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SPRING LAKE –
When Colette Beighley’s 16-year-old son came out to her in 2005, her first response was to go in search of information.
“We love and support our children unconditionally – no matter what – and it was just a matter of figuring out how to do that for Nicholas,” she said. “I went to Schuler Books in Grand Rapids and I scoured the bookshelves. I bought a book by Rob Eichberg called ‘Coming Out: An Act Of Love.’ That book has been out of print for many years, but it was sitting on the shelf just waiting for me and I read story after story or people’s coming out experiences and how painful they were. It was just riveting.”
Beighley, a marriage and family therapist, felt compelled to search out its author and speak to him directly.
“It turned out that he had died in 1997, but before he died he developed ‘The Experience,'” Beighley continued. “It was a consciousness raising experience for the gay community, teaching them how to come out more powerfully.”
Beighley immediately signed up her entire family – her gay son, her husband and three other children – for the course and the family flew out to Santa Fe, N.M., to attend.
“It was a really tender and meaningful time for our family,” said Beighley. “We came back and chose to consciously live as an out family, sharing our journey openly with friends and family and members of the community with varying effects. Sometimes it went over really well, and sometimes like a lead balloon.”
Luckily, Bailey had been brought up to respect diversity, and fond memories of her childhood in San Francisco helped her reach out to new people, and embrace new experiences.
“I was lucky and just blessed to grow up in family that treasured diversity,” she said. “My family, it’s like they sought out people who were different from our little white bread world and invited them in. In the late 1960s, my family was friends with a lesbian couple. We had a black friends, Jewish friends, dwarf and deaf friends. Every opportunity to meet someone different from ourselves was a chance to grow and be enriched.”
Living in West Michigan, though, it’s been made clear to Beighley that not everyone shares her philosophy, and the family has suffered its setbacks. Beighley’s husband, a minister with a fundamentalist evangelical denomination, lost his ministerial license as a result of his family’s choice to live openly. Despite this, Beighley continued to immerse herself in the best of gay culture that west Michigan had to offer. She serves as State of Michigan Advocacy and Safe Schools Coordinator for PFLAG, and helped create and produce Grand Haven Pride, an annual event featuring an lgbt film screening as well as a panel with the film’s director.
Along the way, she encountered the Triangle Foundation, and the organization’s director of policy, Sean Kosofsky.
“I met Sean at a Safe School Lobby Day last year, and that began a relationship,” Beighley recalled. “I learned to lobby from Triangle Foundation. I felt so isolated in West Michigan. I really reached out to Triangle and I would drive over to Detroit to meet with them. I’ve attended their receptions, and I also had a fundraiser for them at my home in December.”
When a grant from the Arcus Gay and Lesbian Fund allowed them to pursue opening a West Michigan field office in Grand Rapids, Beighley was a perfect fit to head it up.
“Colette Beighley is a woman of courage, vision and remarkable ability,” Triangle Executive Director Jeff Montgomery said. “Her professional experience coupled with her activism and true compassion makes her a natural for this job.”
For her part, Beighley sees the position as a logical next step in the path to living openly.
“To have my life’s journey lead to this point of working with Triangle Foundation is incredibly rewarding and a great honor,” she said. “My family has certainly experienced that discrimination is real in West Michigan, and our hope is that this office will bring comfort and support to those who are suffering.”