The first thing you might notice about Kay Heggestad is the rainbow pride bracelet around her wrist. This shouldn’t be too unusual really except that Kay is a mature, straight, retired family doctor. So it is surprising to see her wearing such a visible sign of support with, well, pride. On the surface is a woman who might not have the same kind of personal investment in gay rights that a LGBT individual directly affected by them would, but Kay is also a mother—and her son Greg is gay. And like many other families, Kay found the initial support that she needed when she discovered PFLAG – Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
When her son came out to her, it took Kay a few months to begin coming to terms. She found a note about PFLAG in a little newspaper blurb and made the decision to go. “When I went to my first meeting I know I cried. I couldn’t talk. A couple of the moms were giving very sad stories of drug addiction, of people with AIDS and all this really bad stuff,” Kay says, “I couldn’t get my husband to a meeting in over a year.”
Many families, prior to their children or relatives coming out, have very little exposure to LGBT people and communities. As a physician, Kay was aware that she had a few lesbian patients, but she is also quick to note that “they were the ones that were out to me and they were having lots and lots of problems.” Those few isolated examples were enough to shape her ideas about gay people into something traumatic.
Most parents still feel that if their kids are gay it is because they did something wrong. In the PFLAG meetings, she recalls how it took one woman almost a year to become comfortable using “the L word.” Now, Kay is convinced that PFLAG helped foster the healing that she needed so that she could be able to be there for her son. She very openly says that, “PFLAG helped me initially get into the acceptance part. At this time, I applaud it, and advocate it like crazy.”
It took Kay’s son a few years to come out to his mom and dad. Kay says it took him that long “because he didn’t know how we would respond.” A very deep and strong fear of losing their family keeps many gay youth in the closet during a time when they desperately need their family and especially their parents’ love and support the most. Gay children will hide their identity in ways that challenge their ability to love themselves and to believe that they can be loved by their parents and family for who they are. And parents often feel helpless when it comes to giving solid, useful advice to their children about the choices they will have to make. PFLAG offers support, understanding and community that can help parents heal and cope with their children’s sexuality. It also offers the education a parent needs to be able to help his or her child accept himself, too.
After years of involvement, Kay is now the president of the Madison PFLAG chapter and publishes her e-mail address on their website (www.pflag-madison.org). She also has a telephone number listed where she can be reached by anyone who needs to talk or would just like to know more. Kay runs the PFLAG meeting on the third Sunday of each month (September through May) and organizes a speaker to come in and talk to the parents candidly and take questions about the different issues involved with acceptance. In the summers her and other PFLAG parents always have a table at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Capital Square where they have literature available and ready to hand out.
There are many reasons that prove why PFLAG is critical to a parent’s development and solidifying with love the foundation of a family. The true testament would be Kay herself, and her son Greg, who she is proud to inform us now lives happily committed with his life partner in Denver.