Bob and Carole Reeder, of Chautauqua Institution, do not get to visit with their son as often as they would like.
Their son, Jon, lives in Amsterdam, Holland, with his partner. Jon and his partner have been living in Amsterdam for 20 years.
"If an American citizen goes overseas, falls in love with and marries an opposite-sex person, they can bring their spouse back to America, they automatically get a green card, and they can automatically become an American. Gays can't do that. Our son can never live in the country he was born in with the partner he loves," Bob Reeder said.
The Reeders were married in 1955, and shortly after had three children: Jon, now 52; Dan, now 49; and Amy, now 46. Carole Reeder said that her mother knew that Jon was gay when he was just 12 years old.
"I said, 'Oh, mother.' Because, you don't want it to be so. Not that you don't want a gay child, but, in the time of his growing up, he didn't have any rights and you couldn't come out, and there was the danger of HIV and nobody knew what it was that was killing off the gay population," Carole Reeder said.
When Jon did come out, he came out to his mother first, around the same time that his father had his first bypass operation.
"He came out to Carole and said, 'I'm gay.' And, Carole said, 'Your dad just just had a bypass operation, he's going through some stress, he doesn't need that problem on top of that.' And, Jon said, 'Well, if I can't come out to dad, I'm not coming home.'" Bob Reeder said.
"Two years later, I didn't tell Bob, and just shared it with a couple of friends. But, then, when I did tell Bob, he had a very difficult time with it," Carole Reeder added.
Carole Reeder began attending Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, meetings. Bob Reeder was reluctant to attend the meetings. However, when Bob Reeder did, he found that he had clients from his law firm who were also attending the meetings, and found that he was not the only one feeling what he was.
Bob Reeder is now president of the Chautauqua chapter of PFLAG, and the Reeders also belong to chapters in Binghamton. and Myrtle Beach, S.C. He served on the PFLAG National Board of Directors from 2006-2008. Carole Reader is the regional director for all of the PFLAG chapters in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which covers 55 of the 355 PFLAG chapters nationwide.
"It is the oldest GLBT support group in the country. It started in 1975, and it is the only true volunteer organization that not only supports gays and lesbians and their families, but tries to educate the public about their lives and, to the extent permitted under the tax laws, is an advocate for equal legislation to protect gays and lesbians and their rights," Bob Reeder said.
Heterosexual married couples enjoy more than 1,100 federal rights, which are denied to same-sex couples that are not permitted to marry in their home states.
"The issue we have is, you have got to keep separate religious rites from civil rights. Religious marriage does not make a couple married under state law. Every marriage you go to, the priest, the minister, the rabbi, after the religious ceremony, always says, 'By the authority vested in me by law of New York,' or whatever state you are married in, 'I pronounce you married.' It's the civil marriage ceremony that is permitted under state law that gives people the right to marry. We have no objections to religious organizations doing whatever they wish with respect to religious rites, but it is important that people are entitled to marry the person they love," Bob Reeder said.
Bob Reeder cited a 1964 court case, Loving v. Virginia, in which an inter-racial couple was married. Bob Reeder said that during that time, there were federal polls which showed that 93 percent of Americans agreed that blacks could not marry whites. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans were entitled to marry whoever they loved under the Equal Protection Clause.
"The true test of any good government is how well it protects its minorities," Bob Reeder said.
Jon attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, and fell in love with a man from Great Britain. Despite being in love, Jon's partner was unable to obtain a visa to work in the United States.
"But, they can live in any country in Europe, under his partner's visa. After Jon lived in Amsterdam for five years, he could become a citizen, so he is a dual citizen. But, he can never move back to this country. I guess they could if they were retired, but his partner could never work in this country; he would never get a work permit. So, that's not fair, either, and we miss him," Carole Reeder said.
The Reeders said that one of the most important things that people can understand is that members of the LGBT community were born the way they were, and there is nothing that can change that.
"Parents have to know that it is nothing they did, there is nothing they can do and their children were born that way," Carole Reeder said. "All the gay people came from heterosexual couples."
Bob Reeder said that parents need to love their children, no matter what, and realize that their gay and lesbian children can still raise families, and have children growing up in a two-parent household.
"It took a civil war, suffrage to get women's rights, civil rights legislation to give blacks rights. We think this struggle for equality of rights for gays and lesbians is hopefully the last big civil rights struggle in this country. Maybe, 20 years from now, it will be a non-issue. But, it certainly is important," Bob Reeder said.
Bob and Carole Reeder will be part of a panel discussion June 16 at 9 a.m. at Jamestown Community College's Weeks Gallery. It will be in conjunction with the gallery's ArtParty and Barbara Proud's "First Comes Love: Radical Spirits, Civil Rights and the Sexual Evolution" exhibition.
The Reeders will be available to talk to at the college on June 16. They also invite anyone interested to the PFLAG Facebook page. The Chautauqua chapter of PFLAG meets every Friday during weeks one through nine of Chautauqua Institution's season at the Women's Club.