Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dad Gives Public Speaking a Try

As many of you who follow the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page already know, I was asked by the Utah Pride Center to give the keynote address at their National Coming Out Day Brunch. Much like the response to the post itself, it was a beautiful and humbling experience. 

I got to bring a table full of guests (including my adorably noisy daughter) and had the wonderful privilege to talk a little bit about my experiences growing up in Utah and coming out in support of my LGBT friends and family. 

A lot of people who were unable to attend, including my mom, asked me to post a copy of my speech. So here it is - all twenty minutes of it! I hear there may be video out there somewhere too. If I get a hold of it I'll post it - although I hate hearing my recorded voice. I feel like I sound an evil elf. Here you go...

Utah Pride Center 
National Coming Out Day Brunch - Keynote Address
Sunday, October 7th, 2012

There are so many things I want to say in this speech, but I am acutely aware that very few of them will come out right. So let me start with this: I got lucky. I wrote a really nice letter at a very opportune time. It had been a really rotten month for the LGBT community. The whole Chick-Fil-A mess hurt a lot. I know right? Chicken sandwiches hurt. Chicken sandwiches should only bring happiness – happiness with a bun and a pickle. Happiness with 400 calories of amazingly delicious unsaturated fat. But they didn't  I’ll be honest. It hurt me personally. I watched as close friends took pictures of their chicken sandwiches and posted them to Facebook or Twitter and cheered with joy how they had struck a blow for free speech or “traditional” marriage or just an unfortunate and poorly timed Instagram.

But it hurt. I thought we had come further than that. I thought more people were on our side. And every chicken sandwich picture I saw, every picture of a line of cars wrapping around a Chick-Fil-A they showed on CNN or Fox news hurt me a little more. I can’t imagine how it felt for some of you. 

Utah Pride Center Key Note Address - John Kinnear
Public speaking requires hand gestures... just not these weird hand gestures.
I stayed out of it on social media. I knew the second I commented on someone’s nicely filtered chicken picture I would get into a debate I was not prepared to wage from the Facebook app on my cell phone. I stewed and I got angry. I’ve had the gay marriage debate before, and I know where I stand. So I decided to write my anger away.

I came home one night to write my weekly parenting blog, and everything I wrote was draped in anger and resentment of the world. Three whiskey-Pepsis later I looked at what I had written – a three page hateful scream at the world. It was a anger filled letter aimed directly at other people. If I had published it would have gotten a few views, a few angry comments and then it would have gone away. It didn't represent me, and it didn't represent what I want my blog to be about. And so I deleted it. 

The next morning I woke up and found this letter on one of my favorite message boards. A man had posted a letter his father had written him. It was basically disowning him because he was gay. The letter was honest, it was sincere, and it took my already tired, shaky and a bit hung over heart and broke it. I didn't know this guy or his dad, but it boiled down to a father son archetype to which I found myself relating on a visceral level. I suddenly stopped being angry and I just felt horribly sad. 

As many of you know, I am about to have a son. I already have a daughter. A weird thing happens to you when you have (or are having) kids. Suddenly, and at the most inopportune times everyone is your kid. Young women in short skirts stop being kind of sexy and start being kind of your daughter. The gentlemen to whom this hate filled letter was written stopped being just another guy, and was suddenly my son. And that made me the dad. (He’s actually my age by the way, but I didn't know that at the time.)  

So anyway, I was sad and I didn't want to be sad anymore. So I sat down that morning and rewrote the letter in my own words, took out the disowning part and added my own ending. I wrote my hypothetical letter to my hypothetically gay son. He’s not a hypothetical son by the way. He’s very real. In fact, he’s right over there. Say hi Stevie.

So I wrote the letter and things blew up. Out of curiosity, how many of you have read it?

More than half of the room raised their hands.

So I wrote the letter and suddenly this response came in that was completely overwhelming. I'll talk a little bit about that in a minute, but would you all mind if I indulged myself a little bit? 

See, as a writer, when you write something, especially on the web, you just kind of send it out into the ether and hope it does OK  Sometimes you get feedback, sometimes you don’t. In this case I got a lot of feedback, but what I never got the chance to do was read it to an audience. I’ll probably never get the chance to do this again with an audience. Would you mind if I read my post? 

They obviously said yes. Here is "Dear Hypothetically Gay Son" post if you'd like to read it. I read it to the audience and got to see first hand the power of that post. I cried. They cried. Some people ate bacon... because it was brunch. But yes, there were tears. 

Utah Pride Center Key Note Address - John Kinnear
My first standing ovation ever. Those people sitting stood up after
the picture was taken . I promise. No really. They did.
In High School there was a framed Robert Frost quote on the wall of my creative writing class. It said “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Never has that been more apparent to me than with this post. 

Shortly after publishing it I received a sobbing call from my mother letting me know how proud she was of me. That is not that out of the ordinary. Shortly after that I got a tearful call from my wife telling me how much she cherished having me as a husband. That was a little less ordinary. Then the comments started coming in, and apparently everyone was crying. 

Here’s the best part of the whole experience. After the Chick-Fil-A crap, and after fighting every Prop-8 post in my Facebook feed - after “A Million Moms” vs. J.C. Penney, when my little blog post went viral I was ready for the hate to come rolling in. My finger was on the delete button for days as comment after comment and letter after letter arrived. And do you want to know how many comments I deleted? One. I deleted a single comment that was attacking someone else. Do you want to know how many pieces of hate mail I received? Not a single one. 0.

