'It's our day' to come out - PRIDE WEEKEND | Young gays feared rejection after revealing sexuality to families
BY BARRETT NEWELL
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
June 24, 2007
When Brian Burns recently told his parents he's gay, he wasn't expecting acceptance.
Now, Burns said he and his parents are working on their relationship.
Chicago's 38th annual Pride Parade starts at noon today. Organizers expect 450,000 people for the event.
"They deserve as much time as they need," said Burns, 21, a Roosevelt University student. "It took me two years to come to grips with who I am."
The first Gay Pride Parade in Chicago -- a march, really -- attracted only about 150 people brave enough to publically reveal their sexual orientation. Today, the 38th annual event is likely to attract hundreds of thousands of people.
Still, coming out to family and friends can be difficult. While Americans have grown more accepting of gay relationships, a recent Gallup poll found 49 percent of respondents still think it is immoral. One gay man recalled that after he came out to his father, the dad locked himself in the bathroom and the two did not speak for several days.
Burns said he "risked a lot -- my family, my home, my education. Everything financial. Everything could have been taken away."
For many like Burns, the parade will be the first time they celebrate their sexuality publically.
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This month, photographer Kendall Burke came out to her father.
"I said, 'I'm going to a gay parade,' and he just knew what I meant," said the Lincoln Square resident.
Burke, 21, told her mother in December she liked women. "She said something like, 'Oh, I'm not going to have a family,' but I think she's OK now," she said.
Burke said she never hid her sexuality from her friends or her family. Once, her father caught her making out with another woman, but the two didn't discuss the incident.
With time, however, Burke began to feel her parents should be told.
"I didn't want them to always say, 'Oh, look at that cute boy,' when I'm just not interested," she said.
Burke sees Pride weekend as a time for gays and lesbians to show up en masse and seize the city's attention. "It's our day," she said.
"[My sexuality is] a huge part of my life and I'm not ashamed of it," she said. "I like who I like."
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DePaul University senior Andrew Riplinger remembered coming out as a painful experience and one of the hardest things he's ever done.
"I was really trying not to be [gay]," he said. "[But] I got fed up not being myself."
After coming to terms with his sexuality during his sophomore year of college, the then 20-year-old set a deadline for himself to come out to his friends and family. A few weeks before fall, he told his sister Kelly while visiting her in San Francisco. He left her a letter to read when she got home from work.
"He looked like something horrible had happened," she said, remembering her brother's face before she looked at the note. She began crying even before reading the letter out of concern for her brother.
Afterward, she was proud of his courage.
"It takes a really strong person to decide to come out, especially to a family you're not so sure [is] going to be accepting," she said.
Her reaction inspired Riplinger to tell his other family members and friends over the course of a week. "It was like ripping a Band-Aid off. I had to do it all at once," he said.
Last year, Riplinger watched the parade from his 10th-floor apartment. "Now, I'll actually get to be a part of it," he said.
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After telling his parents, Jose Ramirez began to feel more like himself.
Despite fearing his parents would reject him, the Logan Square resident came out to his mother last summer and his father this winter. He was tired of not being himself around them, he said.
Ramirez, 21, said his mother met the news with silence, then questions. "I had to explain [being gay] wasn't a choice," he said. "I was chosen to be this way."
Now, no longer feeling the need to distance himself to keep his secret, Ramirez's relationship with his parents is slowly mending, although it is not back to "normal."
Ramirez said the obstacles he faces as a gay Hispanic male will only make him and his family stronger.
Having not gone to the parade in the past because of his fear of being outed, this year's event will be Ramirez's first.
"For me, it is about enjoying the company of other gay men and women who are proud of being themselves and have shared that [coming out] experience," he said.