My Family Isn’t the Place For a Diversity Debate

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My Family Isn't the Place For a Diversity Debate | Duluth MomI’ve been thinking about Pride Month this week. Although I’m in a same-sex marriage, I’ve never really celebrated the month. My sons are loved in their community; we have always felt welcomed as a family. Pride has been a fight and a flag I’ve never felt the need to take up, rightly or wrongly.

That is until last week.

First of all, I didn’t even know that my ability to keep a job based on just my work performance was up for a vote until I learned of the Supreme Court case considering exactly that. The fact that it’s 2021 and we’re still fighting against workplace discrimination is disheartening in and of itself.

Secondly, my sister Kara has a very big social media following. She has recently made the bold decision to speak out on a number of powerful things. While she’s always been supportive of me and my family, she made that abundantly clear with a couple of posts this past week.

Then it happened. Hate, misunderstanding, and prejudice was directed at me and at my family; people thought it was their place to attack us on Kara’s posts.

It’s been eye-opening. It’s actually been eye-closing as well, because I’ve come close to squeezing my eyes shut and breaking down. It’s amazing how much sting can be put into those punches people throw, even when they don’t know you. 

I’m 43 years old. I’m married and have twin sons who just turned five. It’s taken me twenty years to build my thick skin, to educate myself, to be comfortable with my own faith and who I know I am. It was not easy to get here. I battled a lot of depression trying to be the version of me I thought the world would accept. It almost killed me. There’s a reason the suicide rate is so alarmingly high for teenagers and younger adults in the gay community.   

The focus of so much of the noise my sister has gotten has been about the definition of a family, or what others feel we are depriving our sons of having. I spend every day with my sons. I know and love all of the people who are heavily involved in their lives. That we are a family is not up for discussion and the accusations to the contrary aren’t worthy of being dignified with a response.

This is what I will say, however.

My family is not all that different than any other family. We teach our sons that there are all kinds of people and all sorts of families — because there are — and that unconditional love and support is what makes a family. They have friends being raised by grandparents, friends being raised by single moms or dads, friends with parents of different races. All of those families matter and they count. Just like theirs does. Exactly like theirs does.

Both of my sons have parents who work. All their living grandparents are involved in their lives. All their uncles, aunts, and cousins are huge influences in their lives. They go to church every Sunday (or have Zoom Sunday School currently). They are avid hikers, they love to scooter and play outside. The adore animals. They love basketball, they play soccer, and one is itching to start baseball. Their favorite movie is the new Scooby-Doo one (SCOOB!), with Frozen II close behind. Our house is full books, and they love being read to and learning new things. They like Paw Patrol and Matchbox cars and swimming. If you have a son or daughter their age or have had one, this all sounds familiar. One is outgoing and will talk your ear off and the other is shy. Both are thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic, helpful, and loving kids. Just ask anyone that knows them.

Why do I feel the need to tell you about our family? Because despite a month that is set aside to celebrate families like ours, it has felt like anything but a celebration lately. Mind you, I know I’m letting a few people hiding behind keyboards influence how I feel, but that’s what happens, right? Hundreds of people reached out to us this weekend in love for my sons’ birthday, but a few online attacks can sour the whole day.

I’m writing because someday my sons will read the same type of ignorant (though hopefully fewer) comments. I’m writing because comments like that are designed to make me and my family less than others. The unintended side effect of public comments is that they can make an impression on bystanders, too: a child who can already read them, a teenager alone and afraid–who maybe already knows who they are deep inside. A person who has heard the same traumatic criticisms time and again. This reinforcement of narrow-mindedness takes its toll and the consequences can be so very steep.

No one deserves to have their humanity devalued. We are all human.

My Family Isn't the Place For a Diversity Debate | Duluth Mom

My sons, I assure you, are going to be okay. I’m determined to raise respectful, compassionate young men who will have both the ability to speak up for themselves and, almost more importantly, for others who need help creating a louder voice. Maybe that’s what I feel like I needed to do today: Use my voice. Speak my truth.

I am always open to constructive dialog; I welcome it. Maybe you don’t know any same-sex couples or even ones raising kids. We are just one of literally millions in this country, but I am willing put our story out there. My family isn’t asking for anything special.

I don’t want a participation medal, just the awareness that there isn’t only one way to run the event.

We are a family. We might have a few differences from yours, but ultimately, what binds us–what bonds us–isn’t different than any others. My sons have more love and more examples of amazing humans in their lives than they know what to do with. If you met them, you would see that firsthand.

Someday we might celebrate Pride. Thank you to those of you who already celebrate it. But for now, all I can ask is that people call us what we truly are — a family. That’s all we really want, and believe me, we are plenty proud of that.

*This personal piece was originally published in 2020.  Visit our diversity and inclusion reading list for more resources.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hello, Ms. Grgas Wheeler, I am Kate Ocken’s Dad. Short answer: You will win. Love will triumph. The fact is (and I learned this from my broadcasting career) the people who support you need, perhaps, to speak up as often and as strongly as the people who have nothing better to do than criticize and cut down those who live differently. How can anyone deny a marriage of any combination when love is at the center? You obviously have figured that one out already. If there is no fear involved in these posts that attack you, I pray you will not be limited by them and always reach out for support when you need it! I expect that people would show up for you quickly and in great numbers (as I’m sure they have already.) You have done the right thing by sharing. (And I’ll add this postscript: if you want a TIGER on your side, contact Kate Ocken Lundquist — East, Class of 2000 — in Roseau, MN, and you will have the next thing to the US Army on your team!) All the best, Pat Ocken, Superior, WI

  2. Beautifully said, thank you. As a member of the deaf community, I face a similar sort of criticism and narrow-mindedness on a daily basis. Inferences that deafness makes me less-than or questions my intelligence has put me close to the edge more times than I can count. I take a huge amount of strength by the example you are setting. There is a place for us all.

  3. Kelly, You can’t find unanimity on any subject these days. Not even on the color of the sky or whether up is really up or down is down. That there are naysayers on your lifestyle (or mine or anyone else’s) is to be expected. Your family is proud of you, your friends are proud of you, your community is proud of you, I and my family are proud of you, and the folks who aren’t don’t matter and aren’t worth the energy of getting upset. Live your life with joy and gladness.

  4. Thank you for speaking out so thoughtfully. I always enjoy reading about your boys. All of you are very special!!

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