You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with. Love can come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors. It crosses typical gender-lines and age-old black-and-white beliefs. Discovering one’s individual path can be freeing. It can be frightening. It can be everything in between, but one thing that doesn’t change is family.
Sometimes they just need a little extra time to catch up.
That’s the role PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) seeks to provide in helping parents, grandparents and family members of all ages and situations accept differences in preference, orientation and sexuality. The group recently started a local parents support group.
Paula Elliot, who oversees the group, said she and fellow members saw a need for advocacy in the community.
While she stresses the importance of support for teenagers and younger people, and a detrimental effect homophobia has on their fragile psyches, she notes many of the parents they see are those of adult children.
Elliot’s daughter came out four years ago, in her early 20s.
Don Foster has been supporting his son, who came out more than 30 years ago, by becoming a resource and sounding board for those turning to PFLAG for answers and understanding.
“It was a little bit of a shock to us, I guess because he was all of a sudden in this high-risk group, but that didn’t diminish our love for him,” Foster said. “If you have a good relationship with your kids, they want you to approve. They want to know they’re not alone.”
Foster, who is 87 and a World War II veteran, says he doesn’t think he ever had a problem coping with who his son is.
“We’d accepted him as we’d always accepted him,” he said. “We just had to get used to his having a different love life.”
Foster has attended PFLAG meetings for decades, and was at the Nevada County’s first official parent support group meeting.
He feels that mothers seem much more flexible in accepting their families’ “differences” and hopes a greater number of fathers and grandfathers would take a more active role in accepting their children’s lifestyles.
Mercy Cabral’s daughter came out while in college. She says she was originally blindsided by the phone call.
“I felt like the worst parent possible because I did not know,” Cabral said. “I felt that as a stay-at-home mom, I should have known.”
Her husband Mick, who was out of town frequently for work, wasn’t as surprised. His first question when he heard his daughter had news was, “Is she gay?”
“He had a much easier time of it than me,” Mercy Cabral said.
“He was totally accepting. It’s his daughter. He loves her. Period.”
Mercy Cabral said that when she walked into her first meeting, she immediately felt embraced. She admits to falling apart, but felt safe and comforted in doing so.
She also met with group leaders in private for personal discussions.
The group was vital for the couple when they started losing friends after their daughter came out. She and Mick, who were raised Catholic, now run the PFLAG booth at the fair and organize potlucks.
Elliot notes that many people and parents who attend meetings come in with guilt, wondering what they did wrong.
“They want to know that they’re not abnormal,” Elliot said. “I often say we all have homophobia. We swim in the soup of it in this culture. We all have it. Even gays have varying degrees of homophobia. It can’t be escaped.”
Privacy is a key concern for many attendees, and it’s an issue they all take very seriously.
The need for the parent support group was confirmed when at their first meeting they had nearly 20 people in attendance. Parents needing support ran the gamut of age and situation.
There were several parents of grown kids who were transgender. Another parent came because she thought her daughter might be gay, but had yet to come out.
“We go through this process,” Mercy Cabral said. “We listen. We know where you’re coming from, and what you’re going through.”
The PFLAG parent support group meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 246 South Church St., in Grass Valley.
For more information, go to www.pflagnevco.com or call 274-1423.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.