Carol Lloyd Neill – PFLAG Parent

I have two deep fears… public speaking and bridges.

So how in 1998 did I find myself on a stage giving a speech in front of hundreds of people on Coming Out Day? And why was I standing on a half-mile long bridge over the Mississippi River waving a Pride flag today?

Only one explanation. It’s a mom thing.

But I’m not just any mom. I’m a PFLAG mom.

Let me tell you a little bit about my family and why I faced down my fears to tell our story at Coming Out Day rallies and Pride events.

I think we’re a pretty typical American family. Like all families, we’re bound together by love. I have two straight daughters and two gay sons. The girls came into my life the traditional way… hours of grueling labor. The boys were a little different.

My daughter’s best friend came out when he was 16. He didn’t talk about his situation at home too much, but we weren’t surprised when he went home one night and found all his belongings in black plastic trash bags in the back yard. He ended up at our back door – trying to look brave and pretending it didn’t matter.

It’s not hard – once someone has a place in your heart – to take the next step and make a place for them in your home. The only logical response was to put my arms around him and ask, “What color do you want to paint your room?” He chose purple. And we chose a son.

Life was good. About a year later, I got home from work one night and found Son K sitting in the den with a panicky look on his face. He explained that a kid he knew from Galaxy, the local LGBT youth group, was out on the street. R had only $200 to his name and was thinking about buying a bus ticket to San Francisco and seeing if he could find a place to stay when he got there.

K looked at us and said, “I knew if I could keep him here until you got home from work, you would figure out something.”

To everyone who has used the term “family values” as a weapon against the LGBT community and the people who love them, I ask… what better represents true family values than someone looking at you with love and hope shining in their eyes, asking you – trusting you – to be the best person you can be?

When I saw that hope in K’s eyes, that belief that I could make things better, I couldn’t let him down. We talked to R and convinced him to stay with us for at least a couple of days so we could help him figure out a better, safer plan. He ended up staying for five years, until he moved to the Twin Cities to finish school.

I had two gay sons. And dozens of gay and lesbian kids hanging out at our house and relying on us to be their loving adults. So I joined PFLAG to find out how others coped with the hate and prejudice that their kids faced. And because I am a mom, and I want the best for my kids and your kids and the kids that aren’t even born yet, I ended up on a stage telling this story and encouraging straight allies to come out at work, at church and to their friends. When you believe having an LGBT child is perfectly natural, those around you will, too.

Today, with the kids all in their 30’s, grown and gone, I am still involved. Until America gives my sons the same rights my daughters have, I will not rest.

So today I joined more than a hundred others to stand in a Pride vigil on a bridge. My hands were sweating but it was something I had to do.