Cindy Grant suspected her daughter Jade was gay, and apprehensive about coming out, but reassured her she needed to be who she was.
“I needed to make her aware enough is enough — be who you are. Live every day in celebration of who you are, not in fear,” said the St. John’s woman who has taken her experience — and stories of those members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus (LBGT+) communities who may still be disowned by family and friends for coming out— to form a new group.
Free Mom/Dad Hugs NL is the Facebook group Grant started up to raise awareness of the struggles some still face and show encouragement to those who are shunned by family, or just want a supportive hug. She plans to give out free hugs at the St. John’s Pride parade July 14.
Grant said she knew when Jade was in junior high she was gay, but wanted to let her come out in her own time without her mom overstepping boundaries. An accomplished soccer player, she was never interested in makeup, dresses or dating boys while her female friends were getting dolled up to go to dances.
By Jade’s grad a few years ago, Grant made the decision to ask, because she said she feared her daughter was miserable over what the reaction might be, even though they were tight and she’d always encouraged her to be outspoken.
“I guess like any other child, there was fear,” Grant said. “Her being scared what’s going to happen.”
Jade told her mom she was indeed gay.
"I was so delighted and happy," Grant said.
Jade Hoysradt, now 21, said in a phone interview from Churchill Falls, where she works as a firefighter, her mom came in her room and said, “I’ll ask you once and I don’t want you to lie to me.”
There was no reason for her not to feel accepted, but Jade said she was just scared of the what if.
“You hear the stories. You talk to people who are not accepted and what if that’s me?” she said.
The close mother-daughter relationship grew even stronger.
“From that day on, my whole life changed. My life, honestly, got easier,” said Jade.
“I wasn’t hiding that side of my life, the biggest part of me.”
She said she was worried about telling her grandparents, because they were from a different generation but the whole family supported her.
“I am so lucky,” Jade said.
“They just want me to be happy. As a family, that’s the biggest thing. That is what every family should want….. I am pretty grateful for my family, especially my mother.”
Stories her daughter later shared of people being shunned, as well as reading about such experiences elsewhere broke Grant’s heart.
“I never, ever would have thought of doing that to my daughter,” said Grant, who works in operations at WestJet, a pride-supportive company.
“I can’t imagine thinking that way … The last thing I ever wanted was for her to hide who she was.”
After reading stories in her Facebook feed about other groups giving out free hugs at Pride parades elsewhere — to those whose parents have abandoned them, Grant said she called her daughter to see what she thought of Grant starting a local movement.
“She said ‘Go for it, mom.’ I invited my own personal friends and it kind of took off from there. I’m delighted,” Grant said.
“Just a bunch of mom's, dad's, nan's & pop's, brother's, sister's or anyone in general who are offering free hugs on July 14th In St. John's, NL to those who are attending the Pride parade, 2019!” reads the page inscription.
“In the LGBTQ community, there are many, many people who are rejected by their families and friends when they decide to voice their identities. It can be extremely difficult for kids, teens, and even adults to gain acceptance by their parents, friends, communities, churches, etc. Some unfortunately never do. 😔”
Grant is seeking sponsorship from businesses for signs and T-shirts to give those who want to take part in the movement. She said she’s already got one sponsorship for T-shirts — the City of Mount Pearl.
Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker called Grant’s idea a great initiative and said the city has approved $500 for the shirts.
He’ll be away that day but expects council members will be taking part in the capital city’s pride parade.
“It’s about celebrating. There is one pride parade and all the communities in the region in addition to St. John’s will be celebrating with them and all the participants,” Aker said.
“We all consider ourselves great places to live and welcoming to everyone regardless of who they love.”
Derek Semerad, co chair internal of St John's Pride Inc. used to work at the Memorial University Sexual and Gender Advocacy Centre and heard of at least five cases a day where people feared coming out to family, friends and co-workers.
“It’s not even a 2019 thing, it’s an ongoing facet of our society," Semerad said.
He said the idea of giving supportive hugs to those who want them at Pride is important, as is holding people for accountable for negative comments in everyday life and to try to never make comments that make someone feel bad.
“Everyone needs a hug. Everybody needs to give a hug,” Semerad said.
But there’s no doubt hate still exists toward the LGBT+ community.
As The Telegram reporter was hanging up from a chat with Semerad, the following email from a “George Press” arrived in her inbox:
“Pride is a wonderful word and should have nothing to do with being GAY. It is something you are Proud of. Being Gay is unnatural and should be looked down on, and The Telegram should publish nothing about it,” read the email.
Rain date for the Pride parade is July 21.