Raising a Gay Child in a Red State

Happy Pride, Y'all

6/30/202413 min read

close up photography of rainbow rays on eye
close up photography of rainbow rays on eye

My son, Joshua, came out to us when he was thirteen years old. Even though he knew we were the most liberal parents a kid could have, he was still nervous. This is mostly my husband’s fault.

We were on a trip to Chicago for the first time. My husband happened to be glancing through my son’s phone and saw that he texted a friend, telling him that he had a crush on him. My husband, Sam, then went to him. “I saw your text about your crush. We need to all talk about it. You need to let your mom know. But vacation is not the time. Wait until we get home.”

Obviously, this scared Josh. He thought it meant I would likely be upset, so he worried the rest of the vacation about how I would react. A few years later, while we were watching Love, Simon with Josh, I heard my husband apologize to Josh for forcing him to come out.

Recently, I told Sam how he made Josh think I would be upset with him when he came out. He was shocked. He said that he just meant that we were busy and it would be best to wait until we had more time. He had no idea he made Josh feel this way.

Sam then made Josh tell me the Saturday we got home. He now says that all he can remember about that vacation is his fear of this, which is a shame since Chicago is amazing.

The Saturday after we got home, Sam told him to talk to me. He came into the family room, fidgeting with his hands. This has forecasted his anxiety since he was very young. My husband and I were sitting on the couch.

He looked at me. “Mom, I have something to tell you.”

I turned off the TV. “Sure, sweetie. What’s up.”

“I am bisexual.”

“Ok. That’s cool.” My reaction was basically the same as if he had told me that his favorite color was now blue instead of red or that he no longer liked cauliflower.

He dropped his hands to his side, visibly relaxing.

“Anything else?”


“Okay. That’s good. I thought you were going to tell me about some trouble you were in at school. You know I don’t care who you love; their gender, race, or disability. I just want you to find a good person who treats you well and makes you happy. Oh, and I still expect grandkids someday.”


Josh had been lucky to collect a few good friends over the years. He was never one of the popular kids, nor did he long to be. But the friends he does have are good and loyal and have always accepted him in all his weird and wonderful glory. The least of which is his sexuality.

I was picking him up from a sleepover at a friend’s house, whose mom I have been lucky enough to befriend. As he was getting his things together, she pulled me aside.

“Normally, I would not do this, but I thought you needed to know. Did you know Josh is bi?”

“Yeah. He came out to us a few months ago.”

“Good. I feel really weird outing someone. And I wouldn’t usually do that, but I thought it was important that you knew. We looked through Jack’s phone the other day and saw a meme Josh had sent to him and JT. It said that he was bi. They both responded very acceptingly.”

“That’s great. I am so glad. He told a friend from Scouts that he liked him. His friend told him that he only liked girls, but nothing else has changed. They are still the same friends. He is very lucky to know such good guys.”

“They were actually very sweet in the text conversation I saw. And yes, we are those people that go through our son’s phone.”

“We do, too. How else are you going to be able to keep up with them? He used to tell us every thought he had in his head; in great detail. Now, we are lucky to get a few words.”

“Well, I was very proud of how both boys handled it.”

I know some people may prickle at the implication that my son and his sexuality are something to be handled. But this was obviously an awkward conversation for her, and she was simply trying to reassure me that Josh’s friends had his back. She is my friend and a good person in her own right, and I know she did not mean this.

Over the years, I have noticed several very liberal family members choke over their words when talking about any LGBTQ issues in front of him. Even though he knows how they feel in their hearts, they worry over phrasing something the wrong way to him.


While I was driving Josh home, I asked him about this. “Did you really come out to your friends in a meme.”

“Yeah. They were cool.”

“That’s great. But a meme? Really? Don’t you think that should have been a conversation?”

Apparently, conversations are not Gen Z’s bailiwick.

“You know you have some really good friends. You are lucky.”

“I know.”

“What did you do at the sleepover.”

“Not much. Played Xbox.”

That was all I was able to get while driving and trying to compete with his phone for his attention. Proof positive that queer teens are still just teens.


The next June, we took him to his first pride parade and festival. We sat on the curb and watched the floats go by, cheering for the drag performers and collecting the candy that people threw to the crowd.

I felt pride in my city that so many people were there to support him, and others like him. I was surprised to see how many churches had floats in the parade, as that is extremely far from the strict Catholic church I grew up in.

Unfortunately, we were also sitting near the very small, chain-linked fenced area where the Westboro church was allowed to protest. Apparently, the city was forced to allow them into what was otherwise an amazing celebration.

I heard the lies and slander and filth that they shouted at the people in the parade. The people that my son has just aligned himself with. I felt worried about what he would be up against.

He seemed to be able to ignore them better than I could. I think that mothers always worry more about what our children might have to endure than we might face. He has always cared very little about what others think of him, and I hope he continues to do so. This rare and important quality will help him rise above what will be thrown at him and keep going.

