By Tiffany Sowa
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother over the Memorial Day weekend, because it’s the first time since her passing that I didn’t go home to put flowers on her grave, and I was feeling awfully bad about that. She never missed a cemetery-decorating holiday, and often wept quietly over her parents’ graves. Fortunately I have some loving friends who set out flowers, but that didn’t change the fact that she was heavy on my mind and I have been missing her terribly.
My mom was a great empowerer of women. She was a Boomer and spent the early part of her life conforming to the expectations of a woman of her generation, and was also very conscientious about living up to the expectations of her Silent Generation parents. After high school, she went to a year of “business school” about two hours from home, which back then consisted of learning shorthand and increasing her typing speed for work in an office, though I’m confident her true intention was to stay home with her children. She always wanted to be a mom, and she was pretty great at it.
When I was 7 and my brother was 2, she had to get a job to support the family and supplement my dad’s income. He had been in the Army for two years as a lab technician, but had also worked in a mall jewelry store, then as a farmhand, then had started a pig farm, all of which only lasted about two years each. He was always searching for the next get-rich-quick opportunity, and within five years of my mom going to work, they were divorced and she was supporting us with her income and $200 a month in child support while my dad moved like a nomad all over the country. She despaired at having to put my brother in daycare to go to work, but she was the solid rock that held us together for the next 15 years. She was a receptionist in a medical clinic in our hometown of 850 people for a total of 37 years.
My mom’s lived experience taught her that women were the unsung heroes who could not falter, working full time and raising families, never missing a basketball game or a band concert, somehow finding the funds for prom dresses and instruments and track shoes on a secretary’s hourly wage. She did all the laundry, cooked and cleaned and sponsored girl scout troops, and never once complained (to me, anyway). Her last act on this earth was to ask for all women as her pallbearers.
This is relevant history because it leads to my thoughts on Pride Month. It is this perspective that taught me the strength and value of women, but that upbringing naturally extends to a respect for all people who have for too long been relegated to the back row. I wouldn’t begin to know how to support one particular group of humans and not another. It would be impossible and illogical for me to cherry-pick only certain groups of marginalized humans as worthy of support and respect.
I don’t know for sure what my mother would have thought of Pride Month. I was born almost exactly one year after the Stonewall Rebellion and in that era, homosexuality was deemed illegal in almost every state. Most bars and restaurants, or any public space where LGBTQ* people might gather, faced the possibility of violence or being shut down if they had gay employees or served gay patrons. I came of age during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, when the CDC still called this infection “GRIDS” or gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome, effectively stigmatizing LGBTQ* people and ostracizing them even further. I’m sure mom would have been uncomfortable with anything illegal, goody two-shoes that she was, but I also know that if one of her children had been gay, she would have fought like a mama bear for that child to have the same rights as every other human. No one would tell this unassuming, passive, hard-working woman that her child was illegal, not even in small-town, red-state Kansas. I can extrapolate from that truth that although she may not have been an out-and-proud ally, she would have been a quiet one. She would have given all the hugs.
Today I thank my mom, for the love and respect she taught me, that I now celebrate Pride Month. In the span of my lifetime, my LGBTQ* friends have fought to be heard, risked innumerable offenses just to be seen, and stood up to decades of hate and violence to have the same rights as every other person in this country. That fight is not over, and that is why I am an ally. I think mom would be proud of me.
Until next time, keep reading.