For my entire adult life, I have identified as an LGBTQ ally. I’ve lost close friends to AIDS, raised money for LGBTQ causes, and my husband has volunteered countless hours over the last 20 years to coach runners participating in fundraising efforts through the National AIDS Marathon Training Program and Human Rights Campaign. I’ve waved rainbow flags at the annual Pride Parade and wiped away tears as I stood on the steps of the Supreme Court on the day that marriage equality became the law of the land.
But the moment that my daughter came out as a lesbian, my comfortable world as an ally ended, and I became what I think of now as a Lambda Lion Mom — my version of a Tiger Mom. I know many parents now who have made the same transformation, because we’ve been catapulted from outsider to insider, and the lives, civil rights, and happiness of our children is at stake. We now have, as they say, skin in the game.
The beginning of that transformation, however, began with complete and utter fear.
As a straight white woman, I felt agony over the death of Trayvon Martin and the pain and despair so eloquently communicated by his mother, Sybrina Fulton. I understood my friends who didn’t want their black teenage sons to leave the house wearing a hoodie, but I didn’t feel the need to stop my daughter Maddie from wearing hers.
So when my child felt ready to talk with me about her sexuality, I wanted her to feel accepted and loved by her family. I buried deep inside myself the fear that parents of LGBTQ children are confronted with, the fear of suffering the pain of Judy Shepard and the haunting memory of her beautiful son Matthew. When Maddie embraces so-called “butch” haircuts, I fear for her, however irrationally, just as my friends did about their sons wearing hoodies.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, I sent this text message to Maddie at college:
“No matter what, I love you and support you and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anything happen to your rights.”
It was easy to say, and I meant every word with every fiber of my Lambda Lion Mom being. But in the aftermath of the election, it became clear that, as Maddie said herself, blood is not always thicker than water. While my husband and I could never support any political candidates who did not support her civil rights, we had many family members who voted for Donald Trump, which our daughter sees as a real betrayal. “Half my family hates me,” she said to me the other night, “or they wouldn’t have voted against me.”
The world holds much starker divisions for young adults, who sometimes struggle to see the shades of grey that blur the lines. I’m left now trying to help her understand that those family members — a few of whom she has known and loved her entire life — simply did not think about how their choice could possibly affect their young relative. I don’t think they’re homophobic — and I’m sure they don’t either — but I do think they were willing to ignore any uncomfortable theme of bigotry running throughout the Trump narrative in favor of the lure of tax cuts. Blood is not thicker than water, and money talks.
This election has been an important civics lesson thus far. While Maddie has agonized over the perceived bigotry of her relatives, she’s also wrestling with the fact that she’s actually not the only LGBTQ person in our extended family, and that side of the family voted decidedly Republican, as it always has.
These family members believed strongly in their “anti-corruption” candidate and now believe that fears of repercussions against the LGBTQ community are overblown. I am not so sure, so I’m preparing myself for the battles ahead to at least maintain, if not advance, the civil rights of the person dearest to me. For the Lambda Lion Mom, or Dad, the goal is to help our children keep their eyes on the prize, while providing the context that someone’s different political choice is a reflection of that voter’s own personal priorities, which may have very little to do with civil rights, rather than a direct attack on our kids.
That being said, I’m now a proud Lambda Lion Mom — hear me roar.
Kristen Hartke is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Blade.