Monday, June 28, 2010

Rising to Greatness

[This is a letter I wrote to a local radio station after they aired a few segments about a gay man coming out to his family and their shock and horror. He was not only disowned, he was also physically attacked. I (blessedly) only caught the synopsis of the story, but it prompted me to write about my family.]

Hi Melissa - I just heard a recap on the Jeremy story this morning. I hope you all will consider doing a segment on families, especially stalwart Southern families who are amazing in their acceptance and support for a gay member.

I have to tell you that I have a very traditional branch in my family tree. They are in south Georgia, generally farmers, truck drivers, housewives, teachers and conservative Christians. Normal folks. Some are well educated but most are not.

My cousin, "Brad" who is a few years younger than I, grew up in this environment and was 20 something before he realized he was gay. Many of us already suspected this was the case anyway and so it was fun to be very laid back about it when he told us. He was the one a bit surprised ("How did you know!?" he asked :)

Anyway we are very close, so I know first hand about the family reaction. While it took some getting used to, and adjustments in their thinking, all of them, his parents, his aunts, grandparents and certainly siblings completely accepted and still accept and support him today.

His father is Sheriff in south Georgia, not a small role as you may know. He worked for over 20 years in various counties before being elected about 10 or 15 years ago. Sheriff/Uncle is very well educated (PhD), tough (a real stereotypical "man's man") and yes, he is very traditional. He had the biggest problem with his son's sexual orientation, and his wife (2nd marriage) didn't want "Brad" around their young son for a while. But over time this has also healed and his dad and stepmom have come to accept him for who he is.

A couple of years ago "Brad" married his partner in MA, where they live, and last year they adopted a young son. They downsized homes and Brad quit his very lucrative career to stay home and raise their son.

I want you to know how incredibly proud I am of Brad, for being such a wonderful person. He is, without exception, one of the most amazing people I know. He is not only smart and funny but also thoughtful and kind and devoted. He isn't perfect, but he is beautiful to the core. Maybe these traits made it a lot easier for the family to love him in his journey.

I've seen lots of prejudice all over, and especially in that part of Georgia. I know for a fact that my cousin's treatment has been much better, for instance, than the general view toward blacks in that community. Heaven forbid we talk about immigrants.*

Still, I am deeply honored to be a part of this family, with all their flaws. We are all human, but we CAN rise to the occasion. It is perhaps the exception to have so much love overcome so much narrow mindedness. But it can be done.

I hope and pray that Jeremy finds peace and love in his heart and in his friends who are indeed better than family. His family can't be replaced, but he can heal.

Please consider a positive segment on families who are NOT like his. And if you think it would help please feel free to pass this note along to Jeremy.

Peace out,

*for the record, I don't intimately know about my family's attitudes toward minorities, and I hate gross generalizations. Therefore I have no judgement about my family's view of blacks, immigrants, etc. partly because I don't specifically know their views. I feel the same way about many of their political views. I suspect I may not share them but I do respect their right to their opinions. I don't want to imply that they are racist or zenophobes. "Brad" married an immigrant and they have completely accepted him too. I converted to Judaism 9 years ago, and they took that in stride. At the same time I can't deny that it is true many folks in rural AND urban areas - all around the country - aren't comfortable with minorities. Just like homophobia, it's a complicated issue.

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