Billy's Story

by Bobby Benfield, CEO

The release of our book today for children of LGBTQ parents has great personal importance to me.  My brother-in-law, Billy, is gay.

Billy grew up in a small town in Northwest Oregon with a population of 8,000 people.  Many of the children who grow up in this part of Oregon don’t stray far.  Some start working right out of high school, and those who do go to college typically stay in state.  Who can blame them?  It is God’s country, with rolling hills of pasture and crops, at the southern tip of the fertile Willamette Valley winegrowing region.

Billy is an incredibly talented person, and the standard path was not enough for him.  Despite being dissuaded from doing so by his high school college counselor, Billy had much loftier sites and applied to all of the leading out-of-stage schools typically on the roster of a child from a New England prep school.  And Billy, who was Salutatorian of his high school class, ended up going to Stanford.  From there, Billy took a job at Disney after graduating Stanford and ultimately was accepted to the University of California, Irvine’s doctoral program in History.  

All the while, very few people outside Billy’s innermost circle knew he was gay.   Billy grew up in a time when gay people did not feel the freedom to express their true identities for fear of discrimination and prejudice.

In Billy’s case, this took a steep toll.  While Billy was advancing through Stanford and UCI, he was also battling a crippling drug and alcohol addiction.  Billy was able to earn Masters in History from UCI and begin writing his dissertation before needing to suspend his studies to focus on controlling his addiction.  Of course, there are those who will suggest that the addiction could have been the result of many factors.  I would say to them, “you try hiding who you are every hour of every day and tell me that you wouldn’t want to find a way to bury your feelings.”

Fortunately, society’s acceptance of the LGBTQ community has come a long way since Billy’s childhood.  The evidence is no more present than it is in the growing legal recognition of gay marriage, paving the way for gay couples to raise children.  While prejudice and exclusion are giving way to acceptance and inclusion in many places, these children will still hear questions from their friends at school.  Their friends will inevitably ask “why do you have two Mommies,” or “why are your parents different than mine?”

Today, we at Twigtale are releasing a new book for children of LGBTQ parents to help them answer these questions.   It is not to say that LGBTQ families are substantively different in any way.  Rather it is to point out that all families, regardless of the parents’ sexual orientation, are founded on love and family tradition.  And, it is to acknowledge that the differences appear on the surface only, while giving parents the words to communicate those differences in a way that not only explains but also connects. 

You’re probably wondering how Billy is doing now.  When things bottomed out for him, I was truly uncertain about his future and gravely concerned.  Being the survivor that he is and with the help of his loving and supportive family Billy was able to rebuild his life.  He is sober and thinking about resuming his pursuit of a doctoral degree.  He is in a committed relationship for the first time in many years and eventually hopes to have a family of his own.  He will be able to raise his children in a society that is much more accepting of who he is than the one in which his grew up. 

I’m so happy for Billy’s sake about how far society has come.  He deserves that same chance as all of us to find love and raise a family, and Billy’s children will be the beneficiaries.