While I have been enjoying myself in Key West, I have remained haunted by the loss of my mother and, indeed, at times I simply cannot believe that she's gone. Intellectually, I grasp it, but emotionally I have a long way to go.
I lost a sister in 2001, my dad in 2006, and now my mother in 2011. Maybe the difficulty comes from the fact that I was there at the hospice with her when she died.
For her it was a dignified and peaceful exit. For me, it is something seared into my memory as I watched the life force ebb out of her. If she was conscious somehow that I was there with her; I am glad that I was there for her. By the same token, it is something I never want my own children to go through - better I die totally alone than they be put through the soul-wrenching experience.
With the Norfolk memorial service approaching next Saturday, I am thinking a great deal about what to say, what readings to select and so forth. One thing I will note for sure, however, is that despite her sometimes conservative Catholicism she got it when it came to parental acceptance of a gay child.
A piece in Out Front Colorado underscores just how lucky I was with both my parents, but my mom in particular when contrasted with what Ryan Kendall, who testified as a fact witness in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, experienced - and so many other LGBT individuals sadly experience at the hands of their parents.
Here are highlights from that article written by Kendall himself with an editor's note for background:
Editor's Note: On January 20, 2010, Ryan Kendall testified as a fact witness in the landmark case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal trial to overturn California's discriminatory Proposition 8. Kendall took the stand to speak to the immutability of sexual orientation, living proof that you can't "pray away the gay." Kendall, a Colorado Springs native, was subjected to reparative therapy" beginning when he was just 14, when his evangelical Christian parents discovered he was gay. Now, a year after his testimony, in this OFCB exclusive Kendall reflects on the trial, the terrifying and true scenarios that filled his testimony, and what the Perry case means not only for marriage equality, but for all LGBT kids still suffering from intolerance and hatred.
The random, interconnected series of events that led to my testimony in Perry v. Schwarzenegger has always seemed purposeful to me. It comforts me to know that in some small way my experiences served a noble purpose.
I was asked to tell my story. It was an unpleasant story with details that I didn't care to remember. While each call lasted an hour or more, I rarely made it more than a few minutes before my voice was contorted with pain. At times I would sob almost inconsolably. Throughout the process the attorneys were always kind and concerned with my emotional well-being. They repeatedly asked me if I was certain that I wanted to proceed - after all, they knew this was difficult.
"Yes," came my emotional response."People have to see this. They have to know what happens to us." It wasn't my story that the world needed to know, but the story of all LGBT youth who have suffered without need.
I was 14 or 15 when it happened. The previous year or so of my life had been a living hell. After my parents discovered that I was gay, they rejected me. On a daily basis I was told that something was wrong with me, or that I was disgusting or repulsive. I was just a kid - I didn't understand why my family had turned against me. I didn't know how to process their cruel words - words that burned right into my soul. I was living in a constant state of fear and anxiety.
I was alone with my mother in our dining room. I will never forget that moment. I was looking my mother in her eyes as she spat out the words, "I would rather have had an abortion than a gay son." It was an awful moment and I was desperately hurt.
My family was torn apart because of anti-gay attitudes that condemn people without a cognizable reason, solely for being who they are. Mine is not the main injustice of this story. It is the needless destruction of a family that I find unforgivable. I needed my family - we needed each other. All I wanted was to heal my family, and for my parents to love me again. I failed in that task; it required the impossible. I couldn't be what I wasn't. The only choice left was to fight for my soul, so I did.
My heart goes out to Ryan Kendall and the countless LGBT youths who experience such needless and cruel rejection. In contrast to their experience, my mother put her arms around me and said she loved me and wanted to protect me from being hurt because of who I was. That's the message every LGBT child should be hearing from their parents and other family members. The fact that so many do not is a terrible indictment against religion as a whole. It is the cause of so much abuse and hatred. And to my mother, I say "Thank you."