World AIDS Day 2016 marks LGBTQ progress and OKC events planned

click to enlarge World AIDS Day 2016 marks LGBTQ progress and OKC events planned
Kay Holladay and son, David, at PFLAG National's Straight for Equality Gala.

When Kay Holladay’s son David came out to his family at age 16, there were no tears or confusion and there was no teeth-gnashing or condemnation. Instead, he received an affirmation of love, respect and admiration.

“We love our children without condition,” Holladay told Oklahoma Gazette. “When David came out to us, he was still the same teenage boy he was the day before: typical crazy, friendly, funny, loving and talented.”

Times were different then, she said. There was no Will & Grace, no equality movement and very little acceptance.

“The only difficulty was the isolation we felt,” Holladay said. “We were absolutely sure we were the only parents in Oklahoma who had a gay son.”

Soon, Holladay became involved in PFLAG, formerly known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

“My dear friend Jayne called to see if I was interested in joining her and two of her friends in starting a PFLAG chapter in Norman,” Holladay recalled.

She visited Jayne’s home, met her friends and shared a bottle of wine, and the rest is history. Today, PFLAG Norman is a strong and respected chapter.

Holladay remained active in the organization through the years and was recently named regional director of PFLAG National. The region includes Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. She has seen a cultural shift toward more positive attitudes but said there is still much work to be done, especially in and around Oklahoma.

“In the early days, there was a judgmental attitude that seemed to be driven by organized religion,” she said. “People who were LGBTQ stayed in the background for the most part, fearful they might lose their jobs if it was known they were gay.”

Holladay said Oklahoma attitudes are still a challenge.

“It is challenging with a capital ‘C,’” she said. “Often, we get weary of fighting the discrimination and the ignorance and listening to the Bible verses that are used to whack people over the head. What keeps us going is hearing a mom or dad say, ‘Well, I sure don’t understand it all, but I love my kid.’ That’s a start. … We lift each other up.”

The shock many Americans felt after the Nov. 8 elections was heightened within the LGBTQ community. Holladay said the possible consequences of a Donald Trump presidency should concern people and that fight for equality must continue.

“Never stand down, never give up any ground, never go backward,” she said. “It’s infuriating to think of the possibility of those rights being rescinded. So stay vigilant, stay informed, stay close to your legislator, both state and federal.”

Holladay added that while continued progress can often feel like taking one step forward means taking two steps back, she does believe, long-term, people’s overall attitudes have markedly improved.

“I think people are more willing these days to see those who are LGBTQ as their neighbors, their doctors, their teachers, their mechanics, their accountants — people who are no different than they are,” she said.

And underneath it all, there are still generational dynamics of coming out that show Holladay her work is not finished.

“A person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a part of what makes a person unique,” she said. “It’s difficult for me to imagine not knowing my ‘whole’ child. … And it was a mountaintop experience to share their wedding with many friends.”

Holladay’s region includes more than 40 PFLAG chapters, and she has visited all four states. Back home, she just helped celebrate Oklahoma’s newest chapter in Guthrie.

“They just want to have their rights and be respected, as we all do,” she explained.

She is also a strong advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness and in 1998 was instrumental in establishing AIDS Walk Oklahoma City. Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund awarded Holladay the Richard May Award 2010, which is named after an early board member and celebrates exceptional HIV and AIDS service, education and research within the community.

She said she will commemorate World AIDS Day on Thursday along with many of her fellow PFLAG members.

“As a parent, I want to tell those who are LGBTQ to never be afraid to show who you are,” Holladay said. “Tell your story and let the world see you as the wonderful human being you are.”

Print headline: Coming together, World AIDS Day 2016 marks progress made in the LGBTQ community as well as an invigorated commitment to equality.

Editor's note: The online version of this story was edited to correct the role of Richard May, an early Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund contributor and board member.

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