When my (then) 12-year-old son told me he was gay, I was shocked by my reaction. As someone who has always claimed to be a staunch ally to countless LGBTQ+ friends and a fierce, lifelong protector of my gay baby brother, I’d always assured both of my kids that whatever path their lives took, I would support them.
But there he was, standing in front of me with tears in his big blue eyes, scared about what I would think, anyway. And there I was, crying and frozen. Not my proudest moment.
My overwhelming feeling, in the moment, was fear. I didn’t want life to be harder for him. I didn’t want him to be the target of the bigotry that has become so outspoken, or worse. In that moment — the one that wasn’t very surprising, but rocked my world; the one that I had anticipated and rehearsed for — I felt like a failure.
It didn’t take long for me to get myself collected and to focus on the fact that my kid was feeling serious relief after opening up to the family. That he was whole. That he was still the same incredibly sweet, self-possessed pre-teen he was before he confirmed what we’d suspected. My worries didn’t vanish (I’m a mom, worrying is what we do). But they soon took a backseat to how proud I felt to even know this person, let alone be his mom.
A few months later, his “big news” was in the rearview mirror, and being gay became just one part of who he is.
And then, along came NPR.
We often listened to the news on the way to school, and one particular morning, they were covering a story about threats to marriage equality at the hands of Trump and Co. I could instantly see a shift in my son’s demeanor. He stiffened, stared out the window. It was like watching it dawn on him, in real time, that there really are people out there who don’t think he deserves to be equal.
I steeled myself and asked him if he was OK. “Yeah! This won’t happen… right? Can they do that? Why would they do that?”
All at once, his dreams of the future, which always included a husband and a gaggle of kids of his own, seemed in jeopardy. I did what I could to reassure him, and off he went to school.
In true mom fashion, I lamented about this scene on my Facebook. “I can’t even believe marriage equality is in question — my 12-year-old shouldn’t have to worry about this…” and so on. I tend to overshare with my carefully selected group of Facebook friends. This time, it was the right move.
Turns out, one friend, my son’s teacher, went to college with none other than marriage equality trailblazer Jim Obergefell (yes, that Jim Obergefell, as in the 2015 landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which established that there is a federally protected fundamental right to marriage for same-sex couples). She reached out and asked if she could share my message with him (YES, PLEASE). Soon, he wrote a note directly to my son — a kind of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” for the modern era:
I’m sorry to hear you’re worried about losing the right to one day marry the person you love, and I absolutely understand why you feel that way.
I wish I could look into the future and tell you (tell all of us, really) that everything is going to be ok, that our ability to say “I do” won’t be taken away, but I don’t have that power.
What I can tell you is that there are millions of people out there, and countless organizations devoted to equality and civil rights, who will be doing everything they can to ensure we don’t lose our right to marry the person we love.
Even more specifically, I’ll be out there doing everything in my power to fight for marriage. To fight for you. Because I didn’t go to the Supreme Court just for my marriage to John, I went to the Supreme Court so that kids like you could grow up in a better world than the one I grew up in. That’s what so many others have done, people like Harvey Milk, Frank Kameny, Edie Windsor, Marsha P. Johnson, and so many others. We stood up to say this isn’t right, and we’re not going to take it anymore. We stood up to create a better world, better lives, for those who come after us.
You have my promise I’ll keep fighting, and whenever I feel discouraged, I’ll think of you and find the strength and will to keep going because I want you to experience the unbelievable joy of creating a life together with the love of your life, just like I did with John.
I wish I could deliver a hug with these words, but know that I’m sending one virtually. And know that it’s ok to be scared, to be worried, but don’t give up hope. I – and so many others – are out there doing everything we can on behalf of people just like you.
Amazing, right?? My son was floored when I shared Jim’s letter with him, and he promptly printed it and hung it in a coveted spot near his computer.
A few months later, we were in the thick of the first days of the pandemic, locked in, locked away from family and friends. In time, that letter seemed even more precious than it did at first. It was a reminder that there was still a world out there, one full of possibilities, one that held promises for all of us, including for my son and his big brother, also a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Even if the worst happens and marriage equality becomes less than a given, he has a second family out there. People who will fight for him, and who he will fight beside. People who will understand him in a way I can’t. It’s a beautiful, reassuring thought for this eternally worried mom and sister.
It turns out allyship is about a lot more than flying a flag or even giving out hugs at a Pride fest. It’s not about us. It’s not even totally about whose ass we’d gladly kick on behalf of our loved ones, if need be.
Good allyship is making sure the LGBTQ+ people we love feel fully supported and connected to the kind of support Jim mentioned in his letter. It’s one of the reasons I treasure my role here at Pride Source as an editor and sometimes writer. It’s a small way I can contribute behind the scenes.
I don’t know what the future will hold for my son, but I do know he’ll be OK on this front, thanks to the community of support available to him. And for that, I am an eternally grateful ally and mom.
Jim Obergefell is running for the Ohio State House. Consider donating to his candidacy or supporting him on social media. We can change the trajectory, one seat at a time.