Award-winning Broadway, TV and film producer Richie Jackson talks with HRC Foundation Board Co-Chair Jodie Patterson in a Q&A about his new book, "Gay Like Me."
1) Your title "Gay Like Me", is so straight forward. Every parent understands wanting to prepare our children for what we know will come. Was there one aha moment that inspired you to write your book, and why now?
When our older son was 15, he came out to my husband and me. I was elated. I hoped he would be gay; my greatest wish was for him to be gay. Then he said, “Daddy, being gay isn’t a big deal. My generation doesn’t think it is a big deal.” And I thought, “Oh no!” Being gay is a really big deal and I realized I needed to share with him what it means to be a gay man. Being gay is a gift; it is the best, most important part of me. It is a blessing. If he diminishes it, demeans it, puts it in a corner of his life he will break his own heart and not take full advantage of the gift that it is. Then, in 2016, Donald Trump was elected President, chose Mike Pence for VP, and they declared war on the LGBTQ community just as our son was about to leave our home for college and be a gay adult out in the world. Now I had to tell him what it takes to be a gay man in America. The vigilance required to be an aware, alert and on-alert gay man.
2) I’ve always known our country to be divided on race, class and love. And now as a parent of a Black transgender boy and a Black gender queer daughter, my worries are multiplied. I think your book should be required reading for all parentsand caregivers. Tell me more about why LGBTQ visibility is so important. And do you think it can help shine light on all bigotry?
That’s so kind of you to say. I love the idea of a parenting syllabus with both of our books on it. Visibility is critical because it allows people to see possibility for themselves. It paves the way for more of us to come out and join in. Being out is a permission slip for others. Living an authentic, transparent life isn’t only for our own heart, but to also make inroads in the straight world for other LGBTQ people. Being out is a privilege and a responsibility. Visibility saves lives, and our concealment erases us – slow death by imperceptibility. Akin to career day in elementary school, every time we note an LGBTQ firefighter, doctor, police officer, teacher, pop star, athlete, or presidential candidate, we provide possibility and very often a lifeline, or a light through a dark tunnel, because it saves young LGBTQ lives to see that LGBTQ people are integrated into every part of our culture. I think visibility can and does shine a light on bigotry, even though these days the exposure only seems to amplify it. Part of helping our LGBTQ youth to navigate the world is showing them where the landmines are, who our adversaries are, and the vigilance required to keep safe.
3) What advice would you give parents of LGBTQ children who have similar concerns about safety, freedom and happiness for their children?
The advice I would give parents of LGBTQ children is to parent the child you have, not the child you thought you would have, or you thought you wanted. You can help raise them with good self esteem. Teach them LGBTQ history, not as some responsibility, but so they understand they are part of a long continuum of extraordinary individuals who have always been part of changing the world and who will help them feel less alone. Expose them to LGBTQ writers and artists who can make them understand the power of their otherness and guide them on how to take care of themselves and their partners. If you participate in raising your LGBTQ child, you will have a more exciting, magical adventure than you ever imagined.
4) In your book, you note that regardless of the era, being LGBTQ was difficult when you were growing up and it remains difficult now. Would you talk more about that, especially given that there’s sometimes a perception outside of the LGBTQ community that marriage equality ended anti-LGBTQ discrimination?
I think it’s going to be harder for my son being gay than it was for me growing up. The danger is that visibility is not a cure-all. Rainbows and #loveislove is just the veneer, masking a very real war that is being waged on our community by our government. I didn’t realize that when the White House lit up in rainbow that incredible day in June 2015 celebrating the Supreme Court’s landmark Marriage Equality ruling that a straight-lash was coming for us. Our adversaries think that house belongs only to them. When I was growing up, so much of what we were hoping to achieve seemed like a pipe dream to us, and to LGBTQ bigots, their worst nightmare. But since so much has been realized and so much progress has been made, now their nightmare came true and they are working hard to unravel everything we have achieved and trying to make sure we don’t get it back. There are over 100 anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures – 34 states in all. The Trump Administration has argued in the Supreme Court that it is constitutional to fire us for being gay and they argued it was permissible for a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding. They’ve also reinstated the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military and the of Health and Human Services tried to institute a rule that would allow medical personnel to deny care to LGBTQ people by citing religious freedom. The other part of visibility that we don’t talk about enough is the visibility of allies. A recent study showed that LGBTQ youth are 40% less likely to attempt suicide if they have one accepting adult in their life and the remarkable part of that is the adult doesn’t have to be a parent. So, if allies and advocates were more visible and vocal, we could all help save lives.
5) My kids are reading my book "The Bold World" in school and it’s a very surreal and slightly uncomfortable experience. What did your son think of your book?
That’s amazing that your kids are reading your incredible book in school. My son hasn’t read my book yet. I finished it just as he was starting college and he was assigned Socrates, so I got put aside. I am excited for him to read it.
6) Are you planning on using your book as inspiration on Broadway? What’s next?
"Gay Like Me" the musical?! Can you imagine?? What is really next for me is another book. I have started to work on it. I heard the great writer Meg Wolitzer say that if you have an idea for a book write 80 pages and see if there’s anything there. So I’ve begun.