Merlene Davis: Group guides, educates parents, others in supporting gay loved ones

Herald-Leader columnistJune 21, 2014 

Audrey Linville and her parents, Sandy and Mike LInville, are members of PFLAG Central Kentucky, a support group for family and friends of gays.

  • IF YOU GO

    PFLAG

    PFLAG will have an information booth at the Lexington Pride Festival, an annual event to raise awareness of the LGBT community and to benefit the Gay & Lesbian Services Organization.

    When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday.

    Where: Robert F. Stephens Court House Plaza, 120 North Limestone St.

    Meeting schedule: Call (859) 338-4393, or visit pflagcentralky.org

Audrey Linville slipped a note under her parents' bedroom door when she thought they would be asleep. The note was to inform them that she was bisexual.

But Audrey's mother wasn't asleep. She saw the note and went to talk with her 13-year-old daughter.

"She came into my room that night," Audrey recalled. "She didn't cry. I cried. She wasn't mad. She expressed concern. She said, 'people are not going to accept you and you will have a hard time.'"

"I thought of all of the problems she would have with the gay jokes," said Sandy Linville, Audrey's mother. "Gay people were excluded. She might possibly lose friends."

After all, at that time, Audrey was in middle school, not the best breeding ground for compassion. Plus, there were the ever-popular teen-age sleepovers Audrey might miss out on if she were to publicly announce her sexual leanings.

So Sandy asked her daughter to forgo coming out until she reached high school. But never once did Sandy stop loving her daughter. Never once did she feel shame.

But accepting her daughter's bisexuality was something Sandy didn't know much about, and, like many parents, she wanted to make sure her actions were more beneficial to her young daughter than damaging.

PFLAG Central Kentucky wants to be that supporting guide, if not GPS system, for family and friends who want to learn more about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues while nurturing their loved ones.

Debbie Rickerd of Lexington said she attended her first PFLAGS meeting because she had heard there would be a panel discussion with religious leaders.

"There were some parents there I could tell were in a lot of pain about their children being gay," said Rickerd, who is a PFLAG board member and a lesbian.

One of the women at the meeting asked the clergy why God had done this to people, why God had allowed her children to be gay. Rickerd wanted to tell those parents that there is hope.

"I almost felt guilty about it," she said. "I've never had anyone not accept me."

Rickerd knows there are Central Kentucky parents who are struggling to come to terms with their child's sexuality. She wants them to come to a PFLAG meeting and see that they are not alone.

Pronounced "pea-flag," the national organization began in 1972 when Jeanne Manford joined her gay son in New York's Pride Day parade.

When other gay youth asked her to speak to their parents, the support group was started. She was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for her advocacy in 2012.

The PFLAG Central Kentucky group meets monthly for two hours. The first hour usually features a speaker and the last hour allows time for sharing and support.

The group welcomes parents with LGBT children, and siblings and LGBT youth who have not come out to their own parents.

The meetings are confidential and non-judgmental.

Members of the local chapter will also provide information and presentations to any group seeking to learn more.

"If someone wants to speak, they can," she said. "If they want to sit and listen they can. Everything is completely confidential like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). We don't talk about it."

Discussions can include how parents have come to accept that their child is gay or how parents have dealt with particular issues that have occurred.

"Some parents are fine that their child has come out," Rickerd said, "but are worried about how to talk about it to others and at church."

Sandy Linville said a lot of parents have established a relationship with a particular neighborhood or with a particular church and changing those dynamics can be disconcerting.

"I didn't mind if I lost something or someone," she said. "I had become confident in that role and in the role of a parent of a gay child."

Still, she did leave her church and has yet to find another that hasn't tried to change her daughter.

"My relationship with God has become stronger," Sandy said. "I don't go to church, but I actually believe I am closer to God because of the challenges and the negative things I have heard people say."

Because of PFLAG, however, Sandy said, "I've gained normality, acceptance and a place where I can speak about Audrey and not worry about people shaming me, asking what did you do wrong?"

Audrey is 20 now. She and her mother have evolved and grown closer. Audrey now recognizes that she is lesbian, not bisexual, and Sandy is "much more out there," serving as an advocate and guide for parents of LGBT children who are just embarking on that journey.

"We went to hell and back," Sandy said. "We went through a lot of hoops of fire. It has a traumatic effect. You build a bond with that person."

Audrey said her parents have shown unconditional love for her throughout this journey.

"If they ever struggled, they never did it in front of me," she said.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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