We are so proud of PFLAG Charlotte’s own Jim Anderson for presenting his TedX talk about his experience as a parent of a gay daughter and his development into an ally. You can watch his presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkUhpgrle1Y&feature=youtu.be.
I was asked recently why I’m an LGBTQ ally. Here’s what I said:
I am an ally because I love my daughter more than I love my dogma*.
The youngest of our four daughters, Kat, came out as gay to my wife and me around 2001 when she was 15 years old. At the time, we were very committed, very conservative Christians, and to say that this was uncomfortable would be a huge understatement. We were devastated!
Our first thought was that we needed to correct this problem. I got lots of literature from a group that was committed to fighting the “gay agenda,” and we sent her to counselors who we hoped could “fix” her. I am not proud of that initial response, but it was motivated by love and was the best response we could manage at that time.
After much anguish, I realized that if she were ever going to change, it would not be in a pressured environment. I decided that the best thing I could do would be to accept that this is who she is instead of trying to change her. In this way, I hoped that she would be able to see her own brokenness and begin to change back to the girl that we knew.
I was partly right. When we stopped trying to change her, she did stop fighting us. However, it was we, not Kat, who changed. Her confidence in who she was remained constant. Everything about her said unequivocally, “This is who I am, and it has nothing to do with you.” We had convinced ourselves that if she were gay, it reflected badly on our parenting. Much of our journey was coming to understand that it was not “our fault.”
The first part of our journey was accepting Kat. The last leg of our journey was embracing her exactly as she was and acknowledging that there was no “fault” with which to be concerned. The reward was realizing that she was still the same wonderful woman we always knew.
Sadly, in 2011, Kat was struck by a very rare cancer which she fought bravely for a year and a half. We lost her on September 23, 2012. It is still hard to write those words. Three years ago (at the suggestion of our wonderful grief counselor), my wife and I joined PFLAG to help us focus our grief in a way that helps us and helps others. Each time I attend a meeting, I am inspired by the love and raw courage of the folks who show up looking for support.
Many from our former community think that we have been deceived and have “gone off the deep end.” We have jumped into the deep end of the pool, that’s for sure. However, what I have found in the “deep end” are people who are deeply and utterly full of love and pain, people who are too busy loving their LGBTQ family to pretend that they have their lives together, and real people who just want a friend.
This is the community I have longed for my whole life!
* Some folks are offended by this word, dogma. Here’s what I mean… My religious faith dictated to me that homosexuality was a sinful abomination. That dogmatic declaration stood between me and loving my daughter well. I chose to love my daughter regardless of what my faith dictated, but over time, I became an ally for the LGBTQ community because I just don’t believe it is true. For me it was a dogma and that is why I say, “I loved my daughter more than I loved my dogma”.
Jim Anderson is a proud, long-time PFLAG member who has his own blog at http://www.jimazing.com. Visit and subscribe today!
When Kelly Finley founded the Charlotte chapter of Girls Rock, she knew that it was going to be something special. Her own daughter had attended a Girls Rock camp in Chapel Hill, and when she saw what a profound impact it had had on her, she knew that she needed to bring that experience to her hometown.
A camp for girls and gender non-conforming youth to explore new talents and celebrate the power of diversity and equality through music, Girls Rock is part of a nationwide program that works to “amplify the confidence and voice of ALL girls and women.” The organization is inclusive of all gender-diverse individuals and all “girl-identified people,” and as such, they serve a population that often gets ignored and rarely receives the recognition it deserves.
“We still have an emerging music scene,” Finley says of Charlotte, “and it’s really hard to find women and queer and trans musicians who can volunteer and help us out, which is why we’re always looking around and hunting for folks [to participate in and volunteer at the camp].”
Girls Rock Charlotte is an annual, week-long summer camp that brings together young people between the ages of 8 to 12 the week of June 25. Many of the campers arrive never having played an instrument, and so spend their first day exploring options like electric guitar, bass, keys, drums, and vocals. By lunch on the first day, they choose their top 3 instruments and the counselors assign them to their instruments and begin working with them to form a band with their peers. Over the course of the week, they take music lessons, learn to write songs, rehearse with their band, and ultimately perform in a final show for parents and friends.
For youth who “age out” of the program or who want to continue the experience they had as pre-teens, there is a teen camp for youth aged 12 to 16 offered later in the summer (August 6-11). Girls Rock Charlotte is also starting a film camp this year for teens age 14 to 18 that will take place the same week
“One of our core values is economic accessibility,” says Finley. “I know a lot of families that cannot commit to more than one week of taking their kid back and forth to camp, so we try to have our hours accessible and to create a program with a time frame that’s feasible.”
