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    From Naughty to Nice

    By Stuart Gaffney

    When I first came out as gay to my family over 30 years ago, my mom was wonderfully accepting. She already knew. For weeks before I actually told her one summer evening while I was home from college, she kept saying to me: “If there’s anything you want to tell me, I just want you to know that I will be very accepting … .” And so, one evening, I came out to her, and we had a great conversation. When she met John a few years later, I asked her what she thought of him, and she responded: “He’s nice.”  But quickly realizing that could sound like damning by faint praise, she exclaimed: “Nicer than nice!” She thought he was great, and quickly loved him as one of her own. 

    As news about my being gay spread through my mother’s side of the family, however, word got back to me that a few in my extended family didn’t necessarily think it was so “nice” that I was gay. I learned that one of my Chinese aunties said she’d heard through the family grapevine I was “naughty.” In general, there was a feeling among some of the family that we don’t talk about sexuality, love, and relationships. We don’t even know how to talk about such things. We don’t even do so with respect to straight people, and we certainly don’t know how to do so with respect to people who might be “naughty.”

    Over the decades, John became completely integrated into my large extended family. He has planned family reunions, supported family members through illness and death, and cooked our traditional family dishes for our annual Chinese New Year celebrations. When John and I first married during San Francisco’s February 2004 “Winter of Love,” the date coincided with our family’s annual New Year gathering. The 2004 marriages were so spontaneous and joyful that my family toasted us with champagne and showered us with congratulations at that year’s annual family gathering.

    The initial reticence on the part of some of my family to talk about LGBT life has been reflected in the broader society in varying ways in different cultural contexts in America, Asia, and other parts of the world. Last week, however, John and I spoke about marriage equality and LGBT issues to university students from Taiwan, China, and Japan studying this summer at Stanford University as part of the Volunteers in Asia program.

    If these students’ interest and excitement in learning about, and talking about, marriage equality and LGBT life—and their support for LGBT people—is any indication of things to come on a broader level, then enormous change is taking place in Asia, just as it did in my own family years before. The students’ thirst for knowledge about LGBT people’s lives was palpable. Our presentation began at 7:00 pm, and three and a half hours later at 10:30 pm, many students were still actively engaging with us with many insightful questions and comments about LGBT life in America and their home countries. We could have gone on all night. 

    The Taiwanese students beamed with pride when we and they talked about the historic court decision in favor of marriage equality in Taiwan, making it the first country in Asia with marriage equality. Students from all of the countries applauded the victory. One student spoke about her activism as a Taiwanese lesbian. Another added, “I was there!” when we showed a photograph of the massive celebration the day of the victory. A 2014 poll found that 70 percent of Japanese in their 20s and 30s support full marriage equality. Many students asked perceptive questions about LGBT physical and mental health, legal issues about relationship and employment discrimination, and ways to improve life for LGBT students in schools. 

    Speaking with us at Stanford were our friends, the Tan Mercado family, two moms and their twin sons now in college, who were leaders in the fight against DOMA and discrimination against bi-national LGBT couples. Eight years ago, ICE arrested one of the moms in the wee hours of the morning at their home. Today, they are a legally married couple, with one of their sons a Stanford undergraduate and one of the coordinators of the Volunteers in Asia summer program. The entire family came and told their story of standing up for their family and those of many others, and of overcoming adversity. They shared the message that love makes a family. Their very presence allowed students to learn about LGBT families directly, and to see firsthand how terrific children of same-sex parents can turn out. After the formal presentation ended, the students surrounded them with support and questions about their lives.

    By far the question the most students asked us was the best one: “When we go back to our home countries, how can we help?”  It’s the question that gives us the most hope and inspiration—that together, LGBT people in Asia and America are moving forward on the ongoing journey from “naughty” to “nice” … even nicer than nice!

    Stuart Gaffney and his husband John Lewis, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.