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COMING OUT: LGBTQ+ Trailblazers & Changing Your Child’s Life

by | August 20, 2019

A four-part series, to help parents better communicate with their children, understand their struggles and victories, and help them get the support they need.

Raise Vegan is able to bring you this series with the help of Lindsey Pembrooke (they/them), who has been involved in the New Haven Pride Center since 2016, and is a member of their Board of Directors. In addition to co-coordinating the Transgender Adult Support Group at the New Haven Pride Center, they are a trained group facilitator with PFLAG.org (pflag.co.uk), and active in support groups around the state and online. If you are non-binary, or the parent of a non-binary child, you can find their support group on Facebook: Non-Binary Gender Pride.

Lindsey Pembrooke
(Source: Am Norgren)

In the final instalment of our four part series, we discuss the brave trailblazers of the LGBTQ+ community. We explore how they give younger generations the courage to be who they truly are, and how they shape the world and inspire people around them.

Through this piece, you’ll meet individuals who stood up to their peers to say “No, I will not conform to your expectations” — and showed society what love and support can really do.

Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth.

Pride Parade
(Source: Katie Stevens Photography/Shutterstock.com)

LGBTQ+ Community Building

If your child has overcome their initial fears and come out to you, you may be asking yourself what to do next.

While your child may be comfortable showing you their true self, they could still be apprehensive about coming out to the world. Meeting peers who have gone through similar situations, and can help your child gain confidence, is a great place to start. 

You may not be ready for this as a parent — but there is nothing more affirming than meeting other people like yourself after you have felt isolated for a long time, so it may be time to get ready.

I would suggest encouraging them to meet others through local support groups, but don’t force the subject. Do the initial groundwork and find local organizations, groups and individuals to whom they could reach out. Show them which support groups and friends are there for them and, when they’re ready to take that step, they will be inspired to begin a healthy progression to leading a more fulfilling life. 

PFLAG is an organization that I highly recommend as a place to start. With 400 chapters across the United states, and 200000 supporters, PFLAG is a place that your child can go to meet other people like themself, hear others talk about their experiences and to have a chance to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe space. As a parent, you will have the opportunity to meet other parents navigating similar situations.  

Meetings begin with large group introductions from speakers and then break into smaller, more specific support groups, such as youth, ally/parent, LGBTQ+ relationships, and adult transgender. 

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to change the world. That’s why I love the story of PFLAG’s creation and that of the Pride movement itself. 

(Source: Kram9/Shutterstock.com)

Origin Story

The Pride movement really found its voice in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots — generally regarded as the single most important turning point for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States

The Stonewall riots were a series of violent protests that occurred in June, 1969 in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The raid began in the early hours of June 28. An unfortunate series of events created the perfect storm and the scene quickly turned into a violent riot. The following year, on the anniversary of the riot, the first unofficial Pride Parade took to the streets — with attendees marching from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in an event that would inspire the pride marches we enjoy, and come together for, today.

Among them was Jeanne Manford, a mother and school teacher set to make history.

Jeanne attended the march with her son Morty, carrying a sign that read “Parents of gays, united in support of our children.”

Before long, fellow marchers had approached her and pleaded with her to talk to their own parents, launching the series of events that would inspire her to found PFLAG.

There, in the middle of a time that was at best chaotic for the LGBTQ+ community, was a mom who loved her son enough to stand by him and proudly show him support — raising the bar for parents the world over.

Transgender Flag
(Source: Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com)

Since its inception, PFLAG has had to grow and evolve to meet the needs of an ever-evolving community of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. Originally focused only on lesbians and gays, the group has expanded to provide support for bisexual, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming youth and adults, with parents and allies passing their knowledge on to those who follow in their footsteps. The group’s mission is to reassure people across the sex and gender spectrum that they are not alone.

Thankfully, Jeanne isn’t either. She helped to pave the way for countless LGBTQ+ activists and allies that would join her in her fight for equality. What follows are details on the efforts of some of those people.

Sophie and Lindsey
(Source: Provided)

Sophie Labelle

In the age of social media, you don’t even need to leave your home to find connections or feel like you are not alone.

For me, one such connection, which has consistently made me feel like I was a part of something greater, is the one I have with Sophie Labelle. Best known as the creator of Assigned Male Comics, this Montreal native uses art to change the world.

