When Anthony invited me to a party and said, “Crystal Lewis is singing!” I didn’t really care who was singing or how fabulous it would be, but I did care about Anthony. You see, Anthony and his husband, Jamil, have consistently stood by me, checked on me for no reason, and have told me they loved me, expecting nothing in return.
Heading to the rooftop for the intimate performance, I realized how touching to me it was that someone from my religious background was clearly a friend with the hosts. Something made her show up, and it wasn’t any monetary gain because I knew she was performing completely free. Most people would say that if a singer is performing at a party hosted by a gay couple, it’s probably safe to say that singer is one who offers a heart of unconditional love. I would say that is what it looks like to come alongside any group that isn’t truly given the same freedoms and opportunities as the whole of society. Perhaps she did it for fun or for love and friendship. Regardless, in this moment on the rooftop, while her beautiful voice and charming stage presence was the focus for everyone else, I remembered driving and hearing my son, Cooper as a little boy saying, “Play Crystal Lewis, Mama. People Get Ready.” Memories flashed to 16 year-old Cooper coming out and how most of the worries I had at that moment, circled back to my faith. I thought of how often, I myself, as the mom of a gay son, felt shunned by Christians. How must LGBTQ people feel? I welled up with tears of gratitude, realizing that Crystal Lewis was risking something by being there and I assumed she knew that.
Through deep surprise and joy, I thought, “Maybe this life is getting better for all my new LGBTQ friends. Maybe one straight person at a time, we really are starting to think through our beliefs and behavior.” Having spent my life up to the age of 40 in conservative circles, it is really something to wake up one day, after your kid has come out, to realize most of the people who acted like you were special to them for years and years, no longer act like that is true. My son being gay, and my support for him, weakened people’s desire to be friends. Some who wanted to stay in our lives asked me to hide his sexuality from their kids, but I’d never hide any of my kids for any reason. I’m not complaining, just stating it isn’t easy to parent any kid – especially a gay kid or one who doesn’t measure up in society’s eyes for any reason.
I made many good decisions to change the dynamic in my friendships, but they weren’t painless. There’s no way I’d choose anyone for any reason over my kids. Nor would I change a thing about my embrace of my son, which led to a mutually satisfying connection of my own with the LGBTQ community. I do wish it hadn’t taken Cooper coming out for me to see clearly that I hadn’t been kind to everyone, but my friendship with many LGBTQ people reminded me that, above all else, we are all just people who deserve freedom and love.
If you don’t have a gay person in your life, it’s easy to forget these are our sons and daughters. They are our nieces and nephews. They are human beings we have cared for from the moment we knew they would be ours. They are NOT a political or theological debate. Except for the fact that they aren’t being given equality, they don’t need most of us. Yet, we can offer support that increases their stamina by standing or kneeling with anyone who is marginalized, quietly linking hands and hearts. We can give consistently in relationship through the ups and downs, and attempt to be the bridge. Or we can focus our energy in an area of our own passions and not do a thing for them. I’d prefer people at least not be opposed to people loving people, or people being given a choice about whether or not to engage in their faith, or parents just trying transition with a “kid” who has come out.
I’ll talk more this month about what I’m up to in the next post or two, but for now I would like to state that through social media and the website for Made of ONYX, I will share the understanding and resources I have gained as a friend to the LGBTQ community. In an effort to help other parents remain connected to their “kids,” – I intentionally and humbly haven’t forgotten from what mindset I have come nor how much I have changed. Therefore, I will offer resources I wish I had easily found when my son first came out.
I am doing this because at event after event, I continue to make new friends who I come to find aren’t just LGBTQ, but are from mostly christian, and some catholic, backgrounds. Many of whom are estranged from parents and churches. I don’t think that is a coincidence, I think it is a divine encounter. My family members who are gay, my new friends, and my faith drive my passion to make a difference in the LGBTQ community by supporting the parents and key influencers in their lives. The job of a parent doesn’t allow for disengaging when some aspects become challenging. I know I wrestle and worry at times when I conclude that as kids become adults, I don’t control them. I also know it’s entirely possible to rise to the occasion of remaining engaged in every aspect of their lives. I hope that we as humans recognize we all play a part in encouraging, strengthening, and protecting all of our marginalized friends and that includes their families.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8
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Your Friend with a Big and Wild Love,
In June, 2015, exactly one year after my son came out to his super conservative family, I knew I’d daily wrestled the process of replacing unfounded and archaic thinking with an educated perspective about my faith and also a bit about the LGBT+ community. I wanted to do something that would SHOW Cooper I fully embraced all of who he was. Being an extreme personality, I thought about what Old Allie would have never seen herself doing. And I decided to do it! I took my boys to a Gay Pride Festival in West Hollywood. (Cooper had already been the day before with his amazing cousin, Melissa, who from the time he came out, wanted to be the one to take him to his first Pride.) I could tell right away it was going to be great for us all to be around others who were like him. I was unprepared for the protestors and their attempt to shame the LGBT+ community. Especially when I considered I had never stood against it, and here I was with my three sons, 17, 16, and 8. Most people coming from my background would barely have the freedom of mind to let their son go, let alone take their other “impressionable” kids, but I WANTED to make an impression of coming to a place where we understand that humans are all so different from each other, yet no less important. We intentionally stopped and I scanned the crowd of people, some ignoring the noise, and others barely able to pass without a telling expression of pain or anger. Naturally, the second I got a lump in my throat that grew to the point I couldn’t easily swallow it, I decided to come back the next year as an agent of love. I knew I was meant to DO something unusual at Pride 2016. I didn’t think about what I would do one more time until June of 2016.
