This month, we wanted to take you inside the childhood of someone raised by a queer parent in a small town during the 80s and 90s. Evie Amelia Smith is the CEO and founder of Rebellious PR and named one of the top queer-owned businesses in Portland by Portland Business Journal.
Her experiences highlight that change doesn’t just happen. As of Monday, June 15th, 2020, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination “because of” race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, now extends to protect those who face job bias based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. More than 50 years have passed since this monumental act was first put into law, and yet we’re still fighting for equal civil rights today. We hope that Pride this month adds fuel to the fire of social change by honoring the great civil rights moments and victories of our past.
What do you remember about the political/cultural landscape around LGBTQ rights and gay parenting when you were growing up, and how did that impact conversations with your dad inside the house?
My dad identifies as bisexual or queer. I did not know my dad was queer until I was in junior high when my mom outed him to me. I think I kinda always knew, but also my dad is British, so I think I attributed that to be the biggest difference between him and other dads I knew. The AIDS crisis hit when I was in elementary school. What was also happening, unbeknownst to me was that my dad was living as an out gay man for the first time.
Queerness was woven into the fabric of my upbringing. I never thought it was strange or different for people to be in same-sex relationships until I heard kids talking about it at school. “That’s gay” was a slur I heard a lot, and I remember after I found out about my dad’s sexuality, I felt REALLY getting upset when I heard kids saying this. Once fellow classmates found out that my dad was gay, this became their bully fuel for the next few years. At that point, I lived in Redding, California which is a very conservative, Christian, small-minded, small town. People ridiculed me to make me feel bad about who my dad was, but I never really let it get under my skin. I adored my dad. He was my favorite person and everyone else could go fuck themselves as far as I was concerned. It did, however, affect me coming to terms with my own queerness.
The treatment I received, mixed with the memorable and horrific hate crimes against queer folks in the 90s (especially in small towns like the one I was in), was a big reason I did not come out until my 30s. I think I had so much internalized shame from all the bullshit my classmates and society threw at me during those formative years that I had saved all my strength for my dad and did not have a ton leftover for me.
Did your dad ever give you tips for “how to prepare for having a gay dad” questions you might encounter at school? If so, what were those conversations like?
I feel like my Dad had two stances on it: 1. It’s not really anybody’s business. If it’s a problem for anyone, fuck ‘em. 2. You don’t want to be around people like that anyway.
A lot of conversations at school, at least in junior high, was me explaining to people that I was not a “test-tube baby’ and that my dad did not have AIDS. I didn’t notice any difference between me and my classmates until I was older and realized I could not throw or catch a ball, but I did know every word to Cabaret, Funny Girl, and every Cher song ever recorded. My interests developed differently due to the culture my dad exposed me to. I’m sure some of that was due to my dad’s queerness, but more so due to the fact he is not from this country and was certainly not from Redding.
In High School, looking back a lot of the boys I was doing performing arts with seemed to be interested in who my dad was and would ask me questions about him. I didn’t think anything about it then. Why wouldn’t you want to know about my dad?! He is the most interesting man in the world! Looking back and also understanding who those boys grew up to be, I now know where their interest came from – a place of curiosity and young, unsure queerness.
How did your dad introduce the men he was dating? How did that make you feel?
My dad has never actually introduced me to anyone. I knew of a few men, but my dad is not really the “relationship type”. I’ve seen my dad hit on guys when we have been out at clubs or bars – which is always a bit awkward. No one likes to see their parents be sexy in any kind of way, but sometimes it’s nice to see if it is reciprocated. Ultimately, I just want my dad to be happy in life. I do hope he settles down eventually. That person better be pretty special or else I will be a total monster about it.
Do you have any memories, positive or negative, of friends, teachers, others outside of your family reactions to your dad?
Not a whole lot happens in small towns, and when it does it gives people something to do. I think I was always a bit of an anomaly to my classmates and my dad’s sexuality was just one bullet point on a list of things that made me different from everyone else. I know some people thought it was cool that my dad was gay, some people told me that my dad was going to hell – it was a real mixed bag, but it was not that only thing that gave people a reason to talk. I was also one of like 3 Jewish kids in my school, we were transplants and many of the kids I knew were going to the same school that their parents had gone to. There was this smallness about everything at that time and I remember it feeling suffocating. My dad’s queerness was just one more thing that gave me a reason to not conform.
“My dad’s queerness was just one more thing that gave me a reason to not conform.”
What’s your favorite thing about your dad?
My favorite thing about my Dad is how much he owns being himself. He totally accepts himself. I don’t think that was always the case, but it’s nice to see him there now. His queerness is also not the defining characteristic about him. It’s a part of him, but not the whole story. I think that’s really interesting.
The other thing I love about him is how loyal and forgiving he is with people in his life. He has 40-year friendships with people. He writes letters and sends Christmas cards every year. He values and works on relationships in a way that is #goals.