Updated: Jul 29, 2021
By Amber McMillan
One of the greatest gifts I have been given is being the mother of a gay son. I do not say this because this child is more special to me or loved more than my other three children. I say this because having a child who is part of the LGBTQ+ community has undoubtedly taught me to love more passionately, give more generously, hurt more deeply, and accept people authentically for who they are.
Carter came out to us when he was 14, and in turn, I came out in a different way – with my armor on, guns blazing, breathing fire, and ready to protect him from anyone or anything that attempted to hurt him. Fear immediately set in because how in the world was I ever going to be able to protect my precious son from the barrage of pain I worried was coming his way? If I could have locked him in the house and held him close to me, or clipped his wings, making it impossible for him to fly out of the nest into the cruel world, I would have. Instead, I decided to armor up, build a trench, jump in and begin to fight.
During this time, I discovered significant pain that I hadn’t seen coming, but it served to strengthen my resolve to battle not only for Carter, but for so many like him. Subsequently I not only learned a great deal about myself, but also about the goodness and love in the hearts of so many others. The lessons that I have learned from having a gay son and from others in the LGBTQ+ community have given me a chance to take a deep dive into myself and evaluate what I really believe, take a hard look at how I treat others and evaluate my authenticity as a human being. The answers to these questions are sometimes scary and painful but the outcome has been joyous and freeing.
From the minute Carter came out he authentically showed up with glitter, lace and glamour! To say Carter is creative is putting it mildly. To me, Carter is a genius in the Albert Einstein-Vincent Van Gogh-Billy Idol-Gianni Versace, no-holds-barred kind of way. I will never forget when he was in 8th grade, Carter came upstairs from his bedroom dressed for school in a long black sheer cape, tight tank top, denim short shorts and high-heeled black pointed toe boots. He looked like he’d literally just stepped off the fashion runway, yet I would be lying if I said I was beaming with pride at that moment. Immediately I envisioned him walking into school dressed that way, knowing full well the repercussions he would likely face. I tried so hard to bite my tongue and keep quiet. I remember the knot in my stomach, sweating a little, and trying to think of what I could say that could possibly sway him from making what I had decided was a terrible mistake. In traditional mom fashion, I logically reminded him that what he was wearing might be considered “inappropriate” for school and that he’d likely get sent home. That foolproof strategy did not work. Carter rolled his eyes and said something about me being judgmental. He didn’t care what happened or what people thought of him and he felt free to dress however he wanted.
That was that.
With a flip of his head he turned around and headed to the car. I was so concerned about what people would think and say, and especially what his peers might do! I dropped him off at the school, my heart pounding and face hot as I watched my gay boy literally strut as if on a catwalk – past the line of carpoolers, peers and onlookers – and right through the front doors of that junior high school.
The fear that I felt for Carter was very real. People can be cruel and I did not want my son hurt! But I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I was so steeped in caring about what others might think of me and my family that I often missed the important messages my son was teaching me. I was still hunkered deep in battle mode, and the message and lesson that I missed that day is that being authentic takes tremendous courage. And that day Carter was showing more courage than anyone I had ever met. That’s one of the greatest things about Carter, and many other LGBTQ+ people I have met – they are unapologetically themselves! The inspiring thing about people like that is they, in turn, give everyone around them permission to be their authentic selves, as well! I am understanding that more and more.
I have had the privilege of working at Encircle, (LGBTQ resource centers located in Provo, Salt Lake City and St. George, Utah where families and their LGBTQ loved ones can find support, therapy and a sense of community) for almost a year. I have watched all different kinds of unique people walk through the doors of the Encircle House. I have met hundreds of queer folks and their allies and witnessed the love that can heal, if people just come together to understand. Encircle is the embodiment of courage – and the people who donate to, volunteer, work, or hang out there are all essentially coming together, hand in hand, to do the essential work of moving through the fear and putting aside differences to meet in the middle. I would not have taken risks and gotten this incredibly meaningful job had it not been for my gay son Carter.
I spent several years in the trenches, and I know from experience that it can be lonely there. It is tiresome, cold, and dirty, fighting off the messiness of others’ judgments and painful words in an attempt to protect our children from the ignorance of people. So many times I wanted to wave the white flag, wondering if anything I was doing was even making a difference. On every front I felt like my son and my family were often being defeated. I witnessed families kicking their children out of their homes for being LGBTQ. I heard ecclesiastical leaders sending messages from the pulpit about how my child and others like him were going to be the demise of the family unit, simply for being themselves. I even watched other loving mothers literally lose their children. I lost friends and made enemies. The more I fought, the more bruised, tired and angry I often became.
The day finally came when it was time to climb up out of that trench and shift from anger to love. Don’t misunderstand me, the anger served me well; it held and protected my heart, gave me strength when I needed it the most and propelled me to make necessary changes in my life.
The lessons that I have learned from Carter and others in the LGBTQ+ community have given me the chance to become authentically who I was created to be. I now speak for what I know to be true and stand beside some of the most incredible humans. These life lessons haven’t been easy. I’ve made mistakes, hurt people, been hurt myself, and have watched my son struggle. At times I’ve wanted to retreat back into my shell, but I have ultimately learned that that is the coward’s way out. The courage it takes for these remarkable LGBTQ+ people on a day-to-day basis to simply be themselves, is COMMENDABLE. It inspires me to stand beside them, hand in hand, to show others that there really is only one way to authentically live…with love and acceptance for ALL humankind.
Yes, I am blessed beyond measure to have a gay son. Carter has taught me more than I ever thought possible. He has inspired so many people and continues to do so, despite the consequences of being vulnerable and authentic. He is a superhero, he is beautiful, he is kind, and he is my champion!