what a family is REALLY about

We are pleased to bring you this guest blog by Jim Johnson.
Jim blogs at
Straight, Not
, where he advocates for GLBT equality in
politics and the church.

If I hear one more right-wing zealot prattle on about “preserving
the traditional family” I’m going to puke. Back in October,
2004, I learned once and for all what the word family meant, and it
didn’t resemble the “traditional” model that some people
believe is the anchor of our society.

My wife Bette passed away suddenly on October 11, 2004.  It was at
that time, the lowest point of my life, that two gay men showed me
what being family was truly about.

One of those gay men was my half-brother Michael. Our mother had
worked very hard to keep us apart growing up, and it was not until
her death in 1992 that we began to establish a loving adult
relationship and started learning how to be brothers.

When I told Michael and his partner, Mike, about Bette’s passing,
they insisted on coming down from western New York to my home in
Maryland to help me through that rough time. Not only did they make
the seven-hour drive and arrive the next afternoon, they insisted
on driving with me to Illinois, where Bette’s memorial service
would be held. Yes, we drove because I didn’t trust anyone with
her remains, and they understood that.

With no warning, these two wonderful men took an entire week out of
their lives just to comfort me, to be strong for me when I was
weak. My brother, despite some serious health problems of his own,
never voiced any objection or complaint unless we passed a Waffle
House without stopping. Mike, without warning, burned a week of
vacation at his job as an accounting manager.

They had reached the mutual decision to do this on the drive down
from New York, regardless of any objections I raised, and I
initially raised some. I had never been in the position of asking
people for very much and was uncomfortable receiving such
generosity from Michael and Mike. Fortunately, I was able to
quickly move beyond that and receive their gesture for what is

The guys did a wonderful job keeping my spirits up. When I cried
while a special song played on the radio, they let me work through
it without weighing me down with empty platitudes. When I emerged
from the funeral home with my wife’s remains, my brother just
stood outside the car and held me, offering me comfort while I
broke down. In the evenings when we stayed in a motel overnight on
our journey, they let me have time by myself, demonstrating their
concern but showing me respect by giving me space. During our stay
in Illinois, they interacted wonderfully with a gaggle of in-laws
they were meeting for the first time under obviously difficult

All of this, they did out of love. It was the first time my brother
had been in a position to be strong for me, and he responded to the
challenge. Mike, amazingly enough, stepped up and was an absolute
rock, a great source of strength and comfort. My brother’s
hearing is seriously damaged, making the carrying on of a lengthy
conversation difficult. Mike stepped into the gap and was just like
a second brother. I told him on the way home that, like it or not,
I considered him a member of our family although he is unable to
gain that recognition legally. The legal aspect, although an
important right that LGBT people are denied in 49 states, is not
what makes families. 

Love makes families. 

From that point forward, I’ve called Mike my brother-in-law,
although I think of him more like a brother. It meant the world to
me that the two of them were the first ones to meet my new wife
Brenda when we were dating, and then stay at our house on the
weekend when we got married. 

After all, celebrations like weddings are also important family

So Dr. Dobson, Pat Robertson, Don Wildmon, Tony Perkins, and all
others of that ilk, you can spew all you want about “traditional
families.”  I think we can do BETTER than that.

I know I have.