My house is generally THE house when it comes to my children and their friends. Ample room for sleep-overs, a stocked fridge, and one very present cool mom, who is just cool enough to not mind having around, but still firm enough to be on top of any youthful shenanigans.
One of the beautiful summer evenings we had this year, I found myself sitting in my backyard, reading a book - a rarity in my ever-filled timeline. All of the sudden, as if my house had been turned into a bowling alley, I heard the thumping of twenty-year-olds charging in my direction, clearly on a mission.
“Mom! Hey Mom!? Where are you?” Out the backdoor pops my daughter and one of her college friends, visiting for the weekend. I adore my children’s friends: I’m fortunate that they each have found themselves entangled with a group of awesome, intelligent, thoughtful people, with vision, drive and - what I love most - manners.
Turns out they had a situation they wanted to run by me and get my “professional diversity opinion”, as they put it.
Here’s a bit of background information, that I already knew going into this conversation:
The young man with my daughter, we’ll call him Sam, in the last several years, boldly, proudly and happily came out of the closet as a gay man. Sam’s family has been incredible with the news. You hear so many stories of loved ones turning their backs on their LGBT family member; to be able to witness the exact opposite is nothing short of heartwarming. Sam’s entire family even accompanied him to this year’s Montreal Pride this past weekend. The Facebook pictures from that day alone clearly display just how much this family proudly loves this young man for all that he is.
Sam soon found out, unfortunately, that he couldn’t assume to find that same love from everyone in his life - even though he certainly deserves to.
The following situation led him to seek my advice.
Sam and his best friend “Frank” have known one another since grade 4. When Frank was new to town, Sam invited him to bicycle through the neighborhood. They were inseparable from that day until the day they each left for different colleges on opposite sides of Canada. Have no fear: like Sam’s family, Frank welcomed his coming out with open arms.
Frank’s father, on the other hand, felt differently. You may ask why Sam would care what his friend Frank’s dad thinks, but as the boys were inseparable for so many years, Sam grew to become an extension of Frank’s family, as Frank did of Sam’s.
Frank’s father had coached the boy’s little league team, driven them to the movies on countless Friday nights, and always remembered that Sam doesn’t eat red meat, so there was always chicken prepared just for him at any family BBQ. Frank’s father always made Sam feel welcome and safe.
After seeing a Facebook notification that he was now in a relationship with another man, Frank’s father decided to “un-friend” Sam, both literally and figuratively. Also out of what he felt was respect, he sent Sam the following note:
Congratulations on seeking out who you feel you should be and your new relationship. Due to the changes in your life and my very specific and personal beliefs, I must ask you to not return to my home. I’ll always be grateful for the times you spent with my son and family. I wish you no ill-will and a happy life. But I cannot allow you in my home if you continue to live the lifestyle you have chosen. I can only hope you understand the depth of your choices.
All my best,
Nothing like polite discrimination.
Sam was crushed. This was the first backlash of any sort he had experienced in regards to his coming out. Coming out while he was in college was a wonderful experience for him because he was surrounded with welcoming people and safe spaces. His coming out had been such a positive experience that to receive this note from someone he cared for deeply, sincerely rattled him.
That being said, he has a smart enough head on his shoulders to know that there is nothing wrong with him and that his sexuality is by no means a lifestyle choice. He sees that these issues lie with Frank’s father and not with him.
The reason Sam and my daughter approached me that night was to ask me my opinion on whether or not Sam should reach back to Frank’s father, or just let him go.
I could see in Sam’s eyes that there was (and still is) so much wrapped up in his emotions: everything from a feeling of betrayal to his new-found pride on being a part of the LGBT community.
What jumps out at me in this instance is the fact that Frank’s father very clearly stated what he wanted; and that while hurtful, he seemed to be trying to be as polite and respectful as possible under the circumstances.
I am certainly not saying that it makes his discriminatory views acceptable.
What this man did is nothing short of crummy. How anyone could turn away from a child that you watched grow, your own or not, is beyond me. But as long as he is not actively trying to oppress Sam from his legal rights, Frank’s father has every right to his closed-minded and sure-to-be-lonely opinion.
What did Sam hope to gain by reaching out to Frank’s dad? He felt that it was important for Frank’s dad to know that he felt his views were discriminatory and harmful.
I made mention that it seems Frank’s dad already knew those things, and that he actually attempted to spare what feelings he could.
Not wanting to ever discourage anyone from speaking up for themselves, I told Sam that I supported him reaching out to Frank’s dad. My recommendation was for him to write a note back. That night, the three of us drafted a response from Sam. Actually Sam and my daughter drafted it, I just read it over and helped punch it up before they pressed the send button.
In the end, Sam let Frank’s father know that he was hurt and disappointed. That he hoped at some point in time he will reconsider his views and that his door is always open to discuss the situation. Sam also let him know that he will respect his wishes.
I chose to share this story because I found the concept of having such an intense exchange done respectfully as a lesson of sorts.
Diversity can certainly stir a variety of emotions. Taking the time to focus on how we respectfully communicate those different emotions is where true social change happens.
“To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater." - Bono