When I attended the festival in 2016, now two years into knowingly being the mom of a gay son, I still probably only knew a few lesbians and a couple of gay guys, all but one in their 20’s. I was still extremely green about what my son’s future could be like. I volunteered at the PFLAG booth. PFLAG is a support group for anyone who loves a person that is LGBT+. To be honest, I’d never even been to a meeting but had been searching for ways to learn about LGBT+ people. I tend to just jump in the deep end of whatever I love or need. Volunteering was unforgettable, but mostly because I met Shawn Lamb. He was the first perfect stranger who graciously shared his story with me and helped me become less green about a few details. Soon, I’ll tell you his story and how PFLAG made a difference in his life! He is an incredible individual and I am forever, forever, forever grateful to him for speaking so transparently while we volunteered together. By answering my questions, Shawn changed my view of LGBT+ in about 30 minutes. We met lots of people, but I’ll never forget a woman in her 50’s who stopped at the booth just to hug us. She said, “When I was much younger I would go to the PFLAG booth knowing I would be hugged by people who knew I was a lesbian, and some years it was the only time I would be embraced regardless of my sexual identity because my parents stopped talking to me when they found out I was a lesbian.” My heart melted. The words, “I wish they could see she is just a human” became embedded in my mind and heart. I realized people like her and Shawn have been paving the way for people like Cooper to be openly gay. I thanked her for doing just that as I choked back the tears. Pride was turning out to be a pretty emotional event and I wasn’t prepared for that so I just let my heart lead me.
I came home and began to think about what I would do for Pride on Sunday. I knew I wanted to go to the parade and make a sign expressing love. I decided while falling asleep what my sign would say. I awoke the next day and saw there had been a shooting in Orlando at The Pulse. Things became surreal, but I had to keep going to get to my son who had stayed the night in LA. Driving along, I couldn’t believe that people went to dance somewhere and ended up dead because they were LGBT+. I was concerned about my son’s safety as a gay young man….and I figured that fear would never go away. I had felt it from the minute he came out to me and my memory played the news of Matthew Shepard in my head. I knew that what I had planned to say was PERFECT for more reasons than I initially thought. Unlike the Pride of ’15 when I took off my necklace that represents my faith for fear of being percieved as one who would wish to condemn them, I put it on boldly so that they would know that my faith is precisely why I love them. In fact the actual necklace was broken and I safety pinned it together. I decided I wouldn’t say anything about my faith unless I was asked (which I was). However, I’m not interested in changing anybody, anywhere. I’m interested in making myself available for God to work through as I venture to places where I become aware of anyone’s need for strength, hope, and healing.
A couple of family members knew that Cooper and I were headed to Pride and suggested we not go at all because of the man arrested in Santa Monica and on his way to Pride with explosive chemicals and assault rifles in his car. All I could think was, “If well meaning people want to call and tell me they’re worried, nothing will ever change. It would be nice if they would say, ‘I’m concerned, how can I help?’ Because they won’t, I have to. I was reminded of a time when I was like them and I told our cousin who volunteered on a bone-marrow transplant floor at a children’s hospital, “I don’t know how you can do that! I would be so depressed!” And then my own kid got cancer and I sat with those parents in waiting rooms and watched them hand their babies over to doctors and walk away, collapsing in each other’s arms. It didn’t take long for me to call that same cousin and say, “I take it back….HOW COULD YOU NOT?! What can I do?!” So I continued on the freeway, parked, made my sign.
