Nearly everyone has heard one of those tragic coming-out stories. You know, the one where you or your friend or sibling simply says “I’m gay,” and all hell breaks loose.
The details of these stories can be grisly, and often don’t have happy endings. And it seems like that simple announcement can evoke Salem witch trial-like behavior in some of the most reasonable and Christian people. Sons and daughters are banished from their parents’ home or ordered to undergo therapy. Even in some of the best scenarios, the partners of these gay and lesbian people aren’t allowed in the house, and their “gayness” is not to be talked about.
And then there’s the other story. The one where the parent or friend opens their arms to their gay child or friend, thanks them for their honesty, and the opportunity to grow.
Making these stories less of an urban legend is the aim of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the support organization whose national conference will be descending on Salt Lake City Oct. 22-24, kicking off with a rally/performance event Oct. 21. Serendipitously, the conference comes just two weeks before Utah voters decide with Amendment 3 whether or not to redefine marriage in Utah and deny the partners of gays and lesbians benefits such as health care.
When PFLAG planners decided in 2000 to hold this year’s conference in Salt Lake City, they could not have known that they would be facing a state constitutional amendment. PFLAG board member and Provo resident Gary Watts said he encouraged the organization to hold their national conference here because of Utah’s desperate need for a PFLAG presence.
More so now than ever with the Amendment 3 vote looming.
A former member of the LDS Church and father of two gay children, Watts said he and his wife believe that Amendment 3 is an “anti-gay amendment,” whether people realize it or not. Watts’ own story of having to accept his children’s lifestyle will be shared in television commercials that began airing Oct. 18 and were produced by the Don’t Amend Alliance.
“There’s a misunderstanding about gays in general,” Watts said. “People are not very well informed. I think some day we will look back on this time with regret.”
A common theme for PFLAG members is the desire to show people that gay and lesbian citizens are tax-paying, family-oriented, honest people just like anyone else. Among them are PFLAG guest comedian Kate Clinton, who will be performing at Thursday’s Family Voices for Equality kickoff event. Clinton said that the definition of “family” is changing and that people’s perception of it needs to change with it.
“The word ‘family’ used to be a lovely noun; now it’s an overused adjective,” Clinton said, referring to terms like “family values.” Her brand of political wit is part of a national trend where more and more people are turning to comedy as a way of getting information about government. Clinton said it’s an unfortunate comment “on people who cannot get their information from a bunch of screaming white men.”
But comedy serves an important purpose because “when people are laughing they are more open,” Clinton said. “That’s the essence of coming out. You have the opportunity to grow.”
The story of PFLAG musical guest Catie Curtis, with a partner of seven years and a daughter, is all about this kind of growth. At first, the parents of the singer-songwriter were unhappy with her announcement, she said. Then they accepted it. Now, they celebrate it.
“They can see that I’m in the right place,” Curtis said. “But it took time. It’s impossible to deny that when you know someone who’s gay and comfortable in their lives ... you’d hate to see them in a heterosexual situation because they’d be unhappy.”
Organizers are hoping that these performers—and speakers such as the Rev. Barry Lynn, a longtime activist and leader of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State—will have an effect on the Amendment 3 vote. But will the PFLAG conference be merely preaching to the choir?
Curtis believes these types of events can impact even the most conservative of communities if gays are encouraged to be more active there. “Gay people can be invisible, and that does no good in terms of furthering the cause,” Curtis said. “The more visible and comfortable they are in their communities, the more understanding will come.”
FAMILY VOICES FOR EQUALITY PFLAG Kickoff Event Abravanel Hall 355-2787 Thursday, Oct. 21 7:30 p.m.