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National Equality Heroes Visit Houston PFLAG

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By Donalevan Maines

Step aside, Catherine and Prince William. To the history bins, Liz and Dick. We have a new royal couple, and they’re coming to visit.

Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who were plaintiffs in the California Proposition 8 case that took the issue of marriage inequality to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be guest speakers at the July meeting of PFLAG Houston (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

You know PFLAG: they’re the group that gets the loudest applause at every Pride parade (and deservedly so). They’re the allies whose very presence at the parade jolts a powerful dose of hope into the souls of LGBT people whose parents so far have rejected them.

They’re people such as Jim and Sue Null, who rescued Steven Bratsen from some serious “ex-gay conversion therapy” when they met him as a teenager, after a so-called family “friend” outed Bratsen to his parents in Santa Fe, Texas.

Never fear: Bratsen is now co-president of PFLAG. Although his parents, Mike and Linda, enrolled the family in Exodus International (whose perpetrators have since disavowed the discredited “therapy”), they came to their senses with the help of PFLAG and were honored as honorary grand marshals of the 2009 Pride parade.

(Two years ago, Exodus International repented profusely, admitting its “years of undue judgment [against the gay community] by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.”)

Attending her first PFLAG meeting “was like a light going on,” Linda tells OutSmart.

In June, I had the pleasure of speaking with a number of LGBT people—gay pride month is such a wonderful time for reflection; it’s a fervent time for listening—trust me when I say that PFLAG has saved lives and it has saved souls.

For whatever reason, though, membership is down in PFLAG Houston, so the group hopes to use the visit of royal couple Katami and Zarrillo to boost its rolls and, thus, the good that they do.

“At every meeting, some new family is struggling, and we are there to help,” explains Bratsen.

Admission, of course, is free to the PFLAG meeting at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 12, where Katami and Zarrillo will regale the crowd at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church with how their romance propelled them to challenge the Golden State’s discriminatory Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

But first, the royal couple will rub shoulders with paying customers at a PFLAG fundraiser 7–10 p.m., Saturday, July 11, in a private home at 3702 Woodhead St. Admission to the up-close-and-personal meet-and-greet is $25 for PFLAG members and $50 to $100 for others.

(Frugal alert: annual membership in PFLAG begins at $20, so do the math if you want to attend the July 11 gathering, too. Plus you will become a member of an organization that works to keep families together by helping them understand and support their LGBT loved ones.)

Katami and Zarrillo began their journey together in 2001.

In 2008, they considered wedding options that included traveling to other states for a civil union but decided against any alternative that fell short of full marriage equality. They joined the federal lawsuit against Prop 8 and won a landmark decision on June 28, 2013, which paved the way for their marriage at Los Angeles City Hall, officiated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The couple’s journey directly impacted the lives of millions of Americans who have battled for full federal recognition, and they continue to motivate and inspire their fellow citizens in countless speaking engagements across the country.

The couple also became movie stars by appearing in The Cast Against 8, a feature film that HBO Documentary Films unveiled in movie theaters, then on HBO in June.

The couple amplify the message of equality with motivational speeches and media appearances, with their PFLAG Houston trip following interviews on CNN, MSNBC, The Today Show, and OWN, as well as sit-downs with Time and People. They were honored with the Human Rights Campaign’s National Equality Award; the Courage Campaign’s “Spirit of Courage” honor; a place in OUT magazine’s “OUT100”; a spot among the top 10 candidates for The Advocate’s 2013 “Person of the Year” honor; and recognition by the L.A. City Council for advancement of LGBT rights.

“Together, they have shown that ordinary people can do extraordinary things with the help of family and community,” says Bratsen. “They are working to advance equality in all aspects of life for the LGBT community and communicating the idea that having the courage to stand up is contagious.”

Bratsen graduated from Santa Fe High School in 1999 and was seeking associate of applied science degrees in restaurant management and culinary arts when he was outed in 2000.

“I got a voice-mail from my mother, who was crying, asking me to tell her that it was not true,” he recalls.

Bratsen went to his parents’ home and manned up to his mother and his sister, then later that night to his father when he came home from work.

His parent’s “solution” to their son’s coming out was for Bratsen to attend a therapy class every week at Exodus International; they would attend a session each week, too, and the three of them would attend a session together every other week.

“Each session cost $120,” says Bratsen.

Meanwhile, he was becoming politically aware, even traveling to Austin to urge then-Gov. Rick Perry to sign a hate crimes bill that would cover senseless brutality against LGBT Texans.

At the march on Austin, Bratsen met the Nulls, who told him about PFLAG.

“I thought, ‘My parents will never go for that,’” he recalls.

However, when the Nulls followed up by mailing Bratsen information on PFLAG and, among other things, the cruelty of “ex-gay conversion therapy,” Bratsen took the information to heart.

“I told my parents, ‘I’m done with that class,’” he explains. “They called Jim and Sue Null, and two months later, Mom and I were marching in the [Houston Pride] parade. That fall, she got on the board as the librarian. A year later, Dad and I and Mom built the PFLAG float, and we continued doing that for seven or eight years. My parents were honorary grand marshals in 2009. It was great. They rode down the street in a convertible, and I walked alongside of them. It was an amazing feeling! People were saying, ‘There is no way my parents would ever do this,’ and we would tell them, ‘Never say never.’ That is how PFLAG works: not only parents, but other family members go there and find out that there is hope. My dad—what helped him is bringing in a doctor from New York to explain the biology and science at the time, that sexual orientation is not something he and my mom did. We also have a doctor in town who does a talk every year about transgenders. For others, it is simply the opportunity to sit and listen and hear about the journey someone else is on. You think about it and remember when you were dealing with that step.”

Houston is so big, says Braxten, that PFLAG defers to the needs of the population by offering more than one meeting in more than one location on any given month. For further information, visit www.pflaghouston.org.

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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