Last week we took a look back at a number of our blog posts that feature parents who are leaders. While some people considered themselves leaders, a number of parents did not even realize that the things they do for their children, and other children make them leaders in their school district, town, or even state. Every Sunday during this month we will highlight one parent who has taken the lessons they have learned from parenting, specifically parenting a child with social, emotional, behavior or mental health challenges, and used it to help and lead others. For the first parent spotlight of Parent Leadership Month we sat down with Janet Brown, a Pennsylvania mother of three who is raising a child that identifies as non-binary. Brown never once said that she was a leader but to us at PA Parent and Family Alliance, it was clear that her acceptance, love, and in the end advocacy for her child has proven that she is in fact a leader.
"It has made me even more open-minded, not that I wasn't before but even more so now. I am still learning everyday and my child came out three years ago. There is always more to learn. I am still reading, still learning I won't ever possibly know everything because I am not my child, I am not in their head; but I can learn as much as possible for them," said Brown. Brown's child who is now 17, came out at the age of 14 to their mother. Coming out is a big moment for anybody who is in the LGBTQ+ community and Brown looks back on it fondly as a moment where she and her child grew even closer than they were before.
"They were surprised that I was so okay with it. I was like 'okay, I don't know much about that but I have friends who identify in this way and if you need someone to talk to who has been where you are I will find them for you.' They thought I would flip out but that is not really the kind of person I am. I was truly supportive, and to this day they appreciate it. It was much easier than they thought it would be. I have been told by my therapist that I was almost unusual in how I reacted. She informed me that most mothers go through a time where they grieve the loss of the child they thought they had. I never went through that because I still have my child and they are awesome and they are being themselves."
Brown's attitude toward her child coming out is one to look up to and to have parents strive for. She did not once make her child feel like they were wrong for feeling and identifying the way that they do. When asked if she would change anything about that initial conversation that the two of them had about being non-binary Brown simply said; "No, I wouldn't change a thing about how that moment went." Brown's immediate family was equally as supportive as she was, as well as slightly confused. Her other children and husband were 100% supportive but much like Brown, they were unfamiliar with all of the facts and terms that are associated with being non-binary. In the last three years, they have all done their research and continue to have unconditional love for their child, and sibling.
"My mother was unsure and really did not understand it at first. It took a lot of explanation and some time but she has been open and willing to learn for her grandchild. We don't tell my father he is not accepting and there is no point in putting my child in that situation for someone who is not going to understand or accept them. The same with my child's biological father. He is homophobic and transphobic and thankfully my child only visits him once in a while, by their father's own choice." Brown's children's biological father is the reason that the names in this article have been changed. It is a shame that Brown and her child have to keep this from him but it is in the best interest of her child and she would do anything to protect her children.
Stigma is one thing that plagues the world of mental health advocacy, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. "Any stigma that I have encountered I have pushed back on it. I am not taking it, no, I am sorry but if you are trying to say that this is in some way unnatural, you are flat out wrong. It has been happening forever, however, this community is only more recently feeling like they are safe to be who they have always been," said Brown. This is one way that Brown shows her leadership. She uses her experience raising her child to push back on hate or slander that is all too often thrown at the LGBTQ+ community. She is not afraid to stand up for people who are members of the community as well as push back at people who try and tear them down. Her child is shyer and reserved and often shuts down when they face ridicule or people who are critiquing the way they chose to identify. But according to Brown, "because of that I push back even harder for the two of us."
Brown is so dedicated to making members of the LGBTQ+ feel like they are loved for being who they are that she has opened her home to a transgender man in his early twenties. This man was thrown out of his house when he was younger because he opened up to his parents about being trans and identifying as male. The last thing she wanted was to see this sweet young man become homeless because of how he identified so she opened her home, and her arms to him. This is another example of how she is clearly a leader. She has surpassed using her voice to support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community to being there for somebody financially and emotionally. This young man is now in college pursuing his dreams because Brown saw a thoughtful, and caring human being when she looked at him and not somebody who anyone should be ashamed of raising.
Before coming out, Brown's child dealt with anxiety and depression that she does not think is necessarily associated with identifying as non-binary. "After coming out I think their anxiety and depression was definitely heightened. Because of situations such as dealing with their biological father it has made an impact on their mental health.
When asked what she would say to a parent who was less than supportive of their child coming out she started her answer with this reminder, "It is so much better to be supportive than to bury a child. Do your best to keep an open mind and remember they are still the child you loved up until this disclosure. Reach out to organizations that can help educate you and help you process your feelings." Check here for a few of our favorites. Brown is disgusted and heartbroken by the suicide rates associated with members of the LGBTQ+ community that do not have an adult that supports them.
Sharing her story to make other parents feel less alone, advocating endlessly for her child, and reaching out to help not only her child but also other people's children who are not being loved the way they deserve all have made Brown a leader. While she may not consider what she has done to be an example of leadership, it is and chances are you are a leader and do not realize it either. Check back with us every Sunday this month to read about other parents who have used their experiences to lead others around them.
If you're ready to Share Your Voice you now have the option to share it with us via audio or video. Check out our new option at https://www.paparentandfamilyalliance.org/share-your-story You can also become a member so you can ensure your experience and opinions get to the legislators, administrators and decision-makers who need to hear them. https://www.paparentandfamilyalliance.org/membership
**names in this have been changed**