About 22 years ago, I was the single mom of a 4-year-old boy named Danny. I grew up mixed-race and was used to being different, but Danny was a different kind of different. One day my friend Concepcion and her husband, Mario, were visiting. Danny, all dressed up in a skirt, angel wings, plastic jewels, and lipstick, began flitting around with his "magic" wand. Concepcion was delighted. A talented photographer, she took out her camera and started snapping pictures.
I was OK with my close friends seeing Danny's gender-creative ways, but having it recorded with photos was another story. When I got the prints, I hid them away in a box (yes, this was before Facebook, Instagram, and digitized photos). Back then I was too worried about Danny's gender-bending behavior to celebrate the beautiful child I had. I wondered if something was wrong with him and feared that he would become a social outcast. My identity as a mom was in the balance. I wondered whether I was doing something wrong as a parent and imagined other people in the community gossiping and looking down on me.
But here we are, two decades later. Danny is an out, proud gay 26-year-old man and I'm an out, proud mom. Being Danny's mom has opened my eyes in many ways. It took a process to get here, including much soul-searching and support from the people around me. I now know that my son has always been perfect; there was never a need to change him.
I'm proud of him for being true to himself and for teaching me a thing or two about what really matters to me. My identity as a mom has also been restored. I know I raised my son well because there was never a moment when he didn't know he was loved. It took me a while, but I learned a simple lesson: Unconditional love means looking past all the expectations that are heaped on us and loving the child you have.
I was by his side through bullying, loneliness, depression, and other challenges and he did more than survive. He thrived. I have heard similar stories from many parents. Our love for our LGBTQ+ and gender-creative children has the potential to transform us.
I also learned that when we stand by our LGBTQ+ children, we have the potential to make a difference in our families and communities. I have a close friend named Mirna Medina, who is from El Salvador. We go back more than 30 years. In 2007, Mirna discovered that her teenage son, Jesus, was bisexual. At first, the idea didn't sit too well with her. I had already come a ways on the spectrum of acceptance, so I was able to lend an ear as a supportive friend.
Mirna's primary language is Spanish and mine is English and our conversations bounced back and forth between languages. Seeing a gap in support for Latino families with LGBTQ children, we decided to form a support group. We marched in the 2007 San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and then pulled together a few people to begin planning. We decided to call the group Somos Familia. We had no idea what we were getting into. We had no idea that our lives were about to change.
Somos Familia turned out to be much more than a support group. As soon as we reached out to the community, we received several invitations to do presentations for Spanish-speaking audiences. Our first was in a Catholic church to about 500 parishioners during Semana Santa. Two moms, Mirna and Susana, spoke while I stood beside them for moral support. Since that day, along with a growing team of volunteers, we have shared our stories and engaged families in dialogue in as many places as possible including preschools, afterschool programs, schools, community agencies, and conferences.
Mirna and I even traveled to El Salvador in 2013 to present at a conference on LGBTI human rights. In every group we reach, we find that people are eager to learn how they can help make their families, schools, and communities more supportive for LGBTQ+ and gender-creative children. We also meet many people who have LGBTQ+ loved ones who tell us that our stories assure them and give them hope. We've also been able to expand our reached far beyond those we directly touch via video and media.
My experience with Somos Familia has changed me forever. I discovered a need to tell my own story as a mixed-race mother and reach out to other mixed-race families and families of color. In 2013, I formed Out Proud Families and began to connect with families from all over the country and the globe. I share my story via video and in person with anyone who is willing to listen. Danny has given me his full permission and has supported my work in many ways. The photos are now out of the box for the world to see. When I share my story, the invisibility I felt growing up mixed-race and the stigma I felt as Danny's mom are transformed. I find connection with others and the power to make a difference in people's lives. I am not alone. I am part of a growing chorus of family voices. More and more of these voices are families of color and mixed-race families, and we will not be silenced.
LAURIN MAYENO is the mother of a gay son, cofounder of Somos Familia, and founder of Out Proud Families.