“I think you want me to be gay!” laughed my son Hugo a few years back, stressing the word “want.”
“No, I want you to be happy,” I said. “When growing up, I had friends who couldn’t come out to their parents and I never want any of you to feel that way.”
My friend Tom Dukes, now in his early 60s, recently told me he was lucky he survived junior high in the deep South, where nobody spoke of homosexuality. In ninth grade, he could see freedom awaiting him in college and moved mountains to graduate in three years.
In 2010, gay activist Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, started the It Gets Better Project ( https://itgetsbetter.org/ ). This nonprofit’s mission is to “uplift, empower and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth around the globe,” letting them know that, for a number of reasons, after high school, life does get better.
Here in Akron where, like many urban areas, our LGBTQ citizens are widely accepted, if not embraced, it might seem no longer necessary to let LGBTQ youths know that things get easier.
Tragically, this is not true.
Only 5 to 7 percent of American youths are LGBTQ. But 40 percent of homeless youths are LGBTQ, 20 percent of incarcerated youths are LGBTQ (the number is higher for females) and, worst of all, 24 percent of 12- to 14-year-old Americans who die by suicide are LGBTQ.
That last fact hit me in the chest like the end of a 4-by-4 this past January when a dear friend lost his grandchild to suicide. The grandchild, who grew up in a rural community outside Dayton, was 14.
From the videos posted by her grieving friends, the teen had come out and was beginning to identify as transgender.
She shared with her family that she felt like a boy, but they did not know the extent of her inner turmoil nor the bullying she endured at school and in the community. That is, until she took her life.
In 2019, we can all do better.
Homosexuality, which some conservative religions condemn, is not unnatural. The already large list of species in which homosexuality has been observed continually grows, including all bird species that form parental relationships. Indeed, one of the many evolutionary benefits of homosexuality is having more adults available to parent offspring.
Furthermore, research has shown that the two hemispheres of the brain are the same size in homosexual men, just as they are in heterosexual women. Meanwhile, the brains of lesbians and heterosexual men have slightly larger right hemispheres.
It’s biology, baby, and yet rampant discrimination persists, even, and unthinkable to me, among some parents.
My friends Brian and David were 21 and 24 when they began dating. In the 16 years since, both have developed successful careers in the restaurant industry and accounting, respectively. They own their home and are wonderful neighbors and friends to many. They also give to the community, volunteering with nonprofits.
At Akron’s first New Year’s Eve Pride Ball last December, this wonderful couple was married by Judge Ron Cable. Set in the Akron Civic Theatre, with all its glorious Spanish-Italian Baroque architecture, the ceremony was perfect. With one exception: Though they love David and send him Christmas gifts each year, Brian’s parents refused to attend, tacitly rejecting the legitimacy of the couple's bond. While he was not entirely surprised, his parents' rejection of his committed, loving relationship cut Brian to the quick.
On Facebook, I have connected with many families who have children with Down syndrome, finding support, suggestions and camaraderie. But sharing one experience is no guarantee of other commonalities.
In 2016, California adopted an act that, in part, requires health education between grades seven and 12 to include a section on LGBTQ facts and issues. On a closed Facebook group, several mothers of children with DS expressed anger over the law, often writing, “This should only be taught at home by parents!”
These same mothers rally behind laws requiring accurate information be given to parents at the time of a Down syndrome diagnosis. And they would be thrilled if public schools were required to explain the biology of Down syndrome and how it affects a person. For that would foster acceptance of our children who are “Born This Way,” as the title of a successful reality TV show on DS puts it.
I pushed back, pointing out that many families will not choose to teach their children about LGBTQ issues, only to find that this was an acceptable outcome to the moms who opposed the California act. I reminded them that the best way to fight discrimination is to inform people.
After a few more times back and forth, one mother finally said it: “But homosexuality is a sin.”
Throughout history, including in some countries today, the birth of a child with Down syndrome has been viewed as evidence of parental sins. Not only ignorant, such beliefs have brought unfathomable harm to people with DS.
LGBTQ people are born the way they are born, too. The 25 percent of black swans and hundreds of other species that engage in homosexual activity are not sinning. They have no religion; thus, if life was created by God, clearly homosexuality was always part of the plan.
Perhaps I was excessive in checking with my older sons regarding their sexual orientation. It’s now a family joke. But better to err on the side of openness, to create a loving atmosphere in which anything can be discussed without fear of judgment, let alone rejection, than to let a child suffer in silence.
My friend said part of him died with his granddaughter. “I wish she’d talked to me. These kids need to know it's OK to be whoever they are. [She] was perfect. She just didn't know it.”