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Support helps families of gays understand, accept
Fourteen years ago, when their son Matt told them he was gay, Sharon and Jim Kabler initially had vastly different reactions.
“I said fine, I’m okay with that,” Sharon Kabler said. “But my husband Jim wanted to throw the phone at the wall.”
It took only a day or two for Jim Kabler, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, to realize that his love for his son was more important than the fact his son was gay.
“We both realized how difficult it was for Matt to come out to us,” Sharon said. “Matt covered it well. He was a good student, very intelligent and also very stubborn. We thought he might just be a late bloomer in terms of relationships with girls.”
Jim and Sharon Kabler have been married for 44 years and are the parents of two sons, Matt, 33, and Joe, 41. They retired to Whidbey Island in 2011 after raising their family in Tehachapi, Calif.
Since moving to Freeland, the Kablers have been active in the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which meets monthly at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation church north of Freeland. Sharon Kabler is serving as chapter president.
“PFLAG is a good place for people who have gay family members or friends to find support and information,” Sharon said. “It’s a confidential support group, but we also want to educate the community on ways we can help people understand what it means to be gay.”
One of the primary goals of the organization is to foster a positive dialogue among friends and family members.
“Our family has had good support from extended family and friends, and now we want to help others deal with this and to understand what their children are going through,” she said.
For parents, the journey to understanding and acceptance is often complicated with secrets, prejudice and lies.
But Matt’s parents found a way to accept their son the way he was. He continued his education, achieved Phi Beta Kappa academic honors in his junior year of college and later landed a good job as director of operations for the Autism Research Institute in San Diego. In 2008 he met his partner, Scott Stark.
In 2010, Matt suffered a brain aneurism that initially had him on life support and has now left him disabled and unable to pursue his career while he heals. Matt and Scott moved into “mother-in-law” quarters at the Kablers’ home, where Stark is Matt’s caregiver.
“It’s wonderful to see the love between them,” Sharon said. “Scott never left his side when Matt was in the hospital.”
“We’ve come to love Scott too,” she said. “We’re all so lucky that both families have been accepting of their relationship.”
Through PFLAG and various other means, Sharon and Jim Kabler have deepened their understanding of gay rights issues and of the need for further public education.
Sharon also hopes to take PFLAG’s message into the schools.
“We need to let our youth know we are there for them and will support them,” she said.
Supporting youths who are coming to terms with their sexual identity and trying to find their way in the world is a critical step in reducing the risk of depression, isolation and even suicide.
“We need to let our kids live the lives they choose,” she said. “It’s important to me to make a more accepting world, and to ease the struggles gay people have to enjoy the same rights as other people.”
“In the end, it’s the love that matters,” she said.