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In our parents'
footsteps

In our parents'
footsteps

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LGBT kids who grew up with gay parents are finding support in groups like COLAGE. And they're discovering their desire to work in the gay rights movement.

Brendan Ranson-Walsh was in Hawaii a few years ago while touring with the musical Cats. He and some friends were looking for a gay beach in Maui, but they were having no luck.

So Ranson-Walsh, 22, called the one person he knew would be able to help: his father, Robert. That's because Ranson-Walsh and Robert, 55, share a bond that the majority of gay children do not have with their parents--father and son are both gay.

While many gays and lesbians may see having a gay parent as a dream scenario, many second-generation gays, or "second-geners," say that, like any parent-child relationship, it comes with its own unique challenges. "Everyone assumes that it's easier being gay if you have a gay parent," says Ranson-Walsh. "And yes, to a degree, it's easier. A gay parent isn't going to kick you out of the house for being gay. But it wasn't easy."

For Ranson-Walsh, who also has a lesbian sister, the challenge came with being pegged as gay at an early age, thanks in part to his longtime love of dancing and performing. "With my dad being gay, he had a sense of me before I did," says Ranson-Walsh, whose father lives in Washington, D.C., with his partner. "I felt pressure, but I didn't want him to be right." Also, after his sister came out, Brendan felt like he was "the last hope" to carry on the family name. "But I realize now that the pressure was all in my head."

Regardless of the struggles second-geners may face, what is remarkable is just how many end up working deep in the trenches of the gay rights movement. Ranson-Walsh's 26-year-old sister, Kate, for example, was an activist from an early age, attending her first gay family conference in 1989. She eventually got involved with the national organization Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, serving on the board for seven years and writing a regular column in the group's newsletter. She was a youth organizer for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and she even tried to start a gay-straight alliance in her high school in Fairfax County, Va. Today, she's the force behind QueerSpawn.com, an online community for second-geners as well as kids of gay parents.

Kate, who now lives in Oakland, Calif., learned early about the prejudice that the gay children of gay parents face. When she was in high school, a local television station was going to do a news story on Kate as the child of a gay parent. But when the producers found out that Kate herself is a lesbian, they killed the piece, saying they didn't want to promote negative stereotypes.

Even some gay and lesbian parents see families like Kate's negatively, she says. "I used to babysit for a lesbian couple who were so adamant that their son grow up to be straight," recalls Kate. "Isn't that internalized homophobia? The truth is, what does it matter? You are who you are."

Asha Leong is a self-identified queer with a lesbian mother. Ten years ago Asha, now 29, helped found the Day of Silence, an annual protest that has since grown into a national movement to bring attention to the plight of LGBT youth. She has worked for YouthPride in Atlanta and Lambda Legal, and she recently relocated to Columbia, S.C., to become campaign manager for the South Carolina Equality Coalition, which is battling a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot this fall.

Part of what motivates her is the fact that her mother and her mother's partner, who now live in Massachusetts, are getting married later this year. "It's amazing that they will be married in Massachusetts and to know that we are winning this battle," Leong says. "But it also brings home just how important it is to do this work in the South, in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I feel like I was born to do this work."

Meredith Fenton, a 30-year-old native of Peoria, Ill., is the national program director for the San Francisco-based COLAGE. She identifies as queer and has a lesbian mother who came out at age 51. In fact, the differences in their coming-out experiences helped give Fenton a better understanding of generational differences among gays and lesbians. "My mom had to deal with losing friends [after she came out]," says Fenton, who came out herself while a student at liberal Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Fenton is also angered by those gays who treat her family like a negative stereotype that could impede the gay rights movement. "Clearly, gay parents with straight kids are the preferred spokespeople for the community," says Fenton. "Was my mom 'flaunting' her lesbianism while I was growing up? If flaunting meant being a stay-at-home mom married to her doctor husband and going to synagogue together, then yes, she was flaunting her dormant lesbianism."

For COLAGE board cochair Ryan LaLonde, whose brother and mother are both gay, community activism doesn't just benefit him, it benefits his entire family. "A win for me is a triple win," says LaLonde, a 31-year-old Michigan native now living in Silver Spring, Md. "It's a win for me, for my family, and for the kids I'm going to have. When I'm talking about gay issues, I'm talking about every member of my family. I can speak as a gay man, as the son, as the sibling--from every perspective. We are the best advocates for our community, but we're not always welcomed by the community."

That's one of the reasons second-geners tend to stick together, LaLonde says. "We face more obstacles because we are not always welcome. So we've had to create our own world."

Jesse Carr had one more obstacle thrown his way. Carr, 24, is a female-to-male transgender, something that his lesbian mothers didn't understand at first. So Carr knows firsthand the kind of transphobia that sometimes exists in the lesbian community. "When I came out as transgendered, they were scared," Carr recalls. "They were angry, partly out of fear."

Carr, the membership coordinator for COLAGE, says the process of coming out to his parents was similar to what a gay child might go through in coming out to straight parents. "There's a generational difference too," says Carr, who was raised in Lewisburg, Pa. "My generation has a different understanding of gender roles. But having grown up in a queer community, I [understand] it as a multigenerational community."

The same goes for Brendan Ranson-Walsh. Even though he doesn't make his living in activism, he takes the time to educate his peers about the history of the gay rights movement. "Having a gay parent connects me to the struggle and gives me a sense of history," he says. "Most of the people I know don't have a clue about Stonewall. Just having that kind of knowledge takes away the apathy, and it inspires me to make a difference."

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