The Parent's Corner

by Emily Rizzo
December 1995

"The Parent's Corner" is what I've decided to call this column. It conjures up an image of opponents: parents on one side and their child on the other. That's too often the view we have of each other, especially when the child is gay, lesbian or bisexual. It doesn't have to be that way, and I hope, by answering your questions in this column, to help bridge the gap.

Since this is the first column and I don't have any questions to answer, I thought I'd tell you something about myself. I'm a 48-year-old straight mother of a gay son. I'm not going to say much about him because he's a private person and perhaps he'll want to tell his own story some day. This is going to be my story and the story of the parents I've met through PFLAG.

For those of you who don't know already, PFLAG is Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It was founded in 1981 as a loose confederation of grass roots chapters and has now grown to 389 chapters and 56,000 members. What started primarily as a support group for parents has taken on a more active role in education and advocacy.

I joined the newly forming Brooklyn chapter of PFLAG over three years ago. My son had been out to me for a while and like many parents I had been busy reading anything I could that would give me an idea of what it meant to grow up gay or lesbian in today's world.

What had my son gone through that I, as a straight person, couldn't imagine? What kind of world would he be living in? Where were the role models for him and for me?

I had never been a joiner before and I felt uncomfortable when I showed up for my first PFLAG meeting. It happened to be the week after the Gay Pride Parade and several people were showing around their photos: "Here's me with my son and his partner" "That's Gertrude at the condom distribution booth" "Here's my daughter on her bike at the start of the parade."

I knew I was home. It was such a revelation for me to be surrounded with people who not only accepted but rejoiced in having a gay or lesbian child. Since then I've stayed with the Brooklyn chapter. I publish the monthly chapter newsletter, and I was the first president when we officially incorporated.

What helped me as much as joining PFLAG was my discovery of the Internet and the usenet group soc.motss (that's the "social" group for members of the same sex). Here I found coming out stories involving parents -- tales of rejection, denial and often of a gradual growing acceptance.

There were also people writing about their daily lives: playing in a lesbian and gay marching band, going to "Gay Day" at Disneyworld, or working to elect a gay-friendly politician. People wrote about getting a mortgage on the new house they were buying with their partner, or getting domestic partnership coverage at work, or pressing AAA to offer their partner family membership. They wrote about the pain of breaking up and the joy at falling in love.

Gradually, I started to contribute to the group, offering what I could about what goes on in a parent's mind. I wasn't trying to apologize for the poor behavior of a rejecting parent, just explain what they might be thinking.

I see a tremendous gap between the way parents perceive their children and vice versa. I see children who wonder why their parents haven't "gotten over it" one week after they came out to them, while I knew parents who were still trying to understand and accept two years later.

So in this column I'll be trying to answer your questions, as best I can, about parents. I'll also from time to time give you a glimpse of PFLAG, what goes on in meetings, the kind of problems that parents have, which may be very ones you are having but from the other side.

So please send your questions to oasis-emily@oasismag.com.

Emily Rizzo will answer your questions in The Parent's Corner each month. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot guarantee that every question will get a personal response. Responses will appear in the next monthly issue of Oasis. The confidentiality of respondents is guaranteed, and questions can be anonymous or identified by a first name, age and location. Emily can be reached at oasis-emily@oasismag.com.
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