I stood right in the middle of Santa Monica Blvd where the parade route ended at Robertson. I still can’t believe the events of that day. While standing on the median, I faced the LGBTQ people marching IN the parade. I saw Shawn in the parade. I was so shocked by the events that occurred that day. Countless strangers stepped out of their place in the parade to come hug and kiss me, some barely keeping back the tears and holding on to me for so long their group had marched on without them. TONS mouthed or yelled the words, “Thank You” and/or “I love you”, while they blew kisses, made the shape of a heart with their hands, or gave me the peace sign. Are you reading this? Do you get it? I still can’t believe it! I just thought I’d talk to a couple young people who might stop for a hug. People in the parade and those around me took pictures of my sign so frequently, and the display of love was so great, that it became a spectacle. I got interviewed by reporters from ABC & NBC news, some French channel’s news, and a couple local newspapers. I thanked them all for raising awareness. Wouldn’t you if your son was gay? By the time I was on my third interview I started feeling uncomfortable because it wasn’t why I came there. I came to send a message to the people of that community. On the fourth interview, I was right in the middle of a great conversation with a lesbian girl (silently taking in the parade next to me for a long time) who was raised by southern baptist missionaries, had spent much of her life out of the US, and who had attended Biola. I came to LA Pride with my sign to love people like her and Shawn (I am still friends with good friends with them and love them deeply). I came for my son! I may have come for YOUR kid. And do you want to know why I really came? I came because I wanted to make a radical statement of love that would separate me from anyone who deliberately marginalized the LGBT+ community and I have never looked back. There’s nothing special about the road I have chosen. Anyone can think of ways to be kind. Don’t wait for the next tragedy.
Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Some years before Cooper came out, I suspected my niece, Melissa, might not be straight. I’d known her since she was 6 and I was 19. We had a close relationship (from my perspective), and I was confused why she wasn’t telling me what seemed obvious. I asked myself hard questions to figure out why she might not tell me. I didn’t like what I saw inside of myself. I lacked humility. I had all of life – moral, political, and spiritual – sytematically figured out in my mind. I was comfortable mentally dictating how others should and shouldn’t live according to my beliefs. I recognized, at the very least, that the freedom I so greatly valued was not what I was offering to others. For the sake of all my kids, and the other kids I love, I chose to ignore fear and found the strength to be willing to change my mindset. Now, hear me say, “There is nothing special that allowed me to do this. A N Y O N E is capable of this kind of change and show of love.”
After awhile, I planned how I would respond if Melissa were to ever come out to me. I ended up saying those few sentences to my very own son when he came out to me. Do you know how lucky I was to have even thought about it at all?!
Some time later, Melissa did come out to me as one who identifies as bisexual (though she “isn’t crazy about labels”). About a month after that, we were alone. I stood with my hand on her arm, and said, “Do you know that because your actions spoke of who you were, you prepared me for Cooper to come out? In this conservative family, you could have easily hidden your life and it would have been understandable and fine. But you chose to just be you.” Tears spilled onto our cheeks as I looked intensely in her brown eyes and managed to say, “Melissa, I just got off the floor of the shower and I realized I have not ever taught my kids to see this whole section of society until you came along and made me wonder. I am so loaded with regret. I am also keenly aware that I will be forever grateful to you for the courage you had to be true to who you are…..before you were out, and after. You prepared me for Cooper. Thank you.”
Sooner or later, someone WILL come out to you, UNLESS, they are convinced that their heart is not safe in your hands. To whom will they turn? I hope, in an effort to escape the overwhelming pain of being rejected by the ones they love the most, the kids around you don’t turn to someone selling drugs or run into the arms of an unsafe person for the false sense of love that sex can bring to kids. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’m not here to change anyone, I’m just here to cause thought. You know in your heart if you need to reevaluate your mindset or not. You know if you have looked at what science has to say about genetics and the role they play in sexual identity, not to mention the increased chance that if you have one gay child, you may have another. You know if you have honestly and fairly looked at “both sides” of thought. More than that, you know if you’re ready to give a response that will simply make your child feel like they really can be come to you with anything. How many years have we worked to build safety and security in our homes and churches, only to burn them down with our own words (I call it the flame of shame)? You know it’s bad when schools are doing more than parents in many cases, to make “safe spaces” for ALL kids. Something has got to give. Maybe you just need to make a decision to be open-minded. You will know.
*************Also, here is a story of another family’s approach to her gay son and a different approach she and her husband chose. I am immeasurably grateful that she shared her story.take a look at this blog: http://justbecausehebreathes.com/
Growing up, I had lots of activities and energy. By the time I was in high school, people, babies, and my faith were my greatest interests in my very small, mostly white, and definitely straight world. I went to six high schools and was frustrated with my education. I knew I didn’t want to go to college without any real direction. I worked since I was 14 and loved it so I kept on working. I got married at barely 20, got pregnant, was so sick I couldn’t work, and had the baby before I was 21. I didn’t stop having babies until I was 31. I am very lucky to have spent all those years doing exactly what I wanted. I gained an unusual education through experience, especially the last ten years as my kids survived very unusual health issues. I was also in a marriage where I didn’t think about much except my designated areas of responsibility. Multiple kids got so sick, I allowed important decisions to be made for me. My job literally became keeping kids alive and functioning. Once everyone was in school, I began to think about my place in the world around me, outside of being a mom. Though quite far from perfect, I’m proud of most of the mom I was to my kids given the challenges I faced and the self-awareness I had at that point in time. When the older kids were teenagers, I was challenged as an individual and forced to look at who I was overall, at which point, I began to realize there was a lot I needed to sort and sift. I knew this before my son came out to me.
