I’ve done it at least 75 times and each time it tears my heart out. Over the last 12 years, I’ve been part of a panel that’s invited to speak to University of Alberta and MacEwan undergraduate classes. The panel is some combination of twentysomething-year-old gay, lesbian or bisexual men and women,
a transgender individual and me, a mom who has a gay son.
Earlier today, we spoke to a 300-level psychology class at MacEwan University. After telling our coming-out stories- mine is about the day my son told me he’s gay – a student asked how she can help her cousin come out.
I said, “Everyone comes out on their own time. My son was 16. Two girls in our neighbourhood, who are the same age as my son, waited until they were 26 and 27 years old to come out. Your cousin will know when the time is right.”
At the end of an hour and 20 minutes, the class let out. Students filed past and thanked us. Two students came to the front of the classroom; one took a seat slouching in a chair and waited until the room emptied before she spoke. Looking directly at me, she quietly and haltingly said, “I wanna tell you a story.”
We all gathered around to listen. “One day when I was in junior high, while the principal of our school was reading the morning announcements, he said something was ‘so gay.'”
She fiddled with her pen and shook her head. “It didn’t feel right. This must have been a sign.” With a melancholy smile and raised eyebrows she continued, “I wrote him an anonymous note explaining why he should stop saying ‘so gay.’ I took the note to the office and left it with the secretary. The next day the principal started the announcements by apologizing to the entire school for what he had said.”
The panel members and prof were giddy as we congratulated the student for writing the note, admiring her courage as a 12-year-old.
“I never told anyone about the note. I was afraid the other kids would tease me and I didn’t want my parents to think I was gay.”
We continued congratulating her. Still fiddling with her pen and staring at the floor, she said, “That was 15 years ago. I’m like the girls in your neighbourhood. I still haven’t told my family that
I thought my heart was going to break.
Ruby Remenda Swanson is the author of A Family Outing, the story of how Ruby moved past her initial shock, fear and denial of having a gay son to become a public advocate for equality and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.