My husband had a hard time when he first found out our son is gay. My husband is not the type of person to verbally communicate his feelings. He is not one to say “I love you” out loud or tell you when he is upset; he does it through subtle actions. It took me several years of marriage to understand this about him. Our son still hasn’t figured it out yet. But one Christmas he got our son a Johnny Depp poster—and he doesn’t buy any presents ever. I always do the shopping. He went out, took the time, and bought it. It was such a huge deal for me because this was his way of saying it is okay for our son to be gay. Now, our son didn’t seem to care about the gesture or really understand it at the time, but the significance of that poster said a lot to me. It was my husband’s way of saying it is okay that you are gay and I love you no matter what . . . because he was never going to actually say it out loud.
My grandmother grew up with eight brothers and she was really tuned in early on to our son being gay. She was accepting from the beginning. They loved playing Barbie’s together. They would go to Target together. She’d come pick him up and they would go and pick a Barbie out together. But the Barbies became a problem in the first grade. He was teased a lot over it. When Christmas rolled around all he wanted was that Barbie dream house. I told him he couldn’t have it, he needed to pick out a boy toy. My grandmother called me all angry and said, “If he wants that god damn dream house, he is going to get that god damn dream house.”
I gave her my reasoning for why I didn’t want to get him the dream house, but she was still so angry. I didn’t want my kid to be made fun of. It was my way of trying to protect him, so my husband and I got him Legos instead. She was mad for a long time. I look back at that now that I know transgender people and the harms of gender stereotyping and I think, “How stupid was I?” I thought I was protecting him, I feel I could have done a lot of harm. My grandmother knew he was gay all along and never cared. I wasn’t wanting to put a label him, but she did. She knew.
I graduated high school in 1979 and no one was out. The big thing at my school was there was an interracial couple. The girl was disowned by her parents and everyone looked down on her. It was a big no-no back then, but now I look around and it is so common. People hardly think about it anymore. When I got to college I started to talk to gay people and it became more common as the years went on. People started to come out more. So I had some experience in college. I learned a lot from the gay people in my life.
Then I became a parent. When my son came out to me, I searched high and low for community groups that he could be involved. I wanted him to be connected with other people like him. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone. It turns out that the closest LGBTQ group at that time was in Indianapolis. There was nothing for kids around here. That’s why I started Muncie OUTreach.
Not every kid has accepting parents when they come out. A lot of the youth that come to this group come because their parents disowned them or are embarrassed by them. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand rejecting your kid. I am amazed at the number of parents that still do that. These parents think they are trying to save their child from something that is “evil” because that’s what their religion tells them. But, at the same time, I ask myself how could you choose religion over your child? I have had kids who have come to me who have gone through conversion therapy, or have been electrocuted, or suffered other physical abuse at the hands of ministers. I have learned a lot from this group, things I never thought I would.
Then, the 2016 election happened. I think I bathed in the glory of Obama for eight years and how far we had come with LGBTQ rights. He is such a powerful speaker. Obama was the first president to publicly give support to gay marriage which made a huge impact. To have our President now who dog whistles, and has the KKK, Nazis, and other hate groups rally around him, is disheartening. I thought after those eight years of wonder with Barack Obama that all the hate would die out. That the younger generation had it all figured out, and the hate would die with me. Usually when I run into bigots, they are my age or older. I don’t really have trouble with young people. Then the White Nationalist rally happened in Charleston.
That set me back.
Here we are fifty some odd years later and it turns out some people are still uncomfortable with interracial marriage. What does this mean for people who are gay or transgender? I don’t want fifty years to pass and see that like racism, homophobia, and transphobia are still alive and well among many.
– Laura Janney’s story as told to Caroline Siler
Laura Janney works for Bridges of Indiana and is the founder of Muncie OUTreach.
Caroline Siler is a volunteer coordinator with The Facing Project. She recently received her BA in creative writing from Ball State.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.