Cooper was my first son and the second of my five kids. The day he came home from the hospital, his cheeks were so fat they jiggled from the ride of the car. He cried, I’d sing, and he would stop. He grew and grew as babies do and everyone we knew adored him. He mastered unlocking locks. He climbed everything, including inside the washing machine where I once found him at 3 a.m. He made messes everywhere he went and it was hard to get mad because I could see his mind was just curious. He walked late and talked later but his heart was ahead of its time. He was an old soul with tight blonde curls. He was tender hearted, compassionate, and strong from the start. He grew and grew as toddlers do and loved umbrellas.
He enjoyed learning about science, the weather, and America. He loved Jesus and he literally slept with a hymn book and his Bible. He wrote hilarious poems for his first grade teacher and combed his hair different every day. Recesses were spent on swings and although he spent much time alone, he really liked the other kids and they seemed to like him. He was quiet and pensive, and he loved to laugh. When he laughed, anyone watching laughed. He was polite, even proper, and kind. He was much like Christopher Robin.
He became a teenager. Life was often intense, frustrating, and full of deep pain. Words can’t adequately explain what it was like for me to look into his eyes and see discomfort that seemed difficult to address. I always had a feeling things would be better when he went to high school, and they were. He had the opportunity to develop his own interests and friends. School became a place where he was just Cooper, not another one of the handful of kids in this family. Coop’s years of great struggle seemed to fade as he found his own interests, largely in the La Habra High School Theater Guild. (I remember, in my ignorance, being worried he might meet some gay kids there. Now I’d say he should only be so lucky!) He was liked and loved by many. He was thoughtful, generous, very quick witted, smart, and kind. Still the same quiet person, kids from all different social circles would call out to him and he would just smile and flash them a peace sign. He grew a little more and thought a lot. He was becoming a young man.
Right after his 16th birthday, Cooper did something quite brave. He pulled me into his room, sat down on his bed and asked me to sit. Then seemingly out of nowhere, he told me he is gay. In that moment, the thoughts that screamed at me were silenced by the peace he held. I thought to myself how differently this moment could have looked and the first feeling I felt was gratefulness. Grateful to hear it from a son who was alive and seemingly comfortable. I had one task to do as his mom and he needed to know I was still ready for the job. I knew I would love him unconditionally and accept him and his truth, even though I wasn’t conditioned to do this with anyone, and didn’t realize what kind of change this would immediately bring about in my whole life. That didn’t matter. I couldn’t control anyone but myself. Especially since I had previously spoken of homosexuality being inappropriate, he absolutely had to know and feel my whole hearted acceptance. Any other thoughts, feelings, and adjustments could remain inside my head for me to look at because in that moment, they were nothing. After I listened to his statements, I asked if I could ask him some questions and he articulately answered them, assuring me this was not a phase or a season of questioning. I couldn’t ignore his relief in finally being able to be honestly known. I put my hands on both of his arms, looked straight into his eyes, and I spoke to him slowly and deliberately, saying,
“Cooper….I will love you FOREVER. Thank you, so much, for sharing this with me. You being gay doesn’t change my love for you. YOU will ALWAYS be MY son……….and I will ALWAYS be proud of YOU.“
He looked at me with no real surprise and simply said, “Thank you. I love you too.” For the first time ever, he seemed 100% comfortable in his own skin.
He came out the next day with his family. His little brother was only in first grade, and asked, “Does that mean you want to be a girl?” Before I could say a word, Cooper said, “No. It means when I grow up I want to marry a man.” And that was that. One day in the summer, I awoke to discover he had come out on social media. He continued to attend our church and youth group for awhile. He had his first boyfriend. He went to gay mixers for youth. He just lived HIS life the way he was created to live it.
We have gone on as a family to feel the warmth of acceptance from some and tried to ignore insensitive and sometimes hateful comments of others about LGBT+ in general. He had some family that sent cards of congratulations, glad he discovered who he was at such a young age. He had other family members who became pretty silent when they realized this wasn’t viewed in our home as a problem. He carries no shame. The way he was received by others also communicates to the rest of our family who among those we know are safe to be honest with and who aren’t. We have stood in word and deed right by his side. I took a good year to adjust my mindset towards the LGBTQ community, and it didn’t happen without an internal struggle. That is the job I signed up for when I had kids. It was never an option to respond any other way once I heard the words, “Mom, I’m gay” come out of his mouth. I have loved all of Cooper from day one for one reason and it won’t ever fade. Because he’s mine.