I attended my first gay pride parade twenty-six years ago in San Francisco. My companions included my son David and three of his pals: Robert, Dave, and Frank. David cross-dressed from the time he was four years old and even though I was concerned about his sexual orientation, I supported him as he grew into a handsome gay man. I was, however, new at openly supporting the gay world with pride and pleasure.
The spirit of the San Francisco gay pride parade was overwhelming as it celebrated the anniversary of Stonewall, where in 1969 a group of gay patrons had successfully battled the New York City police about to cart them off to jail. I loved the homemade floats, the music, and the funky, sometimes-irreverent costumes. I especially loved the drag queens, wondering how tall, hairy men could turn themselves in these ultra-feminine-looking women.
Actually that year in San Francisco, the gay community was again plunging into an abyss. Gay men were the first targets of the AIDS epidemic and old prejudices reemerged in spades. By the end of the 1980s, HIV+ men were dying in droves and the virus had infected three of my four gay pride companions.
AIDS, as well as Stonewall, define America’s first openly gay generation. When the disease first appeared on the horizon, the straight world ignored it because it targeted marginal groups like gay men and drug users. But AIDS galvanized the gay community, which cared for its infected, dying members as well as for the other victims of the scourge. As the mother of an accidentally infected daughter said: “The gay community was the only place to go.”
That summer I started to enjoy my role as a “with-it” mom of a gay man. One evening David and I tended bar at an AIDS fundraiser. Another time David took me to his friend Alan’s birthday party, a gathering of forty gay guys held in the Marin Headlands above San Francisco. At first I was a bit shy to be the only woman there. Then I started enjoying myself. Where else would so many good-looking men pay attention to me? Several friends told David that they wished that their mother would accompany them to such a fun event. I sat up tall. I was consciousness-raising for women and for mothers!
Even when you have become comfortable with your child’s sexual identity, it is easier to stay mum about it than to broadcast it to the world. I can tell you from decades of experience that even liberal friends sometimes wince a bit when you inform them that your kid is gay. It is, however, worth the effort. Your child will become your friend and many barriers, including those you may not even have known existed, will fall away. You’ll be surprised how many people will tell you that they have a brother, an aunt or a cousin who is LGBT. Moreover, you yourself will become more comfortable with this state of affairs. In time you will feel part of the gay world, and share in its victories and defeats.
My son’s HIV+ status terrified me. GMHC helped me find a support group, simply called the Mothers’ Group, that helped me cope. It consisted of women like myself who were supporting their ailing children. During its five year long existence the group welcomed 350 mothers who stood by their sons and daughters. Our hearts were breaking, but none of us would burden our children with our own grief. However, at our weekly meetings we let our own feelings of frustration, fatigue, anger and sadness flow freely. Every member of the Mothers’ Group lost their child, and life since has never been the same. The fact that we were at peace with our children’s lifestyles was crucial to our survival. The one regret we all have is that powerful retro-viral drugs were not yet available.
I love Gay Pride Day. This year was particularly good. My granddaughter Naomi, who doubles as my editor and assistant blog master, visited with David’s friends in San Francisco and watched the parade as my delegate.