As I’ve watched the coverage of the mass shooting in Orlando, one story that has stayed on my mind is that of Eddie Justice, a 30-year-old man who texted his mother from the bathroom of Pulse.
“Mommy I love you,” he typed as the shooter made his way through the nightclub. “Trapp in bathroom. He’s coming. I’m gonna die.” While I can’t imagine Justice’s terror in that moment, the fact that he reached for his mother makes me grieve for deeply personal reasons—I personally don’t know any LGBTQ folks who would call or text their parents in what they feared might be their final moments.
The whole queer child vs. their parents story line is as tired as an episode of Glee, but it’s one that remains present in my adult life. I can’t help but connect my sadness over Justice’s text messages with the experiences of my wife, Kate. An only child born and raised in suburban Houston, she grew up with every privilege afforded to her until she came out in college. The whole ordeal unraveled like a Lifetime movie: Kate got a short haircut, and the financial support went away. Kate got a girlfriend, and the phone calls stopped. When she had the nerve to bring me home to meet her parents and announce our engagement, the first thing her mother said was, “We’re not paying for anything.” The second thing was, “How will you two get divorced?”
We got hitched in secret three weeks later and never went back. When Kate’s grandmother died, her father made it clear that I was not to come to the funeral. They claim that they are protecting Kate and I from their friends who disagree with our “lifestyle”—and all that word implies—but I view it as them methodically erasing their child from their lives.
This kind of parental behavior has dire consequences for the LGBTQ population as a whole. The Trevor Project reports that queer youth from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation than queer youth who reported little or none. Project Fierce Chicago reports that 20 percent of the city’s homeless youth identify as LGBTQ and often wind up in these situations because of parental rejection. These proportions multiply in size when race and gender identification are accounted for.
Here’s the reality: the LGBTQ community has always asked for familial support, love, and safety. We’ve sent Eddie Justice’s text message to our folks over and over again, through handwritten letters, through arguments for policy change, through birthday cards, through protest signs. And, if Sunday is any indication, we’re dying from a lack of response.
If you’re the parent of an LGBTQ human, I wholeheartedly encourage you to celebrate this Pride month by checking out PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or by volunteering at one of the numerous festivals taking place throughout the city.
We’re here, we’re queer, and parents, it’s time for you to start fighting with us.