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    My Mother, the Audacious Ally

    By Nguyen “Sir Whitney Queers” Pham–

    “Gay or straight, you’re my son.”

    I won’t forget these fiercely loving words that my Vietnamese mother expressed when she finally mustered the nerve to ask me about my sexual orientation. I was a high school sophomore in turn-of-the-millennium Silicon Valley, and Mom was driving me to my weekly youth symphony rehearsal. Mendelssohn played on the car radio when Mom asked me mid-conversation, “So, are you gay?” for the first and only time ever. To this, I replied, terrified, “I might be. Is that okay?” Mom assured me it was; and from then, my life has become so exquisitely queer.

    On my birthday today—February 24—I reflect on my mother’s audacious love and allyship as well as on the series of profoundly queer events that followed the watershed moment in Mom’s car. Shortly thereafter, during my junior year, I founded Westmont High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which I’m proud to know still thrives.

    Following graduation, I marched with the GSA Network in the annual San Francisco Pride Parade, marking the first time that hundreds of thousands of beautiful strangers gleefully affirmed my queerness to my face. As a college freshman, I began volunteering with UC Berkeley’s Queer Resource Center and Gender Equity Resource Center; and the same year, I joined CHEER San Francisco, the world’s longest-running queer-oriented charitable cheerleading organization with which I’m currently celebrating 20 years as a performer.

    And the pageants! Beginning in my 20s, I had the honor and pleasure of clinching all three pageant titles for which I contended, two of them queer-centered. In 2013, I nabbed the title of Mr. Gay Asian Pacific Alliance—a.k.a. Mr. GAPA 2013—with Miss GAPA 2013 Khmera Rouge, who would soon ascend to San Francisco’s Absolute Empress 50. During Khmera’s reign as Empress, I secured the title of Mr. Gay San Francisco 2015 and spent that year representing the Imperial Council of San Francisco alongside Lily Rose, Miss Gay San Francisco 2015. (My remaining title of Mr. Mensa 2011 isn’t specifically queer, but I think it’s super neat nonetheless.)

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    Speaking of pageantry, the SF Pride Parade often strikes me as the world’s largest pageant. Anyone who has ever glimpsed that hours-long procession on Market Street on the last Sunday of every June won’t deny its fabulously queer pomp and circumstance. I’m proud to have marched in every SF Pride Parade for nearly 20 consecutive years before COVID-19 forced a regrettable pause.

    In 2016, following my 16th march, then-Board President Michelle Meow invited me to run for an open seat on SF Pride’s Board of Directors. I leapt at the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way to an organization that had given so meaningfully to me, and for so long. 2022 marks my sixth consecutive year on our Board, and today I serve dutifully as Vice President beside SF Pride icon Carolyn Wysinger.

    As that initial confrontation with Mom took shape as a response to a question asked rather than as a declarative statement made, I’ve grown to realize that my coming out was not quite the pronouncement that I thought had been expected of queer people. And that’s okay. It helped that I could simply stop denying the converse, both to myself and to others—meaning no more tepid “Oh, I don’t know yet” when questioned.

    The onslaught of sweeping acceptance that followed this inflection point provided greater affirmation than my heart and mind thought possible as a questioning teenager doing his best in Campbell, California. And it opened a world of queer activity and activism that has become the cornerstone of my identity today as a late-30s gay man in love with his life in the Castro—not to mention who loves his audaciously queer-affirming mother.

    So, for my birthday today, it should come as no surprise that I’m treating Mom to a scrumptious dinner out in the gayborhood, 30-something years to the day that she treated me to this scrumptious existence. In case you see us, please feel free to say, “Hi.” Gay or straight, or otherwise: You’re someone we’d be pleased to meet.

    Nguyen Pham is the Director of Philanthropy at Frameline. He can be reached online @YayNguyen (TW/IG).

    Published on February 24, 2022