A Devoted Mom Waves Her PFLAG
|by Mubarak Dahir|
There are a lot of ways to describe Kirsten Kingdon, executive director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She is the daughter of a union organizer, a former history teacher, a lawyer and a dedicated activist. Deeply religious, she is an elder in the Presbyterian church. She is also a survivor of a childhood sexual assault, and was an unwed mother who gave up her firstborn for adoption. With the publication of her recent book, Summer at the Edge of the Worldan autobiographical fiction that draws heavily from her life's experiencesKingdon is now a new author, too.
But above all else, she is a devoted mother.
And while she makes it clear she loves her heterosexual children as much as her gay one, it is the passion she feels as the parent of a gay son that fuels much of her devotion and strength and commitment.
In a candid interview that spares no personal detail, Kingdon speaks her mind about her family's ongoing struggles with religion, the battles against those who use the Bible "as a battering ram," and the changing face of the increasingly visible organization she leads.
Q: In your book, the main character is a devoutly religious woman. She is both the mother of a daughter who looks at homosexuality as a sin, and the mother of a gay son. How similar is that to your real family, and how do you bridge those differences?
I am an elder in the Presbyterian Church and that is a very important part of my life. My daughter is a strict Presbyterian who opposes homosexuality based on her interpretations of Scripture. The difference in our views mirrors a real split in the church right now. My daughter and I, if we were both going to be at General Assembly, we would be urging people to do different things. And sure, that has created tension in the family.
Q: And how do you deal with those differences on such a personal level?
It certainly doesn't mean we don't talk about it. Because if you just look at the position of Pat Robertson, and the position of PFLAG, there's a very big difference between them. But when my daughter and I sit down and talk, we find there's not nearly as much difference.
Q: On the question of religion, do you often turn to the churches and religious leaders for support? Do you find it?
It's actually a very painful subject. It's ironic, because religions often lead the way on social justice issues, but they haven't on this one.
I am extremely grateful to the gay and lesbian people who have stayed within the Presbyterian denomination and stood side by side with us who are trying to change the church. But I totally respect people who say, "It is not good for my spiritual health to be in a religious culture where I am treated as a second-class citizen." My son Jim has left the Presbyterian Church because it treats him as a second-class citizen.
Q: When talking to people who disagree with you about sexual orientation on religious grounds, what do you say?
If you're talking about political rights in the civil realm, the Bible argument is totally irrelevant. They are entitled to their religious opinions, but they are not entitled to have those opinions be the basis and justification of our laws.
Q: If you are not talking politics, but you are just talking to people as individuals, trying to win them over, and they bring up religious objections, what do you say then?
You know, on a personal level, it really is a question of morality and what you believe is right or wrong. In general, I don't see a lot of point in getting into a discussion about particular passages or particular words. There's some reason these people are so passionate about [objections to homosexuality], and it's usually fear, often compounded with ignorance. And unless you can talk to them on that level, they are never going to change.
Also, for me, I keep in mind that my views have gone through an evolution, too.
Q: What has that evolution been?
When Jim first came out to mewell, I wasn't as far from Pat Robertson as I'd like to think. [Laughter] I thought it was like a drug addiction or alcoholism. I thought it was a disorder, something to be cured.
If someone had tried to beat me over the head with a message and convince me I had to change my views, I never would have changed them. I came about it because I was able to have people who could teach by example, as well as providing me information.
Q: In the past few years, PFLAG has certainly become more of a leader on the national level and more politically visible. What was behind that?
A lot of us in PFLAG have felt an increasingly urgent need to be heard on the national level, for our voices to be brought to bear on political debates. And politically we have found PFLAG people are some of the most effective lobbyists. Our coalition partners always tell us they love to have PFLAG members go in to testify or talk to politicians.
Q: How is the message different when it comes from PFLAG?
I'm just a Mom. I'm not a threat to anyone. So I help put gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in a context of family, a loving context of family, and that's very powerful.
Q: What are the most important goals for PFLAG today?
Creating safe places in schools for GLBT youth. It's a difficult battle. We help provide a counterweight to parents who just go bonkers any time the word gay or lesbian is mentioned.
Because of that, we're getting different kinds of people coming into PFLAG today. We're getting more parents who don't have a problem with the fact that their kids are gay or lesbian. A number of them are parents with teens, and they see how their kids are treated in school, and they come in wanting to do something about it. And that's a big part of our energy.
Q: So the nature of PFLAG itself is changing?
Today the emphasis is on celebrating. What I see more and more is proud moms and dads and grandparents. People bring me pictures all the time, pictures of their families, a picture of a daughter and her partner and their kids. And you can just feel their joy. We are not a bunch of people sitting around trying to console ourselves because we have to deal with this misery [that our kids our gay and lesbian.] That's not it at all!
Mubarak Dahir receives email at MubarakDah@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 8, June 30, 2000.