Dorothy Harris, a Pride Foundation volunteer, lives in the town of Ephrata located in Eastern Washington, just north of Moses Lake, where everyone knows everyone. She, along with her close-knit family, are doing their part in the community to create equality, provide support and make their community a better place for McKyna, Dorothy’s lesbian daughter, and raise awareness. Dorothy shares her story of family support and how a family united can make positive change and hopefully make growing up in the small town of Ephrata easier for future LGBT students and a diverse, supportive and loving family.
We relate to the guppies in your kid’s fishbowl. As residents of Ephrata, an Eastern Washington town of 7,000, it is comforting to know most in the community. Neighbors keep an eye on our house. Our teenagers know their driving habits are scrutinized (and reported) by many eyes. Churches outnumber bars two to one so finding a signature Bloody Mary is tough, but it guarantees an overwhelming response when serious illness or tragedy strikes. As athletes, musicians and thespians, our kids and their classmates enjoy hundreds of fans in the stands and strong financial support of the business community.
Do guppies see any downsides to fishbowl living? Rarely do we navigate Safeway in in less than an hour, newcomers often have difficulty finding their niche in the community and, yes, rumors fly faster than the PUD’s fiber optic network. You know that uncanny feeling that your neighbors know you’ve done something before you’ve fully hatched a plan? This visibility makes sixteen-year-olds crazy! Adding to their conspicuousness, their father has been mayor over half their life and they are two of only a handful of Asians in the community. Many celebrated their 1996 arrival from Vietnam to be adopted into our family and the heart of the community.
As the sole openly gay kid in her high school of nearly 700, the fishbowl intensified for our daughter, McKyna, last year. “Entering my freshman year in high school, I hoped I was going to have a great experience, but like many of high schools throughout America, mine is filled with homophobia. I hear ‘gay,’ ‘faggot,’ ‘queer,’ and ‘homo’ constantly. No one directly bullies me about being gay. Yet, hearing those words everyday takes a toll on a teenager’s psyche. I am openly gay at school and speak honestly with anyone who asks me. Most people never have the courage to, and they ask my brother instead. When a person comes out, so does their whole family. I never wanted my family to be known as the ‘gay family.’ I also never wanted to be known as ‘the gay girl.’ There’s so much more to my family and myself than my being gay, but most times it’s hard for people to see past that. One time a couple of guys saw my cousins (pictured in photo) and I walking together at a game and they had the nerve to ask my brother if we were all lesbians. I laughed at how stupid they sounded. For any one wondering though, most lesbians DO NOT travel in packs!”
As adults, we feel the challenge, but are beginning to view our fishbowl as an opportunity to raise awareness and advocate for equality. When McKyna came out to us at age 13, we wrongly assumed the closet was the only safe place for our family. Being outed by a trusted friend a year later was horrific for McKyna, but we should probably thank that girl for the authenticity she forced upon us. Grateful for strong connections with many, we are reaching out to grow support and understanding. The 2012 marriage equality legislation is our new ice breaker.
Family support for McKyna is invaluable to her and means everything to us. Her siblings pride her for her courage and tenacity. She rocked the GLSEN youth dance with her brother and cousin, walked Bloomsday in OutSpokane’s “Proud to be….” shirts and celebrated 2011Seattle PrideFest with seven family members. Our fishbowl is stronger and our life is richer because McKyna allows us to publicly support her. Despite the challenges, she knows the pack has her back!
This support led to a Christmas day family photo as requested on the Loves Makes a Family website. Rather than using the online templates, our creative teenagers fashioned their own equality graphics. We uploaded the photo, and it became our 2011 holiday card. We will take another photo with new (and better!) signs later this year when marriage equality is a reality in Washington State. We eagerly anticipate the day when McKyna finds an amazing woman to join our photo, our family and our fishbowl.