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What Happened When My Dad Came Out as Gay

My Dad Coming Out as Gay Changed Our Lives — and Gave Me the Courage to Be Myself

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Father's Day, 2004. I was 11 years old. My family and I had driven four hours from Connecticut to New Hampshire to celebrate the day with my father at a lakeside home that he shared with a male friend of his whom he had grown close to during that year. It was hardly my first time visiting their home in New Hampshire, but even amid their shared bedroom and having witnessed them embrace one night in the shadows of our nightly campfire, I had never registered them as more than just friends. This is why, on that perfectly sunny Summer's day in June as I lay on a hammock listening to the distant sounds of my cousins playing in the sand, I was stunned to hear the words that quietly and bravely slipped from my dad's mouth when he calmly approached me with a tear in his eye:

"Princess, I have something to tell you . . . I'm gay."

I can't remember exactly what I understood of the word "gay" at that point in my life, but whether it came from hearing my classmates use it to disparage our peers or the innate understanding that its existence in our life meant complete and utter change to our family dynamic, I instantly registered the word as synonymous with "bad." Before I could even manage to take a full breath, my eyes burned with tears, my limbs flailed uncontrollably in an attempt to push my father away, and my lips emitted painful screams calling him names I wish to this day I could take back. My family panicked as my tantrum worsened, and before I knew it, I was strapped in the backseat of our car preparing to make a premature journey back home; the sun still up, the freshwater waves still lapping at the shore where my cousins' abandoned sandcastles stood, and my dad trying everything he could to reach me through my tears to tell me that he was sorry, and that everything would be alright.

It wasn't until an hour into my car ride home that I would come to that very conclusion myself. I still don't know what in my 11-year-old mind allowed me to realize that I was the one who should feel ashamed for how I had reacted and not my dad for revealing who he was, and I still don't know what compelled me to pick up my flip phone, dial my dad's number, and say, "I'm sorry, Dad. I love you. I am not mad at you anymore," but I did. What I do know for sure is that in that instant, our lives changed forever.

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Image Source: Ashley Ortiz

In many ways, our family dynamic continued to mimic that of the average divorced family after my dad came out: He would pick me up at the beginning of a long weekend or school vacation; we would spend our allotted days together playing, eating, and laughing; then, with a kiss on my forehead and a warm hug goodbye, we would part ways until next time. But there was something different about us now. Instead of spending our time watching our usual assortment of cartoons, we stood in the TV section of our local CD store and carefully combed through the Will & Grace box sets to pick out the seasons we hadn't seen yet. We danced to Madonna's "Express Yourself" and vogued while we each did our chores, and over time, rainbows quite literally started to fill our home. The word "gay" was not a taboo word in our house. If anything, it defined our home. And at the age of 11, I learned that it was something to be proud of.

Our household flourished in many ways after my dad came out, but that isn't to say that we did not have our struggles. Again, much like that of the average divorced family, we bickered and argued in ways that sometimes caused us to be estranged for periods of time. We disagreed on family matters, personal decisions, and the ways in which we each viewed the world. We fought almost as strongly as we loved, and although our relationship suffered greatly at times, the immense amount of pride I had for him and as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community only grew stronger. I would giggle at my friends' contorted faces as they tried to solve my favorite riddle — "My mom is single, but I have a step dad . . . " — before I proudly solved it for them. I never hesitated to pull aside even the toughest bullies after hearing them make fun of our gay classmates to give them a piece of my mind, and I preached incessantly about why the f-word should be dropped from everyone's vocabularies anytime it was uttered in my presence. I carried the rainbow flag both on my heart and on my sleeve, and as I grew into a strong-willed, opinionated woman, so did my love and respect for the community that raised me.

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Image Source: Ashley Ortiz

In the Summer of 2019, on another perfectly sunny June day, I attended my first Pride Parade in NYC. While I loudly cheered on the wide array of LGBTQ+ individuals and organizations that participated in the parade as they passed me by, I was left speechless when I saw a large group of adults and children marching with signs that read: "Pride is for kids, too!" Until that point, I had met only a few people who were also raised by LGBTQ+ parents. We would smile together as adults and share stories from our childhoods about our gay parents that others wouldn't understand. But it wasn't until seeing scores of children of all ages carrying rainbow flags alongside their proud parents that I realized just how special it is to be raised in an LGBTQ+ household. It's true that us children of gay adults tend to grow up quicker than most because we come to know a different world at an early age that some adults are not yet able to fully comprehend. But growing up "quickly" in an openly LGBTQ+ household means being raised to forgo judgment of others, to love who we are both individually and as a family, and to defend with pride those who are seen as different by society. We are taught that the rainbow flag means hope and love, and we learn to wave it proudly because to us, it is home.

After cheering on all the beautiful LGBTQ+ families that marched in NYC Pride, I opened my phone, called my dad, and told him once again how much I loved him. We ended our call, immediately met up in the heart of the city — both decked head to toe in rainbows — and enjoyed a delicious meal side by side as I carefully crafted and posted my very own coming-out post for social media. "Go ahead, Princess," my dad said, with a tear in his eye. "Everything will be alright."

And just as before, on that other perfectly sunny June day all those years ago when our lives would change forever, he was right.

Image Source: Ashley Ortiz
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