“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution which it may never find.” – I Never Sang for My Father
Four years ago, Curtis’s middle child called him up and told him she had life-changing news to tell him.
They scheduled a time to talk. And in the intervening days, Curtis considered what the news could be.
“I suspected that they were going to tell me they were gay,” Curtis said.
At the time, Curtis didn’t know much about the LGBT community. All he knew was that he wanted the conversation to go well. So he met up with his neighbors Michael and Jack—a gay married couple—to ask for advice.
Michael, a retired ordained Baptist Minister had counseled many parents and families through a child’s coming out. And he asked Curtis: “What do you want to accomplish in all of this?”
Curtis had one objective: To make this as easy for his child as humanly possible. He knew that this was a major conversation that would likely live on in the mind of his child long past his own death, and he didn’t want it to leave scars—but to be testament to love.
“I said, ‘Kid, I love ya now, I’ll love you when you get through telling me what you’re gonna tell me.’”
Growing up, Curtis didn’t have much of a relationship with his own dad. He described him as “dictatorial”—always trying to control the lives of him, his siblings, and his mother. It wasn’t until his dad was in his 90s that Curtis heard him say, “I love you.” When Curtis had kids he vowed he would do things differently.
“My attitude in life was always, I’m not gonna tell them how to lead their lives. And I’m gonna tell’em constantly how important they are to me. That was just a decision I made when my children were little bitty,” Curtis said.
And when he sat down days later, face-to-face with his middle child, Curtis brought this same intention to the conversation: “I said, ‘Kid, I love ya now, I’ll love you when you get through telling me what you’re gonna tell me.’”
The news: “I’m transgender.”
At that moment, Curtis didn’t know much about what it meant to be transgender. But he realized he didn’t have to have the answers. Listening was enough.
Born his son, on that day Curtis met his daughter, Lilian. And as a father, it didn’t really matter to him what Lilian’s gender identity was. All that mattered was that he loved her, and that he wanted to support her—no matter what.
“I just said, ‘OK kid what do we do next?’” said Curtis.
Lilian lives in Seattle now, a far way from Blue Ridge Georgia, where Curtis has lived for the past 10 years.
He misses having her close by, but he knows that Lilian has found a community that is accepting and understanding of transgender people—and her happiness and wellbeing are ultimately what’s most important.
Curtis is now doing his part with the Blue Ridge PFLAG chapter to share his story in hopes of helping other parents navigate transitions with their children.
His message to transgender young people, and families who are transitioning: You are not alone. For Curtis, PFLAG has been an incredible resource for information about what it means to be transgender—and a strong network of support as he learned how to be the best parent he can be to his daughter Lilian. If you are LGBT or have a family member who is, and are looking for resources, information, and support, you can find you local PFLAG chapter here.
In addition to the peer-to-peer work he does with PFLAG, Curtis supports the work of Georgia Unites and our partners at Georgia Equality to advance non-discrimination laws that provide specific protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Right now, his focus is to build public understanding of who transgender people are—and why they deserve to be treated with respect and equality under the law.
“That’s the real issue. [People] are making a big mountain out of a mole hill [with] the bathroom part—but it’s a side issue. The real issue is about respect for other people and how they lead their lives.”SHARE THIS STORY