Role Models

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TV talk show hosts don’t often make it to personal lists of role models. But Patricia Calfee Picache is indebted to one of the originals.

1988 was a big year for me. My mother came out as a lesbian, my parents divorced, and I moved to San Francisco for high school. This was one of the hardest chapters of my life, made more difficult because in our quiet suburban town, I did not know anybody who spoke kindly about gay people, let alone had a gay parent.

Recently, my seven-year old son asked me if I had a role model when I was young.

“Absolutely,” I said. “Phil Donahue.”

For many of us raised in the 1980s, “The Phil Donahue Show” is a familiar name. His talk show preceded Oprah and ruled the airwaves for a decade. It was a time when hatred toward gay and lesbian people marched, like a drumbeat, across our national airwaves and magazines and often seeped into our local conversations. When my mother shared her news that summer, all I knew was that lesbian and gay people had their funerals protested, their sick shunned, and their dignity belittled on a daily basis.

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So, when I turned on the television one afternoon that summer, I was stunned to see children -- just like me – happily living with and loving their gay parents. Phil Donahue was a man whom I had never met but who gave thirteen-year-old me hope and I am still grateful.

I realize how sad this sounds – that as a young girl I only had a talk show where I could see myself. But last week, 30 years later, I sat as a parent in the audience of a kindergarten event and saw first-hand the result of generational change. On the stage was a young teacher who herself had gay parents and who was committed to sharing her story with students. She was a real-life role model.

At a moment in time when hope can be hard to come by, I am appreciative to all who serve our children and community as role models. Remembering that each of us has this superpower – to show others the way by sharing our layered and sometimes complicated lives – gives me real hope.

With a Perspective, I’m Patricia Calfee Picache.

Patricia Calfee Picache is a trustee of the Grace Cathedral and lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children.