Since 2014, her comic strip characters, such as Stephie, Ciel and Frankie, have given her a well-deserved rockstar status in the LGBTQ+ community. This is all part of what she says is the goal ofreframing transness into something positive and empowering.

Sophie Comic
(Source: Sophie Labelle)

As a transgender person, I love how she tells our story, and shows how we feel and cope with those feelings. She gives voice to our hopes, dreams, nightmares, fears and frustrations — massively important for those who think that transgender, non-binary and intersex people are “culturally inconvenient.”

Sophie gives the trans community a face and humanizes our struggles. It is so important to give us a voice and allow us to be heard, a point emphasized by Sophie’s work and public presence.

Sophie has been on the receiving end of terrifying death threats throughout her career, but there was one particularly chilling occurrence in 2017, when a hate group targeted her in a specific, more organized way than usual. Over a period of just a few days, Sophie received thousands of threats, had her website hacked, and had her home address posted online.. She and her roommate were forced to move as a result.

“I had a choice to either hide or write more,” she’d said.

“I wrote more because it p*ssed them off so much!”   

I reached out to Sophie earlier this summer to come and present a talk at the New Haven Pride Center. I was more than a little nervous to do so, yet, with the logistical support from Patrick Dunn, the Executive Director, I ended up moderating the event. Meeting Sophie was akin to bumping into an old friend, picking up a conversation where none left off. She is charismatic, engaging and funny. All of these personality traits shine through in her comics, as do her personal experiences of biases that trans-people face on a daily basis. 

The ages of Stephie and the gang in Sophie’s comics are perfect. Ranging from 12 to 13 years old, they talk about their transness without the distraction of hormones, blockers and surgeries.  All they want is love, acceptance for who they are and to be treated like any other child.  

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want for our children? 

You can find Sophie’s books on Etsy and follow her characters through the comics she releases every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here.

Tony Ferraiolo
(Source: Provided)

Tony Ferraiolo

There are a lot of support groups around for teens and adults — but what happens when the person you are trying to help is much younger? Tony Ferraiolo provides the answers.

Tony is heavily involved in the transgender support networks in the state of Connecticut and he has created many support groups, including the one at the New Haven Pride Center. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a transgender youth rally on the steps of the State Supreme Court in Hartford. I had been actively dealing with my gender identity for four years before I got a chance to meet Tony in person. I have friends that have always spoken highly of Tony, but it was only when I saw him speak at the Guilford Free Library this past Spring that I truly appreciated the value of his work. Seeing him speak in person, especially after hearing so many in the community speak so highly of him, was incredibly affirming.

The topic was “Artistic Expression of Transgender Youth.” He talked about his work with younger children and their feelings on gender and children’s awareness of gender roles in our society from a very young age. He explained that kids can develop confusing feelings around the gender roles that are thrust onto them and who, in the case of children who are not completely cisgender (identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth), this can be uncomfortable, upsetting, and, in some cases, traumatic.  

When there is a child who has given their parents some indication that they might be struggling with gender identity, how do you go about getting that child to talk about it?  If you are Tony Ferraiolo, you use art.    

Tony has kids draw what they are feeling after giving them a high-level prompt, such as “What makes you sad?” Then, they write the terms for the associated feelings on the back of the art, preventing anyone from seeing it, and the others can interpret their own views of the piece.  

These small kids present the most striking art and it quickly becomes apparent how much pain they have hidden away. It’s clear from their work that children can struggle with gender identity and expressing themselves at a very young age — and that that can be debilitating.

It makes me feel good to know there are people like Tony in the world. It inspires me to help people, too. When I first started formally dealing with my gender issues, I was a confused mess with more than a little self doubt and a bit of fear. Fast forward to four plus years later, and I am in a much different place, know myself better now than I ever have, and have even learned to like myself. However, I can remember what it was like to take that first step.  If I have the opportunity to take away some of that pain and confusion in someone else’s coming-out experience, I am reminded of people like Tony, and know that I have to at least try to help.  

If you want to see more of Tony’s experiences in both his transition and his work with kids, you can check out the documentary A Self-Made Man, or explore his published work.

Regan Kibby
(Source: Provided)

Regan Kibby

Regan Kibby is a midshipman at the Naval Academy.  They were not given this opportunity, they earned it.  You don’t get into the US Service Academy on a coin flip.  One must first prove to be among the brightest, most motivated, and most able — physically and mentally.  Getting there isn’t a prize. Once you get there, that’s when the real work starts. 

