Dannielle Owens-Reid, co-founder of My Kid Is Gay, sits down with Kathy Dornetto in her hometown – Charleston, South Carolina. Kathy shares memories of her initial reactions, concerns, and conversations when her daughter came out to her over a decade ago. This is the first installment in a series of interviews with parents of LGBTQ kids. In the coming months, we will be speaking with more parents about their various experiences and perspectives.
How did Karey come out to you?
Kathy: I think that it was in New York. I take that back. I think Karey wrote me a note, and said something to the effect that she had a relationship with this girl she was rooming with, and that she felt like this was right. I was going up to New York to see her so the note either came before or after my visit, but that’s pretty much when I knew. Karey was 24 at the time. I really was just kind of floored.
What was your initial reaction when Karey came out?
Kathy: I just never had any idea. What upset me at first was that she had never really dated anybody. She dated somebody in high school for like three weeks, and then she hated him. He was the only one. Of course, she went to prom and did all that… but she never really dated. She’d never really had a relationship with a guy. That was the first thing that just bothered me. I said, “Karey, you’ve never even dated anybody!”
And, you know, she really didn’t answer. I don’t think she knew [that she was gay], but I may be wrong. No I think she knew, I think she just hadn’t accepted it.
What was your biggest question or concern?
Kathy: I didn’t want anybody to hurt her. That was my biggest thing. I mean, thinking about it bothers me now. I couldn’t help it–I thought, what if somebody is mean to her or actually hurt her? What if people did that? That really, really bothered me.
Who was the first person you told, and how did that conversation go?
Kathy: Well, I told my husband, but he told me that he thought that Karey was gay before I even had a clue. When I first went to New York, when Karey told me, I didn’t tell my husband when I came back because I was trying to decide how I was going to say this exactly to him. But, when we did discuss it, he said, “Don’t you think it’s odd that Karey was sitting right next to [her friend], literally right next to her?”And I said I didn’t notice it, and I think I’m pretty observant. But he noticed it then.
Besides my husband, the first person I told was my sister, Jane. I told her about 6 years after Karey came out to me. She was fabulous. She’s the best person in the world, anyway, very loving and caring. She said, “She’s still just the same sweet Karey that we’ve always known, and nothing’s different except one thing. That’s who she is.” It was comforting to me to have finally shared it with somebody.
If you didn’t tell your sister for almost 6 years, where did you find support?
Kathy: I had Kelly, my oldest daughter, and my husband, Lou. So I had support from them. I personally just deal with a lot of the things that I have faced over the years on my own, a lot of family issues. I just happen to be able to… do it. I think I’m just strong that way, that’s all. I don’t mean that like patting myself on the back—I think it’s much better now when you can talk to people and be open about it.
I also felt I had the support of my faith. They don’t agree on certain issues. They think that if someone says that they’re gay, they should be celibate. But I still know that they don’t actually condemn gays. They accept them at Mass and in the sacraments, so I was comfortable knowing that. But I didn’t go to anybody, specifically, to talk to a priest or anything. I do have priest friends who I know I could have gone to, but I just didn’t. I just didn’t feel like I needed to.
Do you feel differently now than you felt in those initial moments, or first few years?
Kathy: I’m not concerned about anybody hurting her, but I do still think that people can be cruel. I can’t change that. I’ve also accepted that, regardless of the fact that she didn’t date guys or anything, that just wasn’t who she was. I’m comfortable with that. And I think she’s just—I think she’s happy. I think she’s very happy. And that’s really all a mother could want, honestly. And her dad, as well. If she’s happy, we are happy. I’m that way about both of our children, and, you know, they have to be who they are.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything about the way you responded to your child?
Kathy: I don’t think so, honestly.
Well, let me think a bit. It depends on that time in our lives, the situation in this country. The way things are is just easier now. I don’t think I would change anything. I think I had to go through the phases I went through. You know? You are who you are, so I can’t change how I feel. And it just took a little while, but I was never not accepting of it. to her, ever. And I wouldn’t be. But in my own person, I just had to deal with it.
I had friends who have family members who are gay, and who’ve said things to me. One of them was a teacher of Karey’s who actually called me. And she knows Karey well, loved her, and has always followed her career and all. And she said, “You know, Kathy, my son is gay.” And I said, “Really?” I didn’t know him. She said, “And it’s just refreshing to know that somebody else has a child who’s gay and, you know, how did you deal with it?” So we talked and all. I think there’s a lot more of that now.
What advice would you give to a parent who might be experiencing things similar to what you experienced with Karey?
Kathy: Everybody is going to grow up differently. When I say grow up, I mean me. My husband. We’ve been married, it’ll be forty-seven years. And I’ve watched how we’ve changed over the years, and hopefully for the better. And we look at mistakes we made and stuff, you know, but you do what you think at the time is right, you don’t always know.
Click through to read Kathy’s daughter Karey’s responses to her mother’s interview.