c) Activism and social change
'Opening the door'
This article was published in SX News and MCV on 7.4.10.
The national spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Shelley Argent, has become one of Australia’s most prominent advocates for LGBT acceptance and equality.
She has lobbied Prime Ministers, attended summits, starred in TV ads and appeared on talk shows.
She is such an effective and respected advocate that it is easy to assume she was born to it.
But Shelley’s new book, Opening the door: a mother’s journey when her son comes out, tells a different story.
When Shelley’s son came out to her, she had the same conflicting feelings most parents of gays go through. When she got involved with the Queensland AIDS Council’s outreach programs she had to deal with the puzzled responses of some gay men. When she first did an interview about being the mother of a gay son, her nerves almost got the better of her.
In short, there was nothing inevitable about Shelley’s rise to prominence, and nothing all that exceptional about her experiences along the way.
This is what makes her book so important. Not only is it the first Australian book in a field dominated by US publications. Not only does it include a useful step-by-step guide for parents of newly out children. It is a book filled with stories virtually every parent with a gay child will be able to relate to on an immediate, human level.
But if Shelley’s story is not exceptional, she certainly is.
Her strength, determination, wisdom, humour and love leap off every page of her book.
For example, she puts being a supportive parent of a gay child in the broader context of good parenting.
“Coming to terms with your child being gay or lesbian is about deciding what kind of parent you want to be. Our children may not have had a choice with their sexual orientation, but we can choose to support them and love them in whatever way they need.”
She also illustrates the kind of doggedness it takes to make change.
“I once received a letter from Mr Howard’s office telling me not to write any more letters. Apparently I should address my complaints to Philip Ruddock instead. I thought, ‘I’m not harassing him. They are genuine letters from a concerned citizen and parent’. So I continued to write to the Prime Minister and to Philip Ruddock. I saw this as democracy in action.”
Thanks to insights and experiences like these, Shelley emerges as a role model for parents of gays, for parents generally, and for those seeking social and legal reform.
If I have one lament about Opening the door it’s that the book has yet to be taken up by the kind of mainstream publishing house that can give it the high profile it deserves.
For the sake of the tens of thousands of Australians who will be inspired by Shelley’s book, I hope this changes.
Opening the Door: a mother’s journey when her son comes out, is available from Longueville Media (http://longuevill.cart.net.au/details/2799897.html)
All proceeds from the sale of the book go to the programs of PFLAG Brisbane.
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