Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast
As I raised my son, Nathaniel, who is now 29, there were a number of key lessons that I felt were important. The golden rule was obvious. You know the one, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” You don’t need fire and brimstone to get this message; it’s just common sense.
Nathaniel was raised in a family involved with the AFS foreign exchange program. We hosted high school students from Switzerland and from Belgium. We also hosted an English language teacher from the People’s Republic of China who happened to be living with us when the Tiananmen Square protests took place in the spring of 1989. Rencai got calls in the middle of the night from friends in China asking for news, as they obviously weren’t hearing the truth from the Chinese media. Our home was a safe haven for foreign exchange students from all corners of the globe from all religions, nationalities and races. My son learned the importance of diversity. From the age of six he has had friends from all over the world of every race, religion and sexual orientation.
When he was 12 his mom and I split up and then I came out of the closet, first to myself, then to his mom and then to Nathaniel, all within a matter of months. Nathaniel lived with me though his mom and I co–parented him through his teen years and into college. He danced at Rodolfo’s and my wedding in Canada over 3 years ago and we were at his wedding to his wonderful wife nearly two years ago.
One of the most important lessons I imparted to Nathaniel is the lesson of working to leave the world a better place than the way he found it. To me this means working to help others through life, especially those facing discrimination. So many people have been there for me. When I was abroad for my senior year of college I met an elderly woman, a complete stranger in Bruges, Belgium when I arrived 2–days before the rest of my classmates for a semester program at the College Of Europe. I had been sick having had a long journey from the South of France and as I got off the train I saw Johanna Van Houte on the platform. I approached her for a recommendation for an inexpensive hotel. Johanna took me home with her, fed me, gave me a bed to sleep in and nursed me back to health. She kept a guest book for the hundreds of people from around the world Johanna had welcomed into her home over the years. Friends of my parents loaned me money as I went through graduate school as my dad had been ill and I couldn’t raise enough money through work and educational loans. Many others have been there throughout my life to catch me whenever I began to fall.
There really is no way to pay them back. Likewise, those I have helped have often felt a desire to pay me back though I neither wanted nor expected any restitution. Instead I requested that they be there for others when needed or as the movie released in 2000 suggested, “Pay It Forward.”
Coming out at any age is traumatic. I was thirty–seven and my entire world was turned upside down. I’d lost my wife. I had no idea how my son, other family members, friends and coworkers would react to my coming out. I feared that many would shun me. Every rejection hurts, especially from those you love. But, and this is a big but. I was able to support myself. I had a good job and nobody could take away my education and years of experience.
Adolescence and young adulthood is never easy, especially in today’s fast–paced, judgmental world. Being LGBT makes it ten times harder. Gay teen suicide attempts and completions happen at an alarming rate and 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. The lack of a safety net can have tragic results. How any parent can abandon a child either emotionally or physically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is beyond me. That is a subject for a future commentary. To my way of thinking, such parental behavior is nothing short of short of abuse. However, parents do abandon their LGBT kids in great numbers as gay kids arrive daily at large metropolitan bus stations throughout the country often falling pray to prostitution and drugs as a sole means of support.
Those of us who are adults have a responsibility to pay it forward, to make the world a better place for LGBT teens and young adults, to help them pick up the pieces and finish their education, to give them a leg up and encouragement too. If we don’t do so they don’t have anybody else. If we don’t care then why should the straight community?
Many of us aren’t comfortable around young people. Our own memories of adolescence and college years are often painful. We may not understand the young having not raised kids of our own. And then there is the fear that others may accuse us in our efforts to be mentors as hitting on the young.
I implore you to do what you can to help LGBT youth as part of your leaving the world a better place than the way you found it. Get involved as a volunteer and/or donor with your local gay youth group, gay homeless shelter, LGBT phone hotline, GLSEN or PFLAG chapter. Become a donor to the Point Foundation, even if it is just $5 or $10 per month. The future of young gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders depends upon it!
© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.