“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
Those three little words spoken to me by my daughter Ellen more than 20 years ago changed my world forever. In an instant, all that I thought I’d known about her, about myself, and about life came into question.
When my personal journey down the road less traveled began, homosexuality was not a subject that came up in ‘polite’ conversation – certainly not the small East Texas town in which I lived at the time. There were no P-FLAG meetings (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for support, the Internet, as we know it today, didn’t exist, and there were certainly no gay role models on television. Books like A Face in the Crowd were essentially nonexistent. What few books were available on the subject in the public library 25 miles away, I read voraciously.
As I grappled with this new information about my daughter, some of what I went through was not unlike the grieving process that follows the death of a loved one – which is also a process of growth. Of course, what was dying wasn’t a loved one, but my own expectations about the way Ellen should be. And in their place, room was being made for the truth and the new opportunities the truth would provide.
Though this process was not easy, I allowed it to take its course. Most of all, I never stopped loving my daughter, and she never stopped loving me. We kept the lines of communication open; this was vital for both of us. Among the questions I asked Ellen was, “Maybe it’s a phase?”
The truth of the matter is that homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation anymore than we heterosexuals choose ours. As I began to move from acceptance to understanding in my journey, I read all that I could on what it meant to be gay. I learned it is not any more a “lifestyle,” as some people have labeled it, than being born Asian American or left handed. A person’s sexual orientation is an intrinsic part of who they are as a person. Some people are born to be tall, some people are blessed with a high metabolism, and, yes, some are born homosexual.
Experts predict that as much as 3 to 10 percent of the world population is homosexual. And there are others who think 10 percent is a low figure. If that is true, then parents should face the possibility that one or more of their children could be gay. Well, I’m proud to tell you that you’re in very good company.
Over the years, my family and I have been honored to get to know many people who offer love and support to their gay and lesbian children. Like me, they have come to the realization that whatever dreams they may have had for their children that didn’t include them having a same-sex life partner, were simply their dreams. As you’ll see in the pages that follow, it doesn’t mean that their children’s lives can’t be happy, fulfilled, and full of love.
I’m sorry to say I’ve also met people who received less understanding from their parents. Tragically, some have been thrown out on the streets, beaten, and verbally abused. You’ll find some of these stories on the pages that follow, as well. The truth, after all, is that both realities exist.
But one need not feel alone today when facing the realization that you or a family member is gay. Now there are vast resources on the Internet, chat rooms, support groups, books, and yes, even television role models.
I’m proud to say that Ellen’s now-famous “coming out” episode in her self-named sitcom in 1997 did much to elevate the dialogue on this subject. I am reminded of a 76-year-old lesbian who wrote to Ellen and told her she never thought she’d see an openly gay lead on a TV show – and on a show done with such “poignancy, taste, and humor.” Later Ellen joked in a speech that, “Being new to all this, I didn’t know there were 76-year-old lesbians.” A Face in the Crowd demonstrates how long homosexuality has been around by presenting several famous historical figures who, in addition to the various contributions they made to our society, just happened to be gay.
Many Americans have since come to recognize that homosexual men and women are not a special interest group with an “agenda;” they are simply citizens. They are citizens who should have the same basic human rights extended to all regardless of race, religion, color, or creed. There are no second-class citizens, right?
Acceptance. Tolerance. Unconditional love. These are concepts every family should regard with reverence and respect. When you and your children live these truths, you can live a life to be proud of and you can treat everyone in your family with the loving kindness they deserve.
Twenty years ago, the thought that I would be the first non-gay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, be shaking hands with a President, legislators from both houses, and have authored two books of any kind – much less books that discussed homosexuality – would have seemed incredulous to say the least. But that’s the fascinating thing about life: You never know what’s just around the bend, particularly if you allow yourself to be open to new ideas. I look back upon the road I’ve traveled and see that my choice to love and support my child was not only the best choice I could have made for Ellen, but was one of the greatest gifts of my life. Hers is ‘a face in the crowd’ that I truly love. Enjoy the book.