NORTH BAY — Samantha Hamilton will never forget the night her son Jeffrey came out.
“My husband John and I were having a conversation when Jeffrey came in and said, ‘I’m going to get ready for bed, and I’m gay.’ It was a shock the way that he presented it to us. This was not a ‘goodnight I love you’ type of situation and we said, ‘could you come back and sit with us?’”
Her initial reaction was to cry.
“And not because I was sad, but just proud because he was able to tell us. And scared at the same time due to society not being accepting. I was worried about the bullying he would go through, or potentially go through. He was 15 years old at the time,” shared Hamilton.
“My husband ‘s reaction may have been perceived as angry, but he wasn’t angry. He was scared. So, the same as my fear of potential bullying, but proud that he was able to have the confidence to come out and tell us.”
Their daughter Hannah would eventually tell them that she too identified as being part of the LGBTQ community.
Hamilton said she had no inclination of the struggles either one of her children were going through.
“I had no idea at all.”
Hannah and Jeffrey’s journey is a little easier because of the support of their parents.
“There wasn’t a negative reaction. My parents were more concerned because they knew the community we lived in and not everyone was educated or quite accepting of the LGBTQ community,” said Hannah.
“They learn every single day and they try their best to understand everything and to accept everyone for who they are.”
Based on her personal experience Hannah says it is important for family members to communicate with one another.
“Lack of communication leaves a lot of room for assumptions, so you don’t quite understand the situation that is going on. When everybody communicates and is willing to understand what someone else is going through, it makes the journey a lot easier for both parents and for children coming out,” said Hannah.
“I was really confident in who I was. I don know if it took Jeffrey a bit longer telling my parents, but I think it was also him trying to really figure out where he stood in the LGBTQ community. I don’t think he was afraid. He knew they weren’t going to react negatively towards him. He just wanted them to know he was still their son.”
Not everyone gets that same measure of support.
“I’ve had people come and talk to me and I feel sad for them that they didn’t have a good experience. And it all has to do with having somebody behind you, someone who is going to support you,” said Hamilton.
“Jeffrey has gone through some rough times at school and bullying but we’ve always been there. We’ve always had his back and when it came down to it and when we had to go to the schools and talk to people, we were there, and we did that for them.”
As more people become aware of their family story, Hamilton is hearing more from other parents who are looking for guidance on how to move forward.
“I have had two people come to me and ask me what I did or what they should do if they suspect. My message is the same to everybody, remind your children that you love them no matter what and that if they need anybody to talk to, that you have their back no matter what happens, good and bad, that you will be there to support them. And just drill that into their heads, because a lot of kids feel like they’re alone.”
Hamilton tells parents it is important to talk openly about their feelings.
“It has been three years already and I still get emotional. It is good to talk about it because each time it gets easier. Moving forward, just educate yourself about the LGBTQ community. We go to events that are happening within our own community. Get in touch with people who can help with support systems. I’ve been talking to both Hannah and Jeffrey for myself because I find that there are other groups out there that are trying to help the kids who are part of the community, but I find there is no support group for the parents.”
And that is something she hopes will change.
“I’ve been talking about maybe eventually doing something. I just have to find out how to go about getting this group started so parents know their kids aren’t alone and that they’re not alone. We all have questions.”
The Hamilton family was asked to be the Grand Marshal’s at Saturday’s Pride march/walk and spoke at Wednesday’s Pride flag-raising ceremony at North Bay city hall.
The theme for this year’s Pride celebrations is family.
“We are very proud to be asked,” said Hamilton.
“It is a great honour to be part of the Pride community and the Pride march.”
Daughter Hannah agrees.
“I think it is very important for me because our story is so big with me and my brother being part of the community and my parents having to go through the journey twice with us.”
The parade march/walk is Saturday at 11:30 at city hall, ending at the North Bay waterfront with a free family picnic hosted by the North Bay and Area Labour Council.