When Steve Parsons was in his early thirties, he owned a small flower shop on Broadway Street in Seattle.
One day an employee approached him with a question; “Steve, when you take phone orders, I can’t read your writing. Do you think you’re dyslexic?”
“What’s that?” Steve replied.
Steve was 33 years old and had never learned how to read.
Growing up, Steve used to memorize words to get by, noting: “You know how the system is, you get passed over. I remember sitting around passing books in first grade, and I would start crying. I was terrified of what was going to happen to me.”
Before learning he had dyslexia, Steve had failed out of college twice—both from the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Utah. He had been a drama major and still remembers what it felt like when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.
“After my first cold call, it was apparent I couldn’t read the script,” Steve shared. “It was humiliating.”
The conversation with his co-worker was a turning point. Steve got tutored, tested for dyslexia, and within a year had learned how to read. He went on to have a successful career in real estate for the next 20 years, before deciding that he wanted to go back to school.
Steve received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and then continued on to receive his master’s degree from Antioch.
“The empowerment I felt when I got those degrees was amazing,” Steve said. “It was a wonderful feeling to be able to get a degree after all those hard years in my life.”
Antioch teaches experientially, which allowed Steve to “…learn by demonstrating. It wasn’t just research papers; they also used art and other alternative methods. It allowed you to illustrate that you know what you’re talking about.”
These experiences are part of what led Steve to establish the Jabez Legacy Scholarship Fund at Pride Foundation—a scholarship created to support LGBTQ-identified students with learning disabilities.
“I want to bring about healing and help those with disabilities or who lack family support,” Steve reflected. “I want to provide people with the resources they need to be able to overcome obstacles.”
Naming the fund Jabez was a strategic decision by Steve to reclaim and reposition his legacy. Jabez is Steve’s middle name, and has been in his family for nine generations—passed down to all the males. A Hebrew word that means “one who brings pain,” the name Jabez was often given to babies that caused their mother pain during childbirth.
“Why don’t we just change it [the meaning of Jabez]?” Steve mused. “Change it around and give it power. Instead of inflicting more pain, let’s make it about healing.”
After his father passed away in 2008, Steve began to wonder, “What about my legacy? Who’s going to remember me? Not ‘me’ necessarily, but instead the name Jabez—a name which would have died when I did. Now I know it will live on through my scholarship.”
Steve’s relationship with his father wasn’t always easy. A race car driver and pilot in WWII, Steve described him as a “macho guy,” recalling that he always knew coming out to him would be “dramatic.”
One night when he was 21, Steve decided that it was time to tell his father he was gay. As anticipated, his father’s reaction was extremely negative, including both hateful and discriminatory language.
That was a pivotal moment for Steve, as he came to the realization; “I’ll never hide who I am. Before that time I was really in the closet. Afterwards, I thought: ‘I don’t care anymore; I’m going to be myself.’ Once I told my Dad, it didn’t matter what anybody else thought. At that point, I let my Dad go.”
It wasn’t until much later in life that Steve and his father reconnected, allowing Steve to fully heal and for their relationship to come full circle. 40 years after his father shamed Steve for being gay, he flew out for a weekend to visit and asked if Steve loved his partner at the time, Bill.*
“Of course I love Bill,” Steve had said. “I love him deeply, he’s my soulmate.”
Steve’s father replied, “That’s all I wanted to know. All I wanted to hear is that my son has love in his life.”
The exchange had a lasting impact on Steve, who noted; “In 40 years, people change. I never thought this man would change. I changed, too. We all change and grow. I was able to accept his liabilities. He wasn’t perfect. But at least he tried. He tried to find out who I was. What he came to terms with was that the Jabez he was and the Jabez Steve was had something in common. He was able to accept me, and I was able to accept him.”
“It gave me the strength to be able to forgive,” Steve mused, “and realize what that feels like. I became a therapist for 16 years after that. That’s when I really became involved in LGBTQ rights work.”
The trajectory that Steve’s father took in coming to terms with his son’s sexuality also parallels the widespread changes we’ve seen in the broader community around acceptance for LGBTQ people and families.
“It blows my mind how far we’ve come, not only individually but as a community,” Steve shared. “As an older man, I realize how much oppression we really have faced. How much pain we suppressed and covered by denying who we are. All those years of being in the closet and the pain and suffering we had. It becomes so monumentally big. Looking back you realize how it’s shaped us. ”
Now 66 years old, Steve is back in Washington State after living in Palm Springs for two and a half years to grieve the passing of his late partner, Bill.
As he looks toward the future, Steve wisely commented, “Jabez is not going to be a word that’s causing pain in my life any longer.”
Through this scholarship, Steve is keeping the Jabez name alive—and inspiring others to turn their pain into healing.
*You can read more about Steve’s beloved late partner, Bill, and the additional scholarship fund Steve established in his honor, here.
Zachary Pullin is the Communications Manager at Pride Foundation. Email Zachary.