Regan was universally recognized as being among the best of the best this country has to offer.  And they just happen to be transgender.
In 2015, a study was done that “predicted that service members would not seek to transition were the procedures not covered by the Pentagon, and that they would likely have higher rates of substance abuse and suicide as a result.”

In June 2016, it was announced that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly.  People allowed themselves to dream of acceptance and relied on this promise to transgender people from the US Government.  Regan was one of those people.     

However, on July 26, 2017, President Trump took to Twitter to announce that his administration planned to ban all transgender people from serving.  This left transgender people then serving in the military — who had in good faith relied on the prior promise made by the government — in limbo.  In a moment, the government was actively conspiring to deny them their life’s work. 

This left those with the bravery to serve as who they are — proud members of the LGBTQ+ community — in a compromised position. Once they’d shared their truth, that was it.  Now, here was their government denying them those liberties — rescinding the freedom to which they were well entitles.

Regan could have dropped out and ran away.  They could have left their fate to . . . fate.  But they chose to stay and fight.  It is in their nature.  They are one of the publicly visible plaintiffs in the Doe v. Trump lawsuit, joining seven other service members who happen to be transgender and wish to continue to serve in the US military.  They have given interviews and appeared in videos speaking on the matter.  

Every time they speak, they put a face on this issue.  They also put a face on every other transgender person out there.  They humanize us and show that we are not weak because of this aspect of ourselves.  Reality is, in fact, quite the opposite.

I believe that we should create the world we want to live in — and that Regan is doing just that. While they’ve done more than enough in simply making it into the military, and thriving there, sharing their story is allowing them to create a world impacted by it.  I can’t help but be inspired by that.

But Regan isn’t the only inspirational person in this story.  I’ve known Regan’s dad Charles for a long time.  Long before I knew they had a transgender son.  Long before I had started to formally deal with my own gender issues.  I first became aware of Regan’s situation through Charles’ posts about it.  Charles comes across as fiercely proud of their son. Seeing Regan’s story and Charles’ unwavering support for them, how could I not reach out?

And so I did — and I root for Regan and for Charles.  I root for my country to reclaim the sense of fairness that it lost when it went back on its word to the transgender people in our armed forces.  

Pride Community
(Source: Angyalosi Beata/Shuttertsock.com)

Jeanne Manford, Sophie Labelle, Regan Kibby, Tony Ferraiolo — all people who’ve created ripples of inspiration that have changed many lives, including mine, and perhaps one day your child’s.

They embody the spirit of my favorite personal mantra, “Create the world you want to live in.” 

Thanks to their work and the positive changes it has inspired, my hope for my world and the world my children live in continues to grow. We are working to build tolerance, acceptance, and love for the LGBTQ+ community — a love that could save lives.

Parenting is a tough job. It becomes easier to react to situations the earlier we are made aware of them, but sometimes, we don’t get that luxury.  

Transgender Flags
(Source: J. Bicking/Shutterstock,com)

Kids can struggle, and based on the signals they receive, they may worry and push people away. They may encounter undeserved bullying or embarrassment, and feel the need to keep their struggles to themselves. While they may not be able to control the situation or how they react, how we, as parents, react to these situations is totally within our control. Hopefully, with the tools shared here and now, you’ll be a little more prepared if your child comes out to you, and be in a better position to take a step back, breathe and concentrate on them and how they’re feeling. Your positive love and active support will make all the difference to them and their lives.

Many of the LGBTQ+ issues that have been discussed in this series are universal. Where possible, I have tried to speak in general terms that encompass all LGBTQ+ people.

That said, my own experience is within the transgender/non-binary community and there are issues there that are not universal, such as using the bathroom or being addressed in a manner that matches the gender one identifies with. Where necessary, I have focused specifically on some of those issues as well.        

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this series, and will learn something new, or have gained a new perspective. If you have any questions or stories you’d like to share, feel free to write/email me in care of Raise Vegan magazine, I will try to answer as best I can.  Regardless of the personal struggles you or your children face, we all want the best for our kids.  

Being LQBTQ+ is not a problem. The problem is the way people often react to it. If I had to leave a kid out there with one thought, it would be that you are valid and have worth, exactly as you are. With our positive actions, together we can help create the world in which we want to live.   

—Lindsey Pembrooke

Please find the other installments of this series here:

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