I usually use this space to talk about contentious political issues or the ever-continuing battle for LGBT equality. In the heat of covering all of the wins and losses of the struggle for equal rights, I sometimes forget to take a step back and celebrate the everyday personal victories and moments that are the very reason why we fight. I think it's easy for all of us to do.
There is a longstanding meme about the "generation gap" in LGBT rights and acceptance. It's an idea borne out by numerous polls and studies: Older Americans are quite simply more likely to be hostile to the rights of LGBT people than younger generations, by huge numbers. It's an easy answer to the discordance in the lagging pace of pro-equality legislation, usually made by older lawmakers, and the swiftly changing opinions of the American electorate, who are younger and more equality-minded.
Even I have often used the shorthand comment that "it would take a generation of older voters and legislators passing on for equal rights laws to catch up with the public's views." It is a true statement in many ways, but in using the shorthand and broad strokes, I think we sometimes forget to share the positive stories of the older people in our lives who do accept us and love us unconditionally. After all, those poll numbers don't mean 100 percent of older people don't support LGBT rights, yet we rarely tell the stories of those around us who do celebrate our lives.
This is that kind of story.
My husband's 93-year-old grandmother Helen recently passed away. She was an amazing woman: strong, funny, and focused on family. She was also a strict Catholic with deeply religious, Polish roots. One would think that if you looked strictly at the aforementioned poll numbers and media stories, she would fall into that older, more religious generation and wouldn't quite accept her gay grandson and his husband of 10 years. But you would be wrong.
We never sat down and had "the talk" with Grandma Helen. I just started showing up at family functions and vacations, always embraced by my husband's entire family. I just became another familiar face to her over time, it seemed. Yet when it was time to have a commitment ceremony in front of our families, we invited Grandma Helen to attend. She came to the celebration, hugging me and visiting with the assembled family and friends without batting an eye.
At first I though perhaps she simply didn't understand that we had a romantic relationship; maybe she didn't have the frame of reference to really "get" what being gay was or truly make the connection. She quickly began to prove that those thoughts were simply my own ignorance and lack of understanding of her deep capacity to love her family unconditionally.
After our commitment ceremony, my husband's grandma continued to show us, in lots of different ways, that she knew exactly what our love together meant. While staying with us for Christmas at our home one year, she quietly came up behind me in the kitchen, where I was preparing dinner for the family, and put her hand on my shoulder. With a mischievous glint in her eye, she leaned in to tell me, "I always knew you made a great wife." With a squeeze of her hand and shared laugh, she shuffled off, leaving me with a smile on my face. She would later sit me down on another visit and share her recipes with me -- an activity that both moved and delighted me and the family.
Over the years she continued her little ways of showing us that she knew and accepted us, just like she would with any of her grandkids. Birthday cards, long hugs, phone calls, and gentle smiles always made me feel not just welcomed but part of the family.
As she grew ill toward the very end of her life, we went to visit her a final time in the hospital. With just me and my husband in the room, she held our hands and talked to us with labored breaths. "No matter what anyone on the outside says," Grandma Helen told us, "you are wonderful boys. You are my sweet boys." It was a blessing, and her parting gift to us.
It's easy to sometimes forget the good moments in life. News of hate crimes, political losses, bullying, and continued struggles can overshadow the impact living our lives openly can have. But sometimes there are quiet little moments, a hand on the shoulder or whispered words of love and support, that remind us why we fight on. It reminds us that despite polls or numbers, those around us aren't just statistics but people. Celebrating those moments and honoring those who accept us with open hearts and love is just as important as calling out and combating those who oppose us. It reminds as that "no matter what anyone on the outside says," there are those that love us, no matter what generation they may come from.