We bought him buttons and a pride flag and took his picture holding it in front of the Ohio River. We encouraged him to explore the festival, but by then, his social meter had completely depleted, and he was ready to go home. He was later diagnosed as being neurodivergent, and his autistic side often wins out, so I imagine that, despite his socially forward boyfriend’s protestations, this will likely be his only pride parade.


When the holidays neared, my husband and I began thinking about our families and their values. We live in a very red state. Luckily, we are in a very liberal haven, but much of my family has not kept up with the progressiveness of our city.

And his family was worse, living in the reddest part of the state, right on the bible belt. We were worried about what conflicts might ensue and that our family may reject him. We decided we should talk to Josh.

“We were thinking about your grandparents and the rest of the family. We are not sure it is best to come out to them now. If you want to, we will support you. We will always support you no matter what. But we are worried about how you will be treated and what they will think of you.”

“I know. I wasn’t planning to.”

“When you get a serious boyfriend and want to bring him around, we will all talk to them then, in whatever way you want to.”

“Ok. That sounds good.”

We talked about the few family members, my dad, stepmom, and two of my cousins, who would be supportive, and he said that I could tell them since I would probably see them before he did.

For the record, I told them, and they were wonderful.


I still often think about this decision to encourage him not to come out to his grandparents. I am very conflicted about this. I like to think that we were trying to protect him from negative things that may be thrown at him by his family and from feeling rejected by the people who are supposed to love him no matter what.

I knew he did not care what strangers in the Westboro pit at the parade had to say. But what would he think if he heard the same things from his own grandparents?

When I’m being honest with myself, I admit that we were also trying to protect ourselves from having to deal with this conflict. My husband did not want Josh to become a source of conflict at his family’s Thanksgiving table.

And I certainly did not want every conversation I had with my mom to dissolve into her begging me to talk Josh out of this so he wouldn’t go to hell. And for her to constantly tell me that she was praying for him.

But, in doing so, I am worried that we gave him the message that part of him should be hidden away. And that we placed our own convenience and discomfort above his ability to be his authentic self. I never want him to feel this way.


A few years later, when he started high school, I encouraged him to join the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). He went to a very traditional school, and it was difficult for him to meet people who were like him — people who preferred Dungeons and Dragons over football games, people who would rather stay home and play video games than go to the homecoming bonfire, and people in the LGBTQ community.

We forged a plan. We saw that his US Government and Politics teacher was the faculty sponsor for the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). I told him to go up to her and ask her about it. He was socially awkward and felt weird doing this. But on the first day of school, she asked them to fill out cards with their name, e-mail, parent’s phone number, etc. She also told them to write three things about themselves.

I don’t remember the third thing, but the second was “I like DnD” (because he is always looking for more players), and the first was “I am gay.” Because he never paid attention in class, we did not know that they were all to stand in front of the class, introduce themselves, and read their three things.

It was still early in the year, and they had not yet figured out how to get the bus to our block in time for him to get to school before the first bell, so I was driving him in.

He was in a rare talkative mood. “They did not have time to get to me before, but everyone is reading our three things out loud. I am going to tell the class I am gay. I am really nervous.”

“I thought you were bi.”

“So did I, but I don’t really like girls.”

“Ok. You know you don’t have to tell them if you don’t want to. You can change the first thing and still give her the card as it is. She would understand.”

“I know, but I want to.”

“That’s awesome, bubs. I’m proud of you.”


The third day of his freshman year of high school. My son stood up and outed himself to the 30 people in his class. Thirty people he did not know — in a very traditional school where they valued sports and religious clubs over art and drama.

When I attended the open house a few weeks later, I made a point to introduce myself to her, as I did all his teachers. Aside from his health teacher. I was put off by the posters of Jesus and the Ten Commandments lining the front of his desk and scattered around his classroom, against district policy.

She smiled at me. “Your son is very brave. He stood right up in class and told everyone he is gay.”

“Thank you. I told him he could have said something else, but he decided not to change it. He is very excited about GSA.”

“That is great. I’m glad to have him.”


A few years later, Josh met his first and current boyfriend, Anthony, in college. He only went for two and a half semesters. But while the idea of a degree vanished, Anthony did not.

When Josh left school, he moved in with us. Anthony graduated the following semester and moved back home to Pigeon Forge, TN, renting an apartment near his dad. They would meet each other in the middle about once a month. I had a strong feeling that Josh was thinking of moving in with him, and I told him we wanted to meet him first.

Anthony flew into Louisville and stayed with us for a few days. We liked him a lot. Seeing them cuddling on the couch together while they talked to us was so nice. Seeing my son in love for the first time and happy was amazing.

Last February, they did, in fact, move in together, and it seemed like Anthony was going to be part of our family for a while. They were also making plans to spend Thanksgiving with us, so we knew it was time to face the rest of the family. Josh said he wanted us to do it.

