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Emily Rizzo

March 1998

THE TRUE MEANING OF ACCEPTANCE

Q. I came out to my mom three years ago. She says she's accepting and she's never said anything negative about gays but still she never brings up the subject and I don't like to tell her about that part of my life. Do you think I should try to get her to go to a PFLAG meeting ?

A. By all means try to get her to go to your local PFLAG chapter! For a complete listing see www.pflag.org. But you should also keep in mind that not everyone is a "going to meeting" type of person. Nevertheless, sometimes just speaking on the phone with another parent can work wonders and all PFLAG chapters have phone lines.

If your mom does go to a PFLAG meeting, she may be surprised to find that others don't share her definition of the word "acceptance." Acceptance means more than just silent toleration, it means really feeling at ease with your child's sexual orientation and treating him or her the same as a straight child. That means treating your partner the same as your sib's spouse, including them in family get-togethers and making sure they are invited to all extended family events such as weddings, baptisms, etc.

Acceptance also means being interested in your children's whole life, not just the non-gay part. It means showing up at a concert if your son is in a gay chorus, or cheering your daughter's team in a lesbian softball match, and getting to know all their friends. Acceptance also means a willingness to stand up and speak out when someone tells a "fag joke" or makes an anti-gay remark.

The reality is though that many parents never achieve this level of true acceptance but get stuck somewhere between tolerance and denial. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to try to move them along by gently challenging their assumptions. Let them know that there are parents out there who are involved in their children's lives and also who are willing to speak up and fight for their children's rights.

There was a lady at my PFLAG meeting last month who said that she was "accepting." She also had known her son was gay for 22 years but not until our meeting had she ever told a soul, not one family member, not one friend. By the end of our meeting, she was smiling and there was a sparkle in her eye. She told me later it felt so good to finally talk about her son and she now knows that there's a lot more she can be doing. I'm hoping she'll come back next month -- we need another member for our Dance Committee.

Please send your questions to Emily Rizzo at er5@nyu.edu. All questions will be answered individually and confidentially.


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