I never got very involved in grassroots work for gay rights, although I supported the movement financially and kept up with the progress. There were always too many other things we were involved in on the environmental, pet and human rights front. But I appreciate all the hard work of those who did. I have always had a lot of support from my friends and family and being gay didn’t seem to make me any different, especially once I moved to Atlanta, then to Sylva.
But recently, I have started to notice how society has changed in a positive way during the 48 years of my life.
Growing up, I never knew anyone who was gay. As a Floridian and a Catholic, I didn’t notice a lot of the racial or sexual orientation discrimination until I headed “north” to Alabama for college. Our schools and communities were fully integrated. There were a lot of Latinos in Central Florida at the time. I learned about the civil war in history class, but had no idea that civil rights were still an issue until college.
When I was in my senior year of high school, I “met” a gay person for the first time. At the time, I was getting involved in Young Life and developing more of a protestant view of Christianity, and was on the road to accepting a more conservative set of values and view of the world. That person was my aunt whom we called “Sister”. I was very close to her. I actually knew her all my life, but never recognized the clues that she might be into women. I remember talking about it with my sisters and parents. They said it was no big deal – they had known for quite some time.
While in college I didn’t have much of an opportunity to spend time with Sister and learn much about her “secret life.” But during that time, I did get more integrated into the evangelical church with all its’ values and beliefs. I loved Sister, and just couldn’t apply the judgement that homosexuality was wrong to her life.
After graduation I got married to a man and was deeply involved in the church. It was what you were “supposed to do,” and I drank the church koolaid! But something wasn’t right. I met a few gay women in a tennis league and started to realize that I had more in common with them than I thought. I also spent time talking with Sister about her life. She discovered she was gay early in her young adulthood, and at that time, ladies met one another at pot-luck dinners, not bars. No one was “out,” but they seemed to have a secret society of friendship and networking.
After I finally came out, I went for a visit to see Sister and her partner in Wisconsin. It was great to see Sister in her real life, but she was not out, even in her own home. Her partner had custody of her grandchildren, and they decided it would be best to keep their relationship a secret from the girls. It was heart-breaking for me to witness this because their relationship with each other and the girls was tenuous as a result of the secret. On the other hand, I realized society had evolved somewhat. At least in Birmingham, Alabama, we had our own gay gathering places, and could be “out” to more people as we got to know them.
I never had kids of my own, but I was very close to my sister and her children. When each of the kids were old enough, Nadine had a talk with them about Aunt Bern and the fact that I was gay. It didn’t seem to phase any of them very much, and they went about their day just like normal. They loved me before knowing, and just as much after. Still, it was a relief as I could be more open with each of them about my life.
Fast forward to today. The efforts among activists that resulted in the right for gay people to marry is amazing, and although we still have some issues today, Pat and I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. We are just married and everything works the same as any other married couple. In some ways, the right to marry “normalized” many peoples’ views of gay couples.
Last night my nephew’s wife, Susan, sent me a video of my grand-niece talking about her trip to visit us for the holidays. Emi was talking about who she would see in the family, and their “favorite colors.” Susan asked Emi what my wife, “Aunt Pat’s” favorite color was and she said, “Aunt Pat’s Favorite Color is Yellow!” The kid didn’t miss a beat. She referred to my wife as “Aunt Pat” just as I referred to all my dad’s siblings’ spouses as “aunt” and “uncle”. I will never have to come out to her or my new grand-nephew. They will know Pat as my wife just as they know their great grandparents are married, or that Aunt Niece and Uncle Todd are married.
Now that’s cool. You know we’ve made progress when there is no reaction. Things just are the way they are, and the young people of this world grow up with little or no discrimination in their hearts because people are just people. That is truly a holiday gift to notice positive changes in our world.
Noticing Good Change,