My mom had very advanced Alzheimer’s, so she was no longer an issue. I would watch her once or twice a week while my stepdad worked, and he and I would always chat when he got home. I took one of these opportunities to tell him.

I was expecting a difficult conversation and had been gearing up for it all day. When we had a lull in conversation, I filled it. “Josh is moving to Tennessee with someone he met at college.”

“Oh. That is cool.”

“Yeah. He is really excited about it. They will have the nicest room. And they have two roommates in the extra bedrooms.” I hoped he would put it together when I said they were sharing a room.

“Has he gotten a job there?”

“Yeah. Anthony got him a job where he works.”

“That’s great. It will be good for him to move away for a while.”

“I just wish it wasn’t so far away.”

“Don’t worry. Once, he has lived with a bunch of guys for a while. He will get tired of it and come back.”

“I don’t think so. Josh brought Anthony into town to meet us. They have gotten very close and seem very happy together.”

“He will. Just wait a bit.”

I ripped off the band-aid. “Anthony is his boyfriend.”

“Huh? Wait. What do you mean?”

“Pops, Josh is gay. Anthony is his boyfriend. They are in a relationship.”

“Oh. Well. That’s cool, I guess.

“Yeah. We really liked him when he stayed with us. They seem very happy.”



A few days later, my husband called his dad. Afterward, he told me that he was even more nervous than he thought he would be, but he got right down to it.

His dad answers. Then, after the usual pleasantries, asks, “Y’all coming for Thanksgiving?”

“Probably so. It depends on how Alisa is doing. She is still having trouble from her surgery.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Just let me know so I can get the bedrooms ready.”

“Josh will be bringing someone.”

“That’s fine. You know your sister makes plenty to eat.”

“Yeah. Well. He is bringing his boyfriend. Josh is gay.”

“Josh is gay? Huh. I didn’t know that. How’s the weather up there?”

And that was that. They spent the rest of the call chatting about the weather, the new babies in the family, and the cats his dad found in the yard that he had been feeding.

He then called his oldest sister, who had no issues.

We spoke with his niece a few weeks later when she brought her babies up for a Halloween pumpkin stroll.

“So, Grandpa asked if we knew Josh was gay. We told him he did, and asked what he thought about it. He said, “Well. It’s alright, I guess.”

“We are a little worried about how he will react when we stay there on Thanksgiving weekend, and they try to sleep in the same bed.”

“Yeah. I have no idea. Grandpa’s just Grandpa. No one can control him, so we’ll just have to see.”

We ended up not going for Thanksgiving as I was hospitalized for the third time with post-surgery complications, just getting home the week before. We still don’t know and are all a little afraid to find out.


Early this year, a flood in their town ruined the lower level of the building Josh and Anthony worked in. Everyone had their hours cut. They both went from working full-time to one day a week each. Their lease was up at the end of March, so they paid it off and moved in with us. This way, they could both work and save money until Anthony starts grad school this fall.

They both expressed how much better living in Louisville was. They never truly felt accepted in this small tourist town in Tennessee — where there were Trump stores and Confederate flags, and people stared at them as they even stood a little too close together in public.

When they first moved in, I was helping Anthony apply for state Medicaid so that he could get health insurance. In doing so, I discovered that they had been lying to us about Anthony’s age at Josh’s request.

I found out that Anthony, who I had been told was 26 and reasonably older than my 21-year-old son, is 33. At first, I was a little bit concerned. He was the same age as one of my close friends.

Josh argued that since she and I have a much bigger age difference than they do, our friendship is the odd one out, not their relationship. I told her about this during a weekend art retreat we went to, explaining that I was a little freaked out by their age difference but could not tell them and was not sure if I wanted to tell Sam.

She and I developed a code where, for the weekend, we would look at each other sporadically, saying, “But, it’s weird, right?” So that I could tell her as much as I wanted and not have to tell my husband or the boys. We would laugh, and I would feel better. We only did this while we were away for the weekend, and by the end, I felt less conflicted.

I soon realized that Anthony is the same person now as he was when I thought he was seven years younger. He himself had not changed, so how I feel about him should not change. Also, if I truly meant it when I told Josh I did not care who he fell in love with, then the age difference should not bother me. I never think about their age difference anymore, and I now feel a little guilty about joking with my friend about it that weekend.

For the past five months, I have had two young men in my basement bedroom instead of my usual one. Things have been going well. Anthony fits in with our family. Sam and I have even started referring to them as our boys.

In six weeks, they will be moving 8 ½ hours away so that Anthony can begin grad school. I hate to see them both leave, but I am excited for them to begin the next chapter of their lives together. I hope that they can make this work so that Anthony remains a permanent member of our family.

Oh, and since that conversation when he came out eight years ago, Josh has told me so very many times that I will never have grandkids — just granddogs. And I think I am even on my way to becoming okay with that.