By Dr. Jeff Gardere
On CNN this past Friday morning I participated in a discussion with a mother from Kansas City who was criticized for allowing her five-year-old son to dress as a female character from Scooby-Doo.
During that discussion, I made a comment about the mother “outing” her child. Many viewers objected to that point. In today’s world, though the word “outing” has taken on a significance about sexuality, let me be clear I was not using it in that way. I specifically said, “whether he is straight or gay,” I questioned why she put her son’s photo out on her blog. The fact is that I said and truly believe this mother has been very courageous in supporting her child. Her acceptance and unconditional love is a model for other parents in how to raise happy and healthy children.
Now comes the gem! I articulated that in speaking with straight and even gay parents, some of them consider it their “worst nightmare” to have a child who may be coming to terms with being gay. I have made this same statement before but have always completed the thought with "because they were worried that their child would face, isolation, hostility, emotional and physical bullying from people who are anti-gay.” However, this time in my haste to get to the next thought, I left out this very important part of that full thought. The end result was that my incomplete thought and words insulted and hurt so many people’s feelings; both straight and gay. Since that time I have received a ton of emails where people have expressed their displeasure and outrage. And you know what? They are 100 percent, absolutely right to have done so. There is absolutely no excuse for this mental lapse, especially on such an important topic. As a public speaker, clinician and America’s Psychologist, I should have completed my thought process completely and not have left it up to anyone to figure out the true meaning of my words. Shame on me! For that I take full responsibility and offer a public and full apology. I have also apologized to each and every person who has contacted me, I have publicly apologized to the MTV logo site Afterelton.com (who were kind enough to ask for clarification), and I have posted an apology and explanation on the GLAAD website (who know my work and also contacted me because they knew something was amiss). In fact I will continue to apologize genuinely and sincerely to each and every person who reaches out to me on this matter for as long as it takes. I was just plain WRONG… no excuses.
But it doesn’t end there. Now I am also going to take myself to task for something else. Even if I had completed the thought and said it was a “worst nightmare” because of the fear of danger to their children, that would have been wrong too! Because as I heard from many of the folks that wrote me and what I need to be reminded as a father of four, is that when it comes to our kids, a “worst nightmare” is not the fear of what they will face in an unjust world because of their sexuality. No, a “worst nightmare” is finding out that your child has thyroid cancer, or has just been severely injured in a car accident, or is...dead.
This previous point however leads to my final thought of this blog. Though I feel absolutely awful and am truly sorry that I have hurt so many people’s feelings, there has also been a silver lining. Almost each person who emailed me, all appropriately angry, has accepted my apology with kindness and grace. Let me add that I have also been humbled and touched by the capacity of the LGBT community for their support and forgiveness.
After my explanation and apology, the straight and the LGBT community who I was in contact with understood what I was trying and meant to say in the interview. Remarkably, many of them also shared the trials and tribulations they endured growing up as kids in an even more anti gay world than the one we are in today. That is why in return for their understanding, they are asking me to do one thing: continue to increase the dialogue in the media on how to help parents guide their children through their psychosexuality, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or questioning. We have come to a consensus that we can no longer be in fear of what our children will have to face in this cold and often cruel world. Our fears will simply be transmitted to our kids who will in turn become fearful and at risk for emotional dysfunction, isolation, depression or even suicide. As I mentioned in the interview, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual or questioning youth are four times more likely to commit suicide as compared to heterosexual youth. Instead, if we come from a place of strength and not fear, if we can be their role models and actually show them acceptance, courage, support, and unconditional love, then no matter what dangers or traumas they face regarding their sexuality, they will not only survive but thrive. Because when it’s all said and done, love always conquers hate.