditional family – well, you get the picture. I was a bit all over the place.
But the conversation and discourse that percolated was so insightful and provocative – for all of us in the room. The participants asked questions that were sincerely inquisitive: what rights does our civil union imbue us with? what would happen to our little boy if something happened to me? why is it important to LGBTQ families to have the option to marry if civil unions allow for the same rights and responsibilities? how do we help our 7-year-old navigate through this big, bad world as a child of an LGBTQ family?
I don’t want to get into a full reporting of what was said word-for-word during the discussion; that is one of the many pleasures of taking part in courses and forums such as that class. But I do want to share the last thread of conversation that occurred between myself and the class; there was a male student who appeared to have some sort of military association and alluded to that affiliation when I gently teased him about calling me “ma’am” (seriously, I have reached an age where I am now “ma’am”-ed … how did that happen??). He asked me if I had seen the YouTube video of the young man who stood up and spoke in the legislature in defense of the marriage of his moms. I acknowledged that I had and then I asked if he was talking about the young man who was an eagle scout. He confirmed that and then told me, “THAT is the type of man you and your wife are raising – one who is confident and has integrity.” I got a bit choked up at that point, and then I felt compelled to share with the class our story of explaining to Kaleo why we would not be joining the Boy Scouts this year. As I was telling them of how challenging and heartbreaking it was to find the words to explain to our 7-year-old that he couldn’t go to the Boy Scout’s meeting because they were an organization that disrespected and discriminated against families like ours because we were an LGBTQ couple and family, I started crying. My tears startled the hell out of me! I had not cried about the situation; it had infuriated me, frustrated me, spurned me to write letters – spread the word – take it to social media; but it had not made me cry. I think I looked over at Jo helplessly; she walked to my side and placed her hand on my shoulder and firmly said to the student who asked why it mattered that our families be allowed marriage, “This is why it matters.”
The take-away for me from that evening was profound – THIS is why it matters that we keep sharing our stories, THIS is why it matters that we keep advocating for our community, THIS is why it matters that we continue the long and frustrating fight for fair and equal treatment under the law … because our families have meaning. Our families have value. Our families deserve to recognized as such.
Sometimes, even those of us who are in the midst of the movement for change; who are trying to create a better space for ourselves, our loved ones, our community members and supporters in our own little corners of the world – sometimes we need gentle reminders of why we are doing what we are trying to do.
Thank you, Jay and Emanuel, for allowing Jo and I to be a part of that discussion. It was as valuable for us as we hope it was for your colleagues.