Carol is a PFLAG mom, and the facilitator for our Fairfax Adult and Youth community groups. Her son came out when he was just 10 years old, and although it took Carol a while to accept and come to terms with that, she has been working with PFLAG for almost ten years. A former employee of the American Psychiatric Association, Carol was there when they removed homosexuality from the DSM. Throughout the years, Carol has worked to bring information and support to others, and was instrumental in starting the first PFLAG youth group in the Metropolitan area, causing a chain reaction for other groups to do the same. We are grateful for her work and dedication to PFLAG’s mission.
Q: How and when did you first get involved with PFLAG?
A: I first heard about PFLAG in 1992, when my 10 year old son tearfully told me he was afraid he was gay. I said that if he was, he was; there was nothing we could do about it, and I was going to love him no matter what. I talked to a gay colleague about it, and he gave me PFLAG’s phone number. Much to my everlasting regret, I didn’t call or go. I had a number of gay coworkers and knew it was not a choice. I figured I’d be fine if and when the time came. I had some notion that he might “grow up” to be gay, but no sense that he already was gay and had just come out to me. I said the right things, but then I didn’t get help for myself to help him. I was in a state of denial that lasted for years.
It took two more “coming outs” for me to get it, and when I did, I said the wrong thing: “It’s not the life I would have chosen for you, but I’m going to love you no matter what.” He replied, “That breaks my heart.” After all, it wasn’t a life he had chosen either. I went online that weekend and found PFLAG’s website. I read the stories from other parents, cried, and went to a meeting the following Tuesday – October 2005. I’ve been going ever since. I became a facilitator in 2007 or 2008, and helped Metro DC PFLAG establish FLY (Fairfax LGBTQ Youth) in 2010.
Q: What does it mean to be involved in the LGBTQ community as an ally?
A: It means a great deal to me to be able to help other parents avoid the missteps I made when my son came out. It’s very rewarding to be involved with FLY and be able to provide a safe confidential space for LGBTQ kids, which is something that I wasn’t able to do for my own child. During the It Gets Better campaign, I heard a young person say that they didn’t want to wait for it to get better; they wanted us to “make it better now!” That’s what I want to do for our children and their parents.
Q: What was one of the hardest moments you have endured related to LGBTQ issues?
A: Many years after he came out, my son told me that if anyone had found out he was gay when he was in high school, he would have killed himself. That chills my heart still. It makes me very sad that he lived with that and I didn’t help him.
Q: When your son, how was your journey in coming out in support of them?
A: Firstly, I had to repair my relationship with my son. I got help with how to do that at PFLAG. I had my son’s permission to tell anyone I wanted to about his being gay, except his siblings, as he wanted to tell them himself. I started with my gay co-workers, one of whom helped me overcome some of the guilt I felt about my reaction by pointing out that as a child I’d let him have a Barbie doll and in so doing I’d affirmed his choices. Over time, I began to tell old friends and then newer friends and then at some point, it just didn’t matter. I’d say “I’ve told you my son is gay, right?” and they’d say “Yes,” or “No, but it doesn’t matter.
My son also got help with that from PFLAG by going to a meeting in another town and hearing parents talk about their fears for their gay children. He called me, and forgave me for what I’d said when he came out. He understood that parents were afraid that what happened to Matthew Sheppard would happen to their kids. This was my fear exactly.
Q: What have been some of the happiest moments?
A: Watching parents move from a place of fear and anguish to a place of acceptance and understanding, and being able to enjoy their child for who and what they are. The tears stop, the smiles come out, and they once again take pride and joy in their beloved child. In addition, knowing that the Fairfax youth group has been a safe and confidential place for kids for over 5 years, and led to the creation of other youth groups. And when parents tell me how much FLY has meant to their child and how grateful they are for it.
Q: With the Supreme Court ruling granting marriage equality just announced, what was your reaction and what does it mean to you?
A: I was very, very happy. It is a giant step toward equality. But the work isn’t finished yet.
Q: What are some goals related to PFLAG or the LGBT community you would like to see accomplished?
A: Work on achieving equality in the workplace, housing, adoption, etc. I also think that the youth groups PFLAG sponsors are very important. Although it is an organization for Parents, Families, and Friends, the important part to me is Families and helping the kids as well as the parents. Many, if not most, of the parents who attend our PFLAG meeting are there because they bring their kids to the youth group. That means, of course, that these kids who can’t drive have come out to their parents. We are missing the kids who aren’t out though, and the parents who aren’t accepting and won’t come to PFLAG. I wish there was some way to reach out to those parents.
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