Father’s Day stories are usually told from the child’s perspective, but this one is a little different. It’s about my journey as a father of faith and LGBTQ twins, and the importance of accepting, loving and learning from our children. After the tragic events in Orlando, I feel that it is more important now than ever to share our family’s story.
Our twins, Sammy and Ashton, were (and still are) bright, talented kids who succeeded at both school and extra-curricular activities. We were a typical suburban family, went to church regularly, and weathered the usual ups and downs of childhood and adolescence.
But one night my wife and I received a text from Sammy and Ashton that would begin a journey toward a new “normal”. We expected it to say they were at a friend’s house or were running late, but they had texted us to tell us that they were lesbians. Typical Millennial move. Even for the most accepting parents, it can be difficult when your child comes out. But when they came home a bit later and we could actually sit down and talk as a family, my wife and I were quick to reinforce our love and acceptance and tell them how proud we were of their courage.
A few years after the twins came out to us; Ashton came out again – as a transgender man. For years, we had seen Ashton’s struggles with his gender identity so we were proud of his decision and ready to support him on his journey. While it took me a while to stop using female pronouns after 21 years, Ashton was graciously patient with me. Today, my wife and I work as allies for equality in our community and church and our family is closer than ever before. We couldn’t be more proud of our kids. They are funny, smart, strong, talented and generous people who make the world a better place for being in it - oh, and they just happen to be a lesbian and a transgender man.
Sometimes I get asked if it’s hard having a child who is a lesbian and a child who is transgender. But my struggle with being an LGBTQ parent has nothing to do with the fact that my children are LGBTQ. It has everything to do with worrying about how other people will treat them; about discrimination; about another unspeakable massacre like Orlando. It makes me worry about the other LGBTQ children who don’t have the support, and acceptance Sammy and Ashton have. Loving your children is easy, protecting them is not.
So in honor of Father’s Day, I leave you with a simple message to embrace your kids for who they are and whom they love. Empathize with them, help dust them off when they experience aggressions and indignities, and take every opportunity you can to tell them how proud of them you are, and that you love them without conditions. And for those of you who may be struggling, or even severed ties with your children, think back to that very first precious moment you laid eyes on your child. Remember that they are no less perfect or miraculous than the first hours they spent in your arms. Be willing to set aside your views of what’s right and wrong, or what’s “normal” long enough to just see the perfectly wonderful person you helped shape. Because in the world we live in, where LGBTQ bullying, violence, and suicide is at an all-time high, it’s not at all hyperbolic to say that your love and approval could be the difference between life and death.
Dennis Skinner is a loving husband and father of three bright, talented kids.