I wish I could read them all to you. Gay men and women. Bisexual. Transgendered. A-sexual. Straight. Young. Old. All of them e-mailed me and thanked me for writing those 500 words. There are writers out there, much better than I, who go their entire lives without experiencing something like that. Aside from marrying my wife and the birth of my daughter, it was the most humbling and amazing experience of my life. And reading my post to all of you is part of it. 

So let’s talk about coming out. When Valerie asked me to talk to today my initial reaction was excitement. 

My next reaction was dread. 

Every single one of you knows more about coming out than I do. Coming out in support of the LGBT community is very different than coming out as LGBT. I get that. That’s what worried me. You all paid good money for this brunch, and I couldn't help wondering what a straight, chubby white guy who cries a lot would bring to the table. By the way, being chubby, straight, white and crying a lot are the only qualities I share with Glen Beck. I promise. 

So Valerie and I talked, and she thought it would be nice if I told you my story. 

My parents moved here in the sunrise of my childhood. If you ask me where I’m from I’ll always say Minnesota, but I've been here many more years than I was there. So I grew up in Utah in a non-Mormon family. I wouldn't say I grew up homophobic because you need to know what something is to be able to be scarred of it. I guess you could say I grew up homo-ignorant. If that’s not a term, it should be. 

I grew up playing horribly named games in the school yard like “Shmear the Queer.” I used words like gay and fagot to make fun of my friends.  I didn't know what they meant at the time, but unfortunately there were people who did. People who had not come out who were my friends. 

In high school I played sports poorly. I played football poorly. I wrestled poorly. And when I realized that I was never going to be good enough at sports to impress girls I went and joined a club that was full of beautiful girls. The drama club. It was there that I met the first openly gay person I ever knew. 

His name was Nate. He was incredibly talented at singing and playing music. He was friendly and kind. He was liked by everyone in the class, got lead roles in the plays. And he was openly gay. Having him as a friend just kind of made things start to click for me. It just seemed so normal.

I met more LGBT people throughout college. One of my best friends since preschool came out to me in college. Gradually it went from having a token gay friend that you brag about to people to prove you’re not homophobic, to having LGBT friends who were just a normal part of my life. They weren't my gay friends. They were my friends. Then I met my wife.

When I met my wife, one of the first things she told me about herself was that her mom was a lesbian and lived with her life-partner. It was kind of a strange moment. The way she told me, I could tell she was both incredibly nervous and intensely proud. It was the first make or break moment in our relationship, and luckily I responded with “Cool, when do I get to meet them,” because if I hadn't  I’m fairly certain I’d still be single.  

So while I have never had to “come out” as an LGBT person, I have many experiences with people who have come out as LGBT. For some it has been harder than others. And I do believe that like Dan Savage says, it gets better. Still, we all have a responsibility to make the “getting better” easier.

And while campaigns and protests and rallies and parades and festivals are amazing rallying points, I believe the most important thing we as a community can do is be out. Like really out. Out as LGBT, out as LGBT supporters, out just living our daily lives in the most normal, boring banal ways. At restaurants and movie theaters. Community activities. Schools. Be out with your love. Because love is normal. 

Let me say that again. Love is normal. It’s easy to misunderstand or hate an idea because it's jumbled up in your head with a bunch of other ideas. It’s a lot more difficult to hate your neighbor. 

In my letter I mentioned that I would go to war for my son, and I will. I am. But this isn't a war that can be won with hate or anger. This isn't a war that will be won with screams and pickets. This war is going to be won by love and living and being out. If my lucky post has taught me anything it is that love is powerful. It is infectious and it will spread exponentially. What we have here, what I feel in this room is powerful. And I am damn proud to be a part of it. 

Thank you you for having me.

Utah Pride Center Key Note Address - John Kinnear
And then they gave me a really nice glass bowl which lives on my mantle.


  1. Yep. Definitely crying again.
    Great work, John & Stevie. I'm proud of both of you!

  2. John, I feel kind of cheated. I never took the time to get to know you really when we worked together. I had my own perceptions based on my own inadequacies and I assumed much. Your blog amazes me on how deeply you think and care. You are genuinely an amazing person.

    Take care,

  3. so good. this is my favorite line: "Let me say that again. Love is normal. It’s easy to misunderstand or hate an idea because it's jumbled up in your head with a bunch of other ideas. It’s a lot more difficult to hate your neighbor."

  4. You have a gift with words - a perfect balance of serious and humor. Thank you.

  5. Yes, I cried again. Great work John!

  6. The part that got me the most was when you said that one of the first things your wife told you was that her mom was a lesbian.

    One of the first things I told my love, my boyfriend of 9 months and counting, is that my dad is gay. I said it in that same nervous and proud way. A sort of test to see if the most controversial thing in my life was not even a blip on the radar.

    My boyfriend has met my dad, heard stories of my dad's first boyfriend (they were together for 9 years and I consider him a part of my family and life still) and accepts it as normal.

    That is my family, that is me, and he loves that.

    We always underestimate how powerful love is, until we see it change lives, move mountains and win wars.

    Thank you for letting the news of your wife's normal family not even be a blip on the radar.


  7. Crying, now. You did humanity proud.