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Gene Shalit on
his gay son

Gene Shalit on
his gay son


In 1997, NBC movie reviewer Gene Shalit wrote an article for The Advocate titled "For the Love of Pete," about his adult gay son. The opinions he expressed in that piece, reprinted here, don't seem to correspond to his "sexual predator" slur against Brokeback Mountain.

My eldest son, Peter, is a physician, he's gay, he and his partner have been together for 17 years, and I wish we'd see each other more often. (You call 3,000 miles far?) He graduated from the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle, where he now lectures and has a private practice; he is a Ph.D. in genetics; he was Phi Beta Kappa at Cornell as an undergraduate; he was a prodigy in botany, beginning to grow plants at age 6; he wrote for botanical journals at 12; and he is currently finishing a book about gay men's health. Among other areas of expertise, he is an authority on AIDS, with a great many patients, and was among a small team of physicians who went before the Washington State supreme court on the side of allowing doctor-assisted death. Peter is humane and intelligent, and I'm crazy about him. (One of the nice things about me is that I never brag about my kids.)

One day, home from Cornell, he asked me to his room, where he announced that he is gay. I replied along the lines of, "I thought you had something important to tell me." However, he says I was far from indifferent. Since this was some two decades ago, perhaps each of us has his own mirror of memory. Peter says I was extremely concerned about his physical safety and the consequences to his career. He may very well be right, but I would have had good cause. Remember, it was 1973, not 1997. (And 1997 ain't so hot either.) Open bigotry was far more widespread. Many of today's empty closets were then crowded. It would have been unnatural for me not to have been concerned. I was also frightened when my younger photographer son went to El Salvador and Nicaragua during the worst of the civil wars. Do I love them both? You bet.

Peter has asked if I wondered if his upbringing resulted in his being gay. I can't imagine it (although he says we definitely discussed it), any more than my daughter's upbringing resulted in her being left-handed or a third son's turning into a computer whiz who's a vegetarian and writer and digs gurus from India. My six children are individuals working in diverse fields. In Peter's case I rarely think about his being gay unless it's brought up, any more than I ponder my other children's being evidently heterosexual. Some of my best friends are heterosexuals. If I have any regret, it is that Peter has no children. He would have terrific kids, and he'd be a wonderful father.

I have covered the performing arts for network TV and national magazines for almost 50 years. Women and men in theater, film, music, art, and dance exhibit every kind of personal proclivity. As a critic, I don't judge individuals; I judge an individual's work. Groups are mosaics: There are wonderful Norwegians and awful Norwegians, good Episcopalians and boring Episcopalians, nice gays and gross gays, lousy presidents and great presidents.

Many parents lie awake at night wondering if they played a role in the sexual orientation of their children. I think they should go back to sleep. Each child is an individual. Speaking personally, mine are in constant touch with their brothers and sisters, and their love for each other is the most joyous aspect in my life.

My credo has always been: Let children follow their own star.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Gene Shalit