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Parents reflect on kids coming out

Megan O'Neil | Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Nancy Mascotte – a Saint Mary’s alumna – was surprised by her own reaction when her then college-aged son told her he was gay.

“I cried a great deal,” Mascotte said. “I was upset. In retrospect, it wasn’t because [my son] was gay, it was because [I was afraid of] what he would have to face as a gay man.”

In an event Tuesday night sponsored by the Saint Mary’s Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) and the Community Leadership Team (CoLT) on sexuality, Mascotte, Hank Mascotte, Beth Garascia and Tony Garascia shared their experiences of being the parent or sibling of a gay or lesbian individual.

Nancy Mascotte said she worried her son’s sexual orientation might lose him a job or damage his relationship with his father and grandparents. With the help of the counseling center at Notre Dame, she began educating herself on homosexuality. She was determined to find “healthy” role models – gay people she would like her son to associate with.

“I began to educate myself and I had realized I had absorbed through the culture many myths about homosexuality,” Nancy Mascotte said.

As she learned more, Nancy Mascotte grew angry at the difficult realities gays and lesbians face in society – and she began taking action. She founded the first support group for HIV positive men in South Bend.

Some individuals in the group, she discovered, struggled more with telling their families they were gay than informing them of their illness. As members began dying, she stopped working with

the group because it had become too emotionally painful.

That didn’t stop her from continuing her support of homosexuals in the South Bend area.

Sixteen years ago, she founded the South Bend chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFLAG is a national organization that seeks to support, educate and advocate for the families of gay and lesbians.

Beth and Tony Garascia, also members of PFLAG, said they suspected their son might be gay since he was in high school. As a college freshman he came out to one of his sisters, and then later to his parents over the telephone. They were not surprised, Beth Garascia said.

A more recent announcement was unexpected, however.

“Our youngest daughter just actually told us a couple of weeks ago that she is dating a girl and that was a little bit more of a surprise,” Beth Garascia said.

When a child comes out, Tony Garascia said, the parents must go through a coming out process of their own. PFLAG provides the context in which they can both receive and give support, he said.

“We really love our three children and we will continue to do so,” Tony Garascia said. “We are all mysteries in a sense and we continue to unfold.”

A priest in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese for 30 years before marrying Nancy and Hank Mascotte said religion could be a difficult obstacle for family members to overcome in accepting gay children of siblings.

Beth Garascia said she and her husband experienced feelings of fear and guilt over their son’s homosexuality.

“Tony and I both wondered if we had done something wrong,” Beth Garascia said.

The acceptance process can be long and trying, Nancy Mascotte said.

“The thing that I have found with the young people I know that have come out is that it is hard for them to realize that it is a process and not an event … it can take 15 or 20 years,” she said.

Nancy Mascotte said being the parent of a gay child has propelled her to grow in ways she could never have imagined. She has also been encouraged by the progress of other parents in learning to accept their gay children.

“I think what happens often when a child comes out is the parent has the opportunity to grow,” she said.