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Pride and perspective during a week of LGBT celebration

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As those taking part in Colorado Springs PrideFest this weekend prepare to celebrate the monumental gains made by the LGBT community in 2013, it occurs to me that many people without a direct relationship to this community may not fully understand or appreciate why this celebration is all so important, and how fast the social landscape has truly changed.

When I arrived in Colorado Springs in 1991 to live with my mom Jeanne and her partner Pam, their lifestyle almost seemed dangerous in this community. Colorado Springs was referred to as "ground zero" for the anti-gay evangelism movement.

I remember the first time I saw my mom and her partner slow dancing in a local bar, I sat there thinking they were a little nuts for displaying such an intimate moment in public. But they were in love and could care less what the other bar patrons were thinking, because they had pride in their relationship.

However, this sense of pride did not come easy for my mom. Jeanne Kerechanin was raised a good Catholic girl who followed the rules and wanted to conform to the standards of Catholicism. In 1970, at age 17, she got married to her high school sweetheart, Michael Gerbig Sr., and had a baby boy.

Soon after my birth, my dad joined the Army, and during his tour in Vietnam, my mom came to finally understand her true sexuality. After much confliction she decided to come out to her priest, and was advised to leave me with my dad and find another life for herself.

She listened to this advice and struggled with the guilt and shame for more than 20 years.

Thankfully, my dad was a kind and accepting man. We were all lucky to have such a wonderful human being in our lives, because he gave me the gift of an open and loving heart, which allowed Jeanne and I to reconnect as mother and son.

We all need that kind, open and accepting foundation. Jeanne found it when she met the true love of her life, a woman named Pamela June Hartman.

Together they created a full life and a welcoming community. They extended their love to their friends and family by providing housing, jobs, great meals, celebrations and overall a sense of belonging to any and all who needed it.

Pam and Jeanne once allowed five of my childhood friends to stay at their house for several weeks upon arriving in Manitou Springs without jobs and a place to live.

When visitors would come to town, Pam and Jeanne's home was often their first stop. If circumstances were favorable, the new arrivals would find themselves with a nice inexpensive apartment, a job at Poor Richard's Restaurant, moral support, a beer at 5 o'clock, and a place to spend Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving was their favorite holiday because it was simply about being thankful for good food, friends and family, which included anyone who needed a place at the table. Some years the number of guests would climb as high as 50 adults and children.

Family and community support allowed Pam and Jeanne to face other challenges such as buying their first home together (even in the face of bullying), figuring out the tax code, dealing with family tensions, securing medical insurance, and planning for the arrival of my brother Eli.

A newspaper article was written about my brother Eli's unconventional birth; at the time it was such a sensitive issue that the names of my family had to be changed for their protection. Nowadays it is not uncommon to read about same-sex celebrities and their children in People magazine.

In light of Amendment 2's passage in 1992, I was provided a rare opportunity to be part of a civil rights movement fighting for equality and to build my relationship with Pam, Jeanne and the whole LGBT community. Marching in my first Pride parade down Tejon Street amid the sounds of jeering protesters and hellfire preachers made me feel incredibly proud that I was walking alongside such kind, accepting and amazing people.

However, I must say it is a lot more fun marching in the Pride parade now, with Amendment 2 a distant memory and thousands of people cheering in support and extending their acceptance and kindness.

Pam and Jeanne died together in a tragic car accident March 10, 2005. I miss them dearly each day and honor their memories by raising my son with an open and accepting heart, as well as by continuing to fight for equality.

So as the LGBT community and supporters celebrate Pride Week 2013, let's remember we are not only celebrating our mothers and fathers, children, extended family and friends, but also our deep histories, our community's strength and our social and political gains. We are celebrating kindness, acceptance and love by welcoming everyone to the same table.

Michael C. Gerbig Jr. is a Manitou Springs City Councilor.


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