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April 12, 2013

Two for Equality: Linda & Clayton's Story

The fight for marriage equality is fought not only by LGBT people, but also by the straight allies who love them. Today’s blog post is about Linda and Clayton, a couple who believe that their son Nicholas should have the right to marry Andrew, his partner of 12 years—turning Andrew from their “son without law” to a son-in-law.  This story is also part of our SAGE Story series. Do you have a story you would like to share? Tell us today!

Linda_claytonLinda and Clayton hail from Missouri—the heartland of America—and are both strong and supportive parents. Missouri may be the land of “traditional family values” but theirs is an open and accepting household. When their son Nicholas, at age 16, asked to have a family meeting, Linda said, “it wasn’t at all unusual. She just assumed Nicholas wanted to make an ordinary teenage announcement like, “I’ve chosen the college I want to go to.”

So Linda wasn’t quite prepared when Nicholas came out to his parents as gay.

One experience from Linda’s past stood out in her mind, and guided her reaction to Nicholas’ news. Early in her career, when both Linda and Clayton were working as nurses, Linda recalled meeting a young man in the U.S. Merchant Marine whose family had rejected him because he was gay. She learned from him “how traumatic that rejection was—even years later.”

As Nicholas broke the news, Linda and Clayton both realized that what they did in that moment would affect him for the rest of his life. So, she said, “We stood up, hugged our son, and told him we loved him.”

The struggle for LGBT rights truly affects the whole family and Linda and Clayton’s relationship with their son’s sexuality has evolved from acceptance to full advocacy.  Before Nicholas came out, she and Clayton had “never really thought about the financial, legal, emotional challenges faced by LGBT people; it was absolutely something we had never even considered.” Linda believes that most people are like she and her husband were—simply unaware of discrimination against LGBT people and the impact it has on their lives.

Linda decided to become an outspoken advocate for her son—and all LGBT people—after returning to school to complete her Bachelor’s degree. She was in a women’s studies class when she had a realization: “If my son gets into a relationship where he thinks he is accepted, and something happens and he is not accepted—then he has no legal protections. This thought prompted me to join PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).” As a parent and an ally, Linda describes her role in advancing LGBT equality as “changing people’s hearts and minds.”

Although she is a self-described “recovering Republican” whose husband was in the military, Linda was shocked when President Clinton signed DOMA.  She said, “It set back the progress we made toward equality because when the government offers benefits to a large group of people but denies them to a minority, it is inherently unfair and discriminatory.”

Anti-LGBT discrimination really hit home for Linda and Clayton–as it does for many families of LGBT people—when their son was recently hospitalized. Nicholas lives in Chicago with his partner of 12 years, Andrew, and suffers from a genetic heart condition that has required him to undergo several surgeries. At the time of Nicholas’ first operation, about a year ago, the hurdles began to present themselves. First, because Andrew and Nicholas' relationship is not legally recognized at the federal level, Andrew was not able to take time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act. He was instead obliged to use his vacation days for the time off to be with his partner. Second, they were compelled to take several extra steps to ensure that Andrew would be able to make medical decisions should Nicholas become incapacitated. They got a power of attorney signed and asked Linda and Clayton to sign assurances that they would respect Andrew’s decision just as they might for a legally married son-in-law (which they did, happily). Though fairly confident that the healthcare professionals would not discriminate in Chicago—as the State of Illinois recognizes civil unions—they wanted protection should something happen across state lines. Nicholas knew that his parents would support Andrew completely, but he wanted to make sure that the hospital knew that as well.

Linda said, “It is pretty stressful for anyone to come to the realization that they are going to have heart surgery. But then to have to go through a bunch of extra legal steps… that doesn’t seem fair to me.” While Nicholas and Andrew fortunately were treated respectfully at the hospital, the concern that they might encounter discrimination or hostility added a layer of anxiety to an already stressful situation.

Nicholas and Andrew have not yet planned to get married. They feel it would be largely ceremonial with DOMA still in place and want to wait for full marriage equality when their rights will be the same in all 50 states. Linda thinks the day will come soon and doesn’t worry because, “They’d never get married without us present!”

Check out more stories, videos, pictures and podcasts on marriage equality by visiting our SAGE Story page and following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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