That accessibility is important to Finley who believes in the mission of Girls Rock and wants to make it available for as many young people as possible. Finley, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has always challenged the dictates of gender. She’s a parent, too, and many of her university students identify as queer.
“We felt really passionate about having programs that don’t just accept but that celebrate and advocate for queer youth and adults,” Finley says.
PFLAG is proud to have a relationship with Finley and Girls Rock. A number of PFLAG families have participated in Girls Rock since its inception in 2014, and as an organization, we are pleased to associate with an organization that is so dedicated to providing a “positive and affirming environment where campers talk about gender identity, social justice, and gender equality while celebrating safe spaces with adults who care about them.”
If you and your child missed out on registering for Girls Rock this year, no fear! You can show your love for Girls Rock by coming out to Spirit Square on Friday, June 1st, for “Sounds on the Square,” a free event that will include former Girls Rock campers performing original and cover songs. And if that piques your interest, consider contacting Kelly Finley at firstname.lastname@example.org about camp openings and future volunteer opportunities.
I recently finished sorting through the holiday “brag” letters we received from friends and family. We read about adult children with successful careers and grandchildren who are incredibly talented and intelligent. I used to write such holiday letters, but news about our adult daughter is no longer so upbeat. In my holiday letter this year, I wrote that D filled in as a k-jay for karaoke night at a gay bar.
D came out as a transgender woman in her mid-20’s. Facing a gender identity crisis threw her life into turmoil. She took a leave of absence from school and eventually decided not to return. The crisis freed her from a path chosen while she was still trying to conform to societal expectations of a young male. The crisis blocked any clear forward path.
D’s journey has been challenging. As parents, we’ve experienced heart wrenching sorrow and concern. We accept D as she is, but she struggles with anxiety and depression that, at times are crippling. Trans-people face enormous obstacles in finding employment, housing, as well as good physical and mental health care. D is subject to everything from intrusive stares to rude comments to physical violence. Then there’s the growing movement on the local, state, and federal levels to deny fundamental rights and privileges to LGBTQ people, so there is little to no legal recourse against discrimination or violence.
Success means more than just what a person accomplishes; it also involves who the person is. So let me brag about my beautiful daughter. She’s committed to social justice. She started a tailoring business to alter clothes for people who are transgender and have difficulty finding clothes that fit their bodies. At first she couldn’t support herself on what she earned because she charged only what people could afford. When she is able, she volunteers for the national trans-suicide hot line. She marches in pride parades and participates in Black Lives Matter rallies.
Since D came out, my husband and I have tried to be supportive. We can be like blundering elephants in our efforts. This is uncharted territory. We’ve read a variety of books and found PFLAG to be helpful. When people are curious about D, we respond openly and honestly, trying to subtly educate with the hope of gradually removing the stigma of being transgender.
I love D and want her to be happy with herself and her life. There’s nothing she can do that will make me stop loving her. Being transgender is not a choice; it is a matter of self –acceptance, a process that can be both difficult and rewarding. D’s life may be unconventional to some, but it is genuine, and we are so proud of her.
Jordan Frederick, our social media coordinator, is conducting a survey for a piece of writing on LGBTQIA+ advocacy in the classroom, and she needs your help!
If you have a child in pre-K through 12th grade and can spare 10 minutes, please go to https://goo.gl/forms/WEfAxAoesuVhBoQR2 and complete the form there.
All responses will be used anonymously unless you indicate otherwise. And please — if you can, share the link with friends who also have children! She is not collecting information from parents of home-schooled children at this time.
Thank you in advance for your help and participation!
When our 15-year-old child came out as transgender almost three years ago, I didn’t know that transgender individuals experience higher rates of verbal harassment, physical assault, poverty, and unemployment. 1 I didn’t know that transgender youth experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. 2 I didn’t know that 40% of transgender adults had attempted suicide. I didn’t know that 74% of those first suicide attempts were at age 17 or younger. 1 I didn’t know that 40% of homeless youth in our country identify as LGBTQ. 3 I didn’t know any of this. And I was petrified.
