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Learning to Accept a Gay Son

As members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Burt and Sheila Galper have been counseling other parents for several years. There was a time when Burt Galper refused to attend the meetings. The Galpers, parents of four grown children, live in Van Nuys. My 28-year-old son’s name is Mitchell. When he was 19 years old, he came home from UC Santa Barbara for Christmas vacation. He called my wife into the room for some reason or other, and about a half hour later they called me in. My son threw a book on the bed, and the title of it was, “Loving Someone Gay.”

I looked at it and I asked him, “Why are you showing me this book?” And he said, “Because I’m gay.” And I fell apart. I just couldn’t believe it. We never had any idea that he was gay. My first thought was that I was very ashamed of him. I was uneducated about gays and I thought that he had made a bad choice.

We started talking about it, and I was crying, and he kept on saying, “Dad, I was born this way and there’s nothing that I can do to change. You’re going to have to learn about gays.” And I said, “I don’t want to learn about gays. As long as you’re in my house I don’t want you to be gay.” And we argued. It took approximately nine months of torture between the two of us arguing, and Sheila and I arguing.

I cried a lot. I was depressed a lot. When Mitch was home during the summer, I’d come home and go to my room, I’d watch television, I wouldn’t talk to him. I wanted him to date girls. He said, “Dad, it doesn’t interest me.”

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Sheila heard about an organization called Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. And they said it’s very important to bring your husband to a meeting. I was stubborn, and I wouldn’t go. My wife said, “Mitch isn’t going to change. Why don’t we go to this meeting for him and see?” Finally, I said, “OK, I’ll go for him.”

Each month that I went to a meeting I felt better. I realized that I can’t have my son live the life that I want him to live. He has to live the life that he has to live. I called him up, he was in college, and I said, “I want to tell you something. I’m going to accept you completely. I love you, son, unconditionally. Everything you do is OK, because conditional love is no love at all.”

We found out about AIDS in 1981. I brought it up to my son and and he said that he was taking care of himself. So I’ve never really had the fear of him catching AIDS. I tell other parents, “Your gay son is probably educated about this but your heterosexual daughter is not, and you should educate her.”

Mitchell is a dentist now in the Hollywood area and he does very good work. He works one day a week with AIDS Project Los Angeles in a clinic for AIDS patients who cannot afford to go to a regular dentist.

He has a lot of friends who are dying. He’s very much involved in the AIDS Project buddy system. The buddy system is where they become a buddy of an AIDS patient. If the AIDS patient is having a problem, he’s there to help him. It’s a great organization and they do good things for AIDS patients. He’s lost a couple of buddies, and that hurts.

I am a lot smarter than I was years ago and more compassionate. I feel better about myself. Maybe I was outside looking in before and now I get involved. If it wasn’t for my son, we would never have met the people in this organization, whom we really love.

We now help other people and we support him 100%. We walk in the parade during Gay Pride Week and I carry a big sign that says, “My son is gay and that’s OK.” When we turn the corner on Santa Monica Boulevard, the crowd just stands up and start screaming, “We love you, parents. We love you. You’re wonderful.” It brings tears to your eyes; the roar is just unreal. There’s so much love from them for the parents. A lot of it is because they don’t get it from their own parents.


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