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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Starting the Second Year

There were a lot of things I didn't expect when I first started writing "Family Ties" a year ago this week.

I didn't expect to see the column's weekly e-mailing list expand to 300 times what I started with.

I didn't expect to be sending it to interested people in nearly every U.S. state, plus folks in the United Kingdom, Australia, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, Germany and other places around the world. I also did not expect so many people to be forwarding it on to other people, most of whom I haven't had the pleasure of meeting, although some of whom occasionally send me a note.

I didn't expect nearly all the responses to be positive. Certainly there have been a few requests that I not send it any more, but all of these except one --- a lady who wrote her objections in ALL CAPS with a lot of exclamation points, much like Queen Victoria's correspondence --- have been polite and even a little apologetic for making the requests. And there have been a few people (thank you all, Jay, Gloria and Barb, grumble, grumble) who felt obliged, when I was going through a type-and-send-without-proofing period last fall, to gently nudge me to send out more professional-looking copy. But most of the responses have been amazingly upbeat and encouraging. For that, I thank everyone, including the proofreaders.

I didn't expect to make much difference --- but every so often, I get a letter some parents whose daughter or son just revealed her or his sexual orientation and gave them a copy of one of my columns as reference material. There also was the lady who told me that she wrote her U.S. senators because she shared my anger about John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general. Or the woman who told me about telling off her uncle or brother-in-law, I can't remember which, because he started off on a rant about Rosie O'Donnell with, "First of all, she's gay!"

If they want to give something they read in "Family Ties" the credit for triggering action that was in their heart anyway, fine, I'll take it. But mostly, I think the credit goes to everyone who's doing ANYTHING to make things better for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered loved ones.

Some of the best friends I've made through the column have been those who challenged me on some of my beliefs and comments. My endorsement of Al Gore for president reminded me that there are lots of gay and gay supportive folks out there who are not Democrats. A column that I wrote about protests outside the United Methodist conference in Cleveland, Ohio, introduced me to some devout gay Christians who participate in an e-group site called "Whosoevermagazine." Although I personally do not share their faith, I have never felt less than an equal contributor to the Whosoeveran e-dialogue and always have felt confident in recommending them to gay and gay supportive folks who are seeking spiritual comfort from friends.

There are some other things I didn't expect this year. I didn't expect to see Gore lose the election and you know what? He didn't. He won the popular vote. No one, not even George Bush's supporters, expected to see the election end in the illegitimate presidency we now have. The corrupted wing of the Supreme Court --- led by Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas --- administered a coup d'etat that essentially has placed the final outcome of the 2000 presidential race among history's unsolved mysteries. Who was Jack the Ripper? Who killed Lizzie Borden's parents? Who really won the 2000 election in Florida? Those who investigate these questions will have to have a strong stomach and wade through a lot of grisly muck before the answers are revealed.

This past year, we saw the defeat of Laura Schlessinger and her low-rent TV show. That was good. We have seen the Supreme Court travel further into the era of Dred Scott through their willingness to uphold the right of the Boy Scouts to be bigots. That was bad. Ashcroft likely will become attorney general and that sick little rapper Eminem may win a major Grammy for his rants against homosexual people, among others. Those also will be bad, if they occur.

But, as The Jackson 5 used to sing, "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch girl ... Give us one more chance ..." Do we have a choice but to simply carry on and keep working for a better society?

A little more than a year ago, a lesbian friend joined forces with my wife Joy and I to try and form a chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in Sandusky, Ohio. This month, we held the group's 15th monthly meeting and celebrated the fact that we were truly a representative PFLAG group. We had parents, friends and family members represented, as well as our male and female gay loved ones. We discussed plans to publicize the group's presence in the northern Ohio community and also ways of making our meetings more interesting with programs, speakers and social events. It's a small step but one that several people are taking together, with the knowledge that none of us are alone in our concern about this important issue.

There are many things we all can do in the coming year to further the cause of equal rights for our gay loved ones. There will be the usual marches, protests, letter-writing campaigns, lobbying of public officials and meetings, meetings, meetings to attend. But more importantly, it's the little things that we can do as individuals that make a difference.

If you're an adult and you hear a child of any age make a homophobic remark, don't let it go unchallenged. You don't have to get angry (do as I say, not as I have done, here). Actually, a quiet and gentle reprimand is often more effective. Simply ask the kid if he or she has thought about what was just said. Point out that the user of hateful words demeans himself or herself as well as the person who is being targeted. The same approach can be used on adults as well. You may not always succeed in changing someone in a single encounter, but I guarantee the seeds for potential change will be planted.

If you are the parent of a gay child, whether a teen-ager or an adult, remember that this person is the baby you held and loved with all your heart. Remember that no religious or social system is more important than a parent-child relationship. You do not have to approve of your child's life; but because you brought that child into your world, you have a duty to stand by him or her and accept the whole package, not just the aspects which fit into your belief system.

And if you're the child in question, remember that respect is the best way to breed respect. Parents have had more time to get set in their ways than you have; give them time to adjust when you come out. There are a lot of issues that they will have to resolve --- some are gigantic and important and some are small and petty. But everyone needs a different amount of time to work through things.

All family members should remember to never close a door to communication. If an issue is getting too heated, it doesn't have to be resolved in one evening. If you let it, time will be on everyone's side. Here are a few things that everyone can do, should they want to be politically active:

(1) Do not support the Boy Scouts of America until their leadership ends their homophobic policies. This can be as simple as explaining to the kids who come selling Trail's End popcorn and other scout products that you can't buy anything this year because of the BSA's policy against homosexual people and you can't support bigotry. It can be as tough as asking local governments not to include the Boy Scouts in parades and other events because their homophobia is un-American. It also can involve withdrawing your children from the scouts, resigning as scout leaders, closing off your company to scout career days and asking your local churches, United Way and other civic organizations to stop affiliation with the scouts.

(2) If you belong to a religious organization in which officially policy encourages hate toward or exclusion of homosexual people, considering withdrawing from it. I realize this is an extremely difficult and emotional decision which can involve changing one's self-identity --- I left a church in which my family was an active player for six or seven generations. If you can't separate yourself from your religion, at least consider stirring things up from within by withholding tithes or other contributions until the offensive policies are changed.

(3) Try to find a PFLAG group in your area and attend at least three meetings, just to check it out. Maybe it's for you and maybe it isn't, but one visit probably won't give you the whole picture. PFLAG is not just for families and friends of gays and lesbians, by the way. It's for gays, lesbians, transgendered people and bisexual folks as well. Let's face it, if you're GLTB, you probably qualify as at least a friend of other GLTBs.

Finally, the best political statement any gay or gay supportive person can make is to take pride in yourself. Gay people are what their creator made them, without giving them any choice in the matter, so let's drop that old argument about their so-called lifestyle being a "choice." It's the rest of us who are given a choice. We can choose to be gay supportive or we can be homophobic. However, if you choose the latter, don't expect me to defend you.

Published 23rd January 2001


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