Make A Difference

Last Friday, a friend and I attended TedxCharlotte.  Although I had heard of Ted talks before, a neighbor friend had given one previously, I became aware of the event here in Charlotte last year, when Heather attended the event on a field trip with her school.

If you are not familiar with Ted events or Ted “talks,” the events are hosted in cities all over the world and feature speakers who share ideas through 15 minute “talks.”  A Ted event will host multiple speakers, so you can expect to hear about a dozen “talks” on a wide range of ideas.  This year, a parent from PFLAG Charlotte was giving one of the “talks,” so I was eager to attend!

On the way home, my friend asked which “talk” was my favorite.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information and needed time to digest what I had heard!  All the speeches were terrific and thought provoking. This morning, I re-visited the list and recalled highlights from each speech.

Hands down, PFLAG parent Jim Anderson’s Ted talk, titled Acceptance is the First Step to Love, was one of the best. Yes, my opinion is biased.  However, he received a standing ovation from the majority of other attendees, so I know I wasn’t the only one touched by what he said.  His talk was a touching tribute to his late daughter, Kat, and the struggle he faced (because of his faith) when she came out to him as gay at age 15.  I had a difficult time retaining my composure, even though I was already familiar with Jim’s journey!

Another speaker that had an impact on me was Kristen Schottenheimer.  Her talk was about her father, former football head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who now has Alzheimer’s.  Kristen discussed her family’s journey as they deal with the effects of Alzheimer’s on Marty and their life as a family.   Kristin and her Mom use coaching strategies to help themselves stay strong as they watch their larger-than-life husband and father slip away.  As a daughter who has lost a larger-than-life father, I related to Kristin’s talk and felt her pain of knowing what the ultimate outcome is.  Again, I had a difficult time maintaining my composure.

At this point, you may be thinking, “I’m not going to a Tedx event because I don’t want to be an emotional wreck!”  These two talks were the most touching but were spaced out; one was before lunch and one was after, with many unemotional, but interesting, talks in between.

The “talk” I have been replaying in my head most was called The Insatiable Need to Try by Theo Schaffer.  At the beginning of his talk, Theo described a situation in elementary school when his friend was beat up by two classmates.  Theo was present at the melee but was frozen with fear and unable to stand up and defend his friend.  He carried regret about that as he grew older.  Theo and his brother lived with an uncle.  Theo and the uncle did not get along.  At the age of 15, Theo, who is black, found himself homeless and was adopted by his best friend’s Mom, who is white.  His friend’s Mom, who was a single parent, took Theo into her home, as her fifth child, raised him, cared for him, and sent him to school.  At the time, interracial families were not accepted, especially in their far southern state.  This did not deter his new Mom from making sure Theo was taken care of.  What Theo learned from his Mom, and what has governed his life since is this, “once you become aware, you become responsible.”  He challenged everyone in the audience to go out and make a difference.

The phrase “once you become aware, you become responsible” has been on my mind since Friday mainly because it’s true, isn’t it?  I know I find it to be true.  Prior to Heather coming out to us, I did not meaningfully support the LGBT community.  I knew about the LGBT community, but I was not involved in it or intimately aware of the discrimination and bigotry they experience on a daily basis.  I was not aware of “National Coming Out Day” or “Transgender Day of Visibility.” I was not aware of organizations like the Human Rights Campaign or Equality NC.

I can’t “unknow” that which I have become aware of and, believe me, there are days when I wish I could!  There are days when I read the newspaper, or watch the news on television, and I feel like I can never possibly make a difference in this world for my transgender daughter.  There are days when this is hard and more than I want to feel responsible for. I recall a point along our journey with Heather when I realized that I would never be the same as a person.  I knew I would not, and could not, remain silent.  I know most of you will disagree, but I am not a naturally outgoing person.  I knew just being Heather’s Mom would no longer be enough because I now had a responsibility to make the world a more welcoming place for her.  I instinctively knew my job from the moment I became aware would be to advocate for her and be an ally, even though I was the last person I could imagine doing either job.

My hope is that by sharing our journey, you too will feel a responsibility to make the world a better place for Heather and other transgender people now that you are aware.  It doesn’t have to be a big, over the top gesture like giving out free mom hugs in the middle of Pride!  It can be as simple as saying, “I know a transgender person and what you are saying is not correct” when you hear someone make a disparaging remark about transgender people or the LGBT community.

And, if becoming aware of the transgender community does not make you feel responsible to advocate on their behalf or become an ally, then find something YOU are passionate about and make other people aware.  Everyone can make a difference in this world, no matter how small.

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