I had never knowingly met a transgender person. I believed our child might be the only transgender teen in Charlotte (she’s not), or maybe even in North Carolina. I was scared. I was scared for her life. I was scared for her future. And I was scared for our family of four. I worried how our friends would react. I worried whether her school would be supportive. I worried that our family would be judged. I worried about whether I’d be comfortable going back to our church. I worried about how grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would react. I worried about finding the right health care providers to support both our child and our family. But mostly, I longed for the day when our child would grow to truly accept herself and the beautiful person she is—inside and out.
Five months into our journey, we found PFLAG. At our first meeting, my husband and I learned we were not alone. Parents, friends and allies of the LGBTQ community surrounded us. We discovered a judgment free safe space filled with open minds, open hearts, and rainbows. Yes, there were (and are) tears shed, but there were also lots of smiles shared and laughs exchanged. PFLAG is a community that continues to support us, educate us, and share resources with us, and we have embraced all that PFLAG Charlotte has to offer.
A year ago, I was invited to be a part of PFLAG’s Healthcare Outreach Initiative. What began two years ago as a project to develop a gender information brochure for healthcare providers and parents of transgender and gender nonconforming children ultimately resulted in a partnership with the Mecklenburg County Medical Society (MCMS). Through this collaboration, our PFLAG Healthcare Outreach Team of seven parent volunteers has worked with MCMS and two of North Carolina’s largest hospital systems to present to hundreds of pediatric, family medical, OB/GYN, behavioral health providers, medical residents, nurses and office staff.
During our one-hour workshops, we share our family stories, we provide information and data, and we strive to heighten awareness on how to be an affirming and inclusive provider. We conclude with a conversation about a wide range of resources available to healthcare providers and LGBTQ patients and families, including the Charlotte Transgender Healthcare Group (www.cthcg.org), Time Out Youth (www.timeoutyouth.org), Transcend Charlotte (www.transcendcharlotte.org) and, of course, PFLAG (www.pflagcharlotte.org).
When I share our family story in a workshop, I often reflect back on the worries I had early on. How did our friends react? For the most part, they were overwhelmingly supportive. They had (and probably still have) lots of questions. That’s okay; we’re happy to answer them. Were we judged? Perhaps. Did we lose any friends? A few. Have we gone back to our church? No. We’re still struggling with that. How did our extended family react? They were, and are, awesome. What about school? We’re thankful for an Upper School Director and a guidance counselor who are travelling the journey with us every step of the way, and for faculty who value and support each individual student for who they are.
How is our child? She’s 18 now, and like most 18 year olds (and 55 year olds), she struggles with finding her place in the world. Her writing blows me away; I admire her depth of appreciation for music and poetry and knowledge in all its forms; and she has slowly begun to share her story in hopes of making the path a bit smoother for those gender nonconforming and transgender youth who will follow. She’s looking forward to heading to college in August. Most importantly, she is living her life as the person she has always known herself to be. What more can a parent hope for?
Yes, I still worry; don’t we all? Yet the worries have evolved and our family of four feels whole again. The fears have been replaced with hope, love, awe and gratitude for our children’s strength and for our family’s transition. We’ve learned gender is a spectrum. We’ve learned that being transgender or gender nonconforming is not a choice. And we’ve learned how much we don’t know—and that has been the best gift of all.
Research demonstrates that supporting transgender youth in their gender identity can “virtually eliminate higher rates of depression and low self-worth”. 4 This life-saving support for transgender youth needs to come from home, from school, and from the community. That is how we change the scary statistics. And that is why I believe tomorrow can, and will, be better. Our world can always do more when it comes to understanding, acceptance, and inclusion.
Like many of you, I’ve learned when your life goes off-script, it’s not always easy, but it’s those twists and turns that often make our time here that much more meaningful. If you’re interested in learning more about PFLAG or in working with us to create a workshop for your organization, your faith community, your school administrators and faculty, your PTA, or your book group, please email us at email@example.com. We welcome the opportunity to meet you where you are and, together, we can build a bridge to a better tomorrow for all our youth.
1 James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
2 Reisner, Sari L. et al. Mental Health of Transgender Youth in Care at an Adolescent Urban Community Health Center: A Matched Retrospective Cohort Study. J Adolesc Health. 2015;56:274 – 279.
3 Durso, L.E., & Gates, G.J. (2012). Serving Our Youth: Findings from a National Survey of Service Providers Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth who are Homeless or At Risk of Becoming Homeless. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute with True Colors Fund and The Palette Fund.
4 Transgender Youth: The Building Evidence Base for Early Social Transition. Turban, Jack L. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry , Volume 56 , Issue 2 , 101 – 102