My son Joe grew up in a very large family with lots of cousins, aunts and uncles, and he was by far the cutest of the bunch. Everyone would say so.
Joe was also unique from the rest of the boys his age. He was always very particular about how he looked and very neat for such a young boy. While other boys his age were fond of throwing a baseball or getting dirty, Joe was theatrical, expressive, a talker -- which he remains to this day -- and loved the arts.
Let's just say that I knew Joe wasn't going to be an all-star football player -- but I knew he would become a man of his own.
Being unique didn't always bring Joe memorable experiences growing up. Other kids picked on him, pushed and shoved him around, and cruelly called him "Josephina." They directed slurs his way because of his different interests, and also what he didn't have interest in -- sports. Joe was teased about the way he talked, the way he walked -- all the little things that made him unique. To me, Joe was perfect, but to others Joe was different and represented a community that they didn't understand.
On Christmas Day, Santa Claus never brought Joe the gifts he wanted. For the most part, he received gifts that others wanted for him. When Joe wanted a new doll, or some sort of toy that didn't involve sports, he would get a ball anyway. When Joe wanted new shoes, he got a different type of ball.
As a mother who wanted -- and still wants -- her son to be happy, I always felt bad about how everyone perceived him, and tried to mold him into something he wasn't. That's until I decided to do something about it.
I realized that Joe needed to be who he wanted to be. If he was forced to grow up giving into the expectations of others, then I failed at my motherly duty to ensure that my son enjoyed his childhood.
So, I decided to buy Joe the gifts he wanted. If he wanted a doll, I'd get it for him. If he wanted tap shoes, I'd get him that too. Joe started to flourish. The more he did, the more I encouraged Joe to be himself.
Some disapproved of my encouragement. To them, I was encouraging Joe to be someone he wasn't meant to be. The more I heard the criticism, the more I realized that it was largely driven by the expectations they had of Joe, which to me, clouded their ability to appreciate those qualities that make him so unique.
Over time, I came to the conclusion that the best way to fight bullying and to help others understand the community he represented, was to ensure that Joe grew up into the person he was meant to become. I focused on raising a young man with the values all mothers teach their children: Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't hurt others. Treat others as you would like to be treated and do right by your family and your community. This way, I knew that whoever Joe grew up to become, he would be a man with good values.
Once Joe and I had the conversation about his sexuality, I wasn't surprised. My son is gay. He was born gay. I rejoiced the fact that we had the conversation and over time we became closer. But more importantly, I knew that I had raised my son with good values and that regardless of whether he is gay or straight, he would become a man who would do right by his family and his community.
My message to parents and families of LGBT children is to support your kids, and be there for them. Encourage your sons and daughters to be who they are and instill in them the values that will help them become good citizens. Let them be the examples the world needs. Don't think that by discouraging your children to be someone that they are not, that it will make bullying go away. It won't help, and it will make them feel worse. So, do the opposite and encourage them to be who they are. Help show the world why they are unique, and why the world needs them. Our children shouldn't have to change for them to be accepted. Our children should be accepted as they are.
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