A gay man in New Orleans has penned a powerful blog posting about facing up to the discriminatory attitudes he grew up with in the southern US – and the words of support from his partner that helped him look at things differently.
‘Growing up in south Mississippi was really hard for me,’ Erik Alexander says on Gays With Kids.
‘People there don’t empathize easily. It is a deep-rooted mentality, taught throughout life. Some children of these households are told that being different is weird. It usually “goes against their religion” and is looked down on.
‘It really doesn’t matter what type of difference really, whether it is skin color, religion or sexual orientation.’
‘I was often bullied about my differences. There is only so much that someone can take’
He says realizing as a teenager that he liked other boys was particularly hard for him.
‘I was a late bloomer and a pretty small and shy boy. I didn’t like sports and I kept to myself mostly. I was often bullied about my differences. There is only so much that someone can take before they really start to question their purpose in life.
‘I was called gay before I even knew what gay meant. Over time, it really hurt me and would often break me down.’
For Erik, the bullying left long-lasting mental scars.
‘My heart breaks when I hear other stories of people being bullied about being different, about being gay. There is something that happens to someone’s confidence when they grow up in an environment such as I did.’
He moved away from the Mississippi area and struck out on his own in New Orleans.
Erik met and fell in love with his future husband, Douglas. They married in 2015 when it became legal to do so in Louisiana. He is the general manager of a gay owned and operated restaurant in the French Quarter called Eat New Orleans.
‘It is hard for me to turn a blind eye to glares from onlookers’
Despite this, like many gay men, Erik continued to be affected by the bullying he received when younger and the discriminatory attitudes of some in society.
‘I was able to move on, but I was not able to forget. As much as I wish I could and not be bothered by my past, sometimes it comes bubbling back up.
‘This really didn’t happen until we had our beautiful baby, Alli Mae. She is the absolute light of our lives and I fall more in love with her every single day.
‘I don’t know what it is like being gay and having a child in New York or California, but in the South, it can be particularly difficult for me because of people’s judgment of our lives.
‘I feel like I probably read into things too much, or maybe I overthink things. It is hard for me to turn a blind eye to glares from onlookers. Just last year, Mississippi passed a freedom of religion law that allows any business to refuse service to customers that goes against their religion.
‘Yes, in 2017, in my home state of Mississippi, my own family can be denied service because we are different from most people. My little girl’s parents are gay, and because of that we can be turned away. It breaks my heart.
‘I cannot let my angel see that I am hurting’
‘Today however, I have to be a strong and confident gay papa. I cannot let my angel see that I am hurting. The last thing I would want to do is allow her to realize the pain that I am feeling because of society around us.
‘In public, we get looked at a lot. It doesn’t matter if we are in a restaurant or at the grocery store. It actually brought me back to my childhood and really made me feel self-conscious and I didn’t like it. Fortunately, Douglas helped ease my mind recently.
‘“What if the people’s glares were actually stares?” he asked.
‘“This may be the first time straight people have ever seen a gay family. This may be the first time they have ever seen a baby be as happy as ours with two dads. This may be the time that we proved to them that gay people can be just as good of parents as traditional ones. We are even better than some.
‘”Everytime we go out, people stare because they may have never seen this before. Rather than being self-conscious about it, own it. Let it be a teaching experience for them. Don’t read into their stares. Most likely they are staring with curiosity and not judgment.” He was adamant.
‘Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement’
‘I think about those words every time I am in public now. I never realized that some people down here may have never seen or interacted with a gay family.
‘Living in this small suburb of New Orleans, we may very well be the only gay dad family.
‘So now, this actually excites me more than it scares me because I want them to see that we are like any other traditional family. I just need to remember to remain a confident papa.
‘One of my most favorite quotes really sums all of this up for me. Hellen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”’
H/T: Gays With Kids