PFLAG of Door County workshops
PFLAG meets at 5 p.m. the third Sunday of every month at Hope Church at the corner of 12th Street and Michigan Avenue in Sturgeon Bay.
The public also is invited to attend these forums at 9 a.m. Sundays on the following topics:
Sunday: Transgender 101. By definition, transgender individuals must piece together a self-identity that is different or in opposition to what everyone tells them they are. Our culture tends to limit our understanding of gender to only two options: man and woman. This world view is called the gender binary. A presentation on this issue will be told from a personal perspective.
Feb. 3: That’s a Family! is an entertaining half-hour documentary that breaks new ground in helping young and adult children see and understand many different shapes that families take today. With blunt and sometimes hilarious candor, the child stars of the film take a tour through their lives and speak movingly about their unique family experience.
Feb. 10: Teen Years for GLBT Youth is a description of the teenage years, the years of emergence. The rite of passage has always been challenging. The forum will look at the teen years with a focus on the issues facing LGBT youth.
Feb. 17: Bullied is a Teaching Tolerance documentary; the story of Jamie Nabozny from Ashland. His ordeal began in sixth grade and only got worse in high school. Years of unrelenting bullying took its toll. But Jamie decided to take a stand against the bullying he endured and the bullying that he knew other students endured. He went to court and fought for the right to be safe at school, even though he was gay.
To contact PFLAG, call (920) 421-8815 or email email@example.com.
First of two parts.
He’s a 40-something Door County professional today, but at 6 years old, he knew his crush for a boy in the first grade meant he liked boys better than girls. Growing up Catholic, he learned to stay under the radar and remain in the culture. He was in the choir and a lector and for a while, his lack of interest in the female sex led him to consider joining the priesthood.
In the 1990s, he said, coming out of the closet as a gay man was just too risky. Even this week, with the president alluding to same-sex marriage in his inaugural address, the same-sex couple raising a family in Door County do not feel comfortable identifying themselves for fear of negative repercussions within their families or workplaces.
“There is a pattern of seeing people who adored their kids and then (after learning their children were gay) no longer were alive to them,” the professional said. “I saw that personally with other friends.”
So he learned to keep in step and married a girl who was his best friend. He believes she knew he was gay, but the relationship was so amiable both were caught up thinking they could make it work.
“We were like Frick and Frack. We were always together. We bought a house together. We worked together. Everyone expected us to get married,” he said. “We had one of the most elegant weddings. I loved her as much as you can. But I constantly had to override my feelings. It was like kissing a sister or brother – you know it isn’t right. It was so dysfunctional.”
He describes himself as a doting husband – overcompensating in that relationship just as he had done in his service to the church.
“God is very present in my life. But when you’re taught that you’re going to hell for being who you are, you start to weigh it out and think you have to come up with more chips, because for some reason God loves everybody except for you,” he said.
It was a very painful decision to leave his church. He felt betrayed.
“The two places you should find support are in your parents and in church,” he said.
An online support group helped nudge him out of the closet. So after seven years of marriage and two children, he told his wife he was not bisexual, but simply gay. She was crushed, but the friendship survived. He also told his parents, who were supportive.
He and his ex-wife have joint visitation with their children who now are teenagers. He praised the school system in Door County for being very supportive of the arrangement that includes a home with two fathers.
“So often when their friends are together, the children will say I’m going to dads’ house, not realizing it’s plural,” he said. “They often mistake my partner for their father.”
The youngest child was only 2 when he met the new man in his life that he has been in a relationship with for the past 10 years. As soon as he met him, he gushed to his mother, “This is the man I’m going to be with for the rest of my life.”
Now he’d like to have the same opportunity to marry the man he loves.
“I love him a little more every day. It’s the most amazing thing,” he said looking at a flower arrangement on his desk marking their anniversary. “We’re like newlyweds. I want him to have that same experience of marriage I had. It’s not about the wedding, the dress, the cake. I ask heterosexual people to name three benefits of marriage, and they can hardly name two.”
As a family, the two men and two teenagers live just as boring a life as everyone else, he said: Doing laundry, growing tomatoes, going on bike rides. Family is important for homosexuals, in part because of how excluded they felt growing up, he said. In a gay culture, there are no such things as having a child by accident, he said.
“Children know what love looks like,” he said.
The time to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry has arrived, he contends. Even in a rural place like Door County, attitudes are shifting. Just a few years ago, if he and his partner were in the grocery store, he would not have shown any public displays of being a couple. Now, he can holler to his partner to see if they need lettuce, and no one bats an eye.
No one's coming out is the same
Another man willing to tell his journey helps explain why so many choose to keep their sexual orientation under wraps. Married for 35 years, Richard Gardiner thought that when his youngest son graduated from high school, his own time had come.
A retired registered nurse who moved to Door County two years ago, at 65, Gardiner lives alone in Door County and, due to poor eyesight, rarely travels. Twelve years ago, when he came out to his wife and employer, his entire world fell apart. His four children had a difficult time accepting the news and there is no ongoing relationship with them.
“Their reaction was, “We’re Catholic. You’re not supposed to be gay,” Gardiner said.
He too, was a leader in his church, and is a veteran of the Vietnam era. Gardiner now belongs to Hope United Church of Christ, but the journey has been a lonely one. In Door County, he said, he has not been on a date in two years.
He spends Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market in Sturgeon Bay providing literature, trying to educate the public about PFLAG of Door County. He has met disapproving, wagging fingers. PFLAG of Door County stands for parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays, and Gardiner is the group’s current president. PFLAG provides advocacy, education and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, their families and friends.
After living in Madison, Gardiner considers Door County a “closed, conservative community.” But he and PFLAG members take phone calls 24 hours a day to lend an ear to those struggling with their gender identity and to help those who seek more information.
PFLAG meets at 5 p.m. the third Sunday of every month at Hope Church in Sturgeon Bay. He knows of only one transgender person in Door County who recently went from male to female.
A parent's point of view
Shirley Senarighi and June Kirali are regulars at PFLAG – both have daughters in lesbian relationships. Both women want to see federal laws changed to allow their children to have the same rights as heterosexuals to marry.
Senarighi’s daughter, Gina, was born and grew up in Door County but now lives in Oregon, where she and her partner could marry. Because her daughter lives so far away, her involvement with PFLAG is a way to advocate on her daughter’s behalf, helping other people’s children.
Shirley’s husband, Rudy, also is involved in PFLAG, and the couple acts as “safe school” liaisons for all Door County school districts. Rudy is a retired middle-school guidance counselor who recalls how difficult it was in 1980 to answer questions for those who confided they were lesbian or gay. The Senarighi’s have been active with PFLAG of Door County since it began 15 years ago. They work with counselors and schools on anti-bullying topics and hold public workshops at the church to educate the community. A new series begins Sunday.
“She’s our daughter, and we love her regardless,” Rudy said.
“The hardest part for us,” Shirley said, “is there are some things we knew were going to be harder for her. I know there are 1,100 federal laws that will never apply to her and her partner. That’s very frustrating – and there is not equality for Rudy and me.”
While the Senarighis’ daughter hopes to have children, Kirali’s daughter is not going that route. Part of the difficulty confiding she was lesbian in her early 30s was her daughter’s fear of telling her mother she would not be having children, Kirali said.
“Kids never want to disappoint their parents,” Kirali said. “So when she told me, “You’re never going to have grandchildren, I said I didn’t have to have grandchildren. That would have been frosting on the cake.”
Contact Ramelle Bintz at firstname.lastname@example.org.