There is no definitive moment in my life when I ‘found out’ my brother was gay. Only two years apart in age, he and I were simply big brother and little sister. We were different from each other the way all siblings are. He was just my brother Matt.
Growing up in the 1980s, we didn’t have elementary schools that taught tolerance. Kids just figured it out (or they didn’t); some were nice to each other one week and mean the next. It wasn’t until high school that I learned that mean could turn to cruel. What I know now is that the cruel kids lacked the education and exposure.
Not only was my brother gay, but my parents had gay friends, some in same-sex committed relationships. I have no recollection of how they explained this to me as a child—or if they even did! Ironically, because homosexuality was such a natural part of my childhood, I never fully appreciated the importance of Gay Pride, the events at Stonewall, or the strength of the gay community.
I soon learned how truly lucky, blessed, and fortunate—and every other positive adjective out there—my brother, sister, and I were (and still are) to have parents who educated us and loved us unconditionally. In my freshman year of college, I met one of the most amazing men in my life. He made me laugh until my belly hurt and cry until I was out of tears—a bond that formed on our first day on campus and continues today. I knew within days of meeting him that he was gay. What I didn’t know was why he was hiding it.
Fast-forward to Parents’ Visitation Weekend, when I met his folks. I quickly became aware of the challenge he faced and why he was in the closet. First clue: “We are so happy to see he met a nice girl.” Umm, what? Final clue: “We knew that attending a Catholic university would set him straight.” Umm, what is going on here?
After that weekend, I called my brother for help. “Err, Matt? How does one help a friend come out of the closet? Is it insulting to just say it? What if I am wrong?” Honestly, I have no idea what advice my brother gave me. I do remember spending hours at a local bookstore reading publication after publication that might help me with this conversation. I landed on the book Coming Out: An Act of Love (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/304779.Coming_Out).
It took me just two days to summon the courage to give my friend the book; then it took us both two weeks to stop crying. I hadn’t realized that he needed to come out to himself before he could come out to others, and I hadn’t realized until that moment—a moment that I will never forget—that he could not seek love and acceptance from others until he loved and accepted himself.
It was with him, in those moments we shared, that I finally understood the evolution of Pride, the atrocities of Stonewall, and the beauty of the community that I am honored to support and that my best friend, my brother, and so many others in my life are proud to be part of.