Two strangers, Amie Shea and Erin Margolin, share a unique commonality. Both their dads came out to them as gay, late in life.
Erin Margolin, now 36, was in high school when her parents announced that they were getting a divorce—at the same time her father explained that the marriage was ending because he was gay.
“I was 15-years-old [when]… my dad called a family meeting … so my younger brothers and I sat down in the living room…and he basically started making a speech, like: I am leaving you all because I am gay” Margolin told 429Magazine.
This news hit the teenage Erin hard. She described feelings of distrust, confusion, depression and even questioned her own sexuality.
She recalled that her dad’s coming out, “… turned everything upside down.”
This picture was taken the night before Best came out to his family.
However, despite this shocking and dismantling news, Margolin confirmed that her dad being gay didn’t change the way she thought of him. “I still loved him, I supported him.”
This was a terrible time for Erin’s father, Larry Best, as well. He feared that coming out would create turmoil in his life and feared losing his family and career.
Best, a New Orleans lawyer and firm owner, explained his coming out as, “easily the worst time of my life … I had a crisis of sorts and concluded I could not go on another day. I realized for the first time that I should never have married in the first place. I finally figured out that trying to live the life expected of me was not working and never would again.”
Best admitted that, “telling the children was gut wrenching because I knew our family life as it existed was at an end and this would hurt us all. I doubted their capacity to understand.”
However, Best’s coming out seemed to spark a new theory in the head of his daughter.
“I think that people are on a spectrum there’s not 100 percent straight, not 100 percent gay, there is just all of these different degrees in the middle.
“I don’t know if I ever would have questioned it if he had not come out,” she said.
Amie Shea, who grew up in Cut Bank, Montana, recalled the afternoon that she realized her dad was gay—years before he came out to her. Shea was spending the day in a park with her friend and his cousin. It was the summer before Shea’s Junior year of High School, and she recalled, “asking them [her friend and his cousin]questions about divorce.”
Shea had an intuition that her parents would eventually get divorced. “There was always something kind of different about my parents,” Shea explained.
But it wasn’t until that day in the park that Shea discovered why. Recalling her memory of the conversation she had, Shea explained that her friend’s cousin was the first kid she had met “with a gay parent.”
“[She] told me that [her]dad and mom both had new boyfriends.” Shea was shocked by this statement, and assumed her acquaintance had misspoke. When it was confirmed that no mistake was made, Shea understood.
“I just knew right then that, that explained something about my dad. It just made sense—if my dad was gay, then some how it all just made sense.”
Shea didn’t expose her speculations to anyone. It wasn’t until five years later, during Shea’s Junior year of college when she got a phone call from her dad that confirmed her intuition.
For Shea, the fact that her dad was gay was old news. What caused such emotion for her was the fact that he had hid this huge part of himself from her for so many years.
However, Shea’s anger subsided and a friendship between the father and daughter duo emerged. During Shea’s time abroad in Sweden, she invited her dad to visit.
Shea recalled going to the Stockholm Pride with him, “…[it was]monumental in our relationship. I see that time as…the beginning of us being friends. That was the first Pride celebration my dad had ever been to and it was really cool to show him the big gay world!”
Shea and her dad at the Stockholm Pride in 2009.
Shea’s father, Pete Shea, 63, who still lives in Montana, did not like hiding his sexual identity from his kids and the rest of the world.
“It was horrible, it’s living a double life … it was miserable, it’s not the way to live,” he told 429Magazine. He wishes he would have told his kids sooner, “knowing what I know now I wish I would’ve told them when they were really young.”
Pete said that he knew he was gay before he got married, but didn’t want it to affect his marriage.
“My thoughts going into the marriage, were that the marriage would change me,” said Pete. “I thought I could learn to love a wife and maybe me being gay would go away. That didn’t work for me.”
Instead of remaining angry, this experience inspired Shea to do something about it—to find a way to get her story out there and to help other families.
“I feel like my parents didn’t really have resources to guide them. There was nothing about how to maneuver a divorce when one of the parents also needs to come out to the kids as LGBT,” she said.
After having no luck finding resources on the subject, several years later, Shea and Margolin both turned to the internet for help. The young women met online and started emailing each other about their separate, yet shared, experience.
Multiple correspondences later, the two decided to start a project, which would act as a platform to share their stories and to begin a discussion for families to talk about coming out as LGBT. Thus, the forming of the Gay Dad Project.
Pete agreed with his daughter. He also hopes that this project will help other families and will provide a space for people to talk. He pointed out that being gay is an unknown for some people and therefore discomforting.
“In Montana, we are a real conservative … [and]… isolated state … the people back here aren’t aware and because they don’t know, they fear.”
The Gay Dad Project, founded by Shea and Margolin in 2012, has sparked discussion and has motivated others to tell their stories—to get the word out and spread awareness. The project, currently a website and blog, will soon be accompanied by a documentary. The Gay Dad Project has raised over $20,000 and film production has begun.
Shea said, “It’s really about telling the stories that you don’t hear, it’s the voices of the kids. What happens after their parent comes out? What is it like right after your parent comes out? It is [the telling of]a family story, by allowing each family member to share their story—their experience.”