By Vanessa Falcon and Mary Stapp
Eden Ungar, now 19 and a student at University of Kentucky, vividly recalls the day she came out to her father, Stuart.
She was a freshman in high school and the two were driving to the gym. She told him she’d be going to the upcoming Louisville Pride parade with her friends.
Stuart Ungar, 55, said “It’s okay if…” and then trailed off.
Her dad accepted it immediately. “Yeah, ok… cool, that’s fine,” he said.
Stuart’s recollection of the conversation isn’t nearly as clear as his daughter’s because it didn’t change anything for him.
“It’s great if she is. It’s great if she isn’t,” he had once said when his son asked if Stuart thought Eden was gay.
Her father’s laid-back reaction to her revelation was unsurprising but also a relief to Eden.
“Usually people make such a big deal out of it, but I knew I didn’t want that,” she said in a recent interview with her father. “Obviously I wanted some reaction, but I didn’t want anything over the top. I wanted to know I was supported but not anything too crazy. This was really the best-case scenario.”
For a long time Eden “didn’t say anything about anything,” Stuart said.
But when she talked about joining the Pride Parade for the second time in 2018, he saw an opportunity to further cement his support for his daughter: Stuart had started an organization called Evolve Kentucky to increase awareness about the benefits of electric cars. The group had participated in parades before so he thought, ‘Why not Pride?’
The positive reaction surprised and touched him. An organization member who worked for Tesla and had a brand new Model 3 had the ‘T’ logo on the hood in rainbow colors and put “LOVE” across the front grill also in rainbow.
For Eden, it was the “I [HEART] my lesbian daughter,” shirt Stuart wore as they marched together that meant so much to her. Eden said that especially among the adults in the crowd, “you could see how much they cared that he is such a good dad because they might not have had that in their own lives.”
Stuart picked up on the crowd’s response.
“Actually it was just really emotional for me,” Stuart said, pausing as he choked up. “I guess it’s still emotional.”
His daughter, watching him closely, laughed good-naturedly.
“I really felt like people were really smiling at me and giving me the thumbs up, and it really dawned on me that not everybody is having a great time with their parents being supportive,” Stuart said. “That is really sad.”
Sad, and potentially dangerous. A 2009 study by researchers at San Francisco State University on the health impacts of LGBTQ adolescents who were rejected by their families found that these young adults were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide and almost six times more likely to report high levels of depression.
The Trevor Project’s survey of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth in 2020 found that only one in three reported their home to be affirming of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“LGBTQ youth face unique mental health challenges and continue to experience disparities in access to affirming care, family rejection, and discrimination,” Trevor Project Executive Director Amit Paley wrote.
Eden knows she is lucky to be able to speak about her sexuality with ease and self-confidence in front of her father.
“I’ve heard slurs,” Eden said. “The f- slur, guys yelling in the hallways. I knew people in the GSA who had parents who weren’t supportive. I have friends … who cannot come out to their parents because they don’t accept it or they even deny their child’s sexuality.”
She said that both her father and her mother, Laura Ungar, have made her life so much easier with their love and acceptance, and also by keeping things normal. They maintain open lines of communication.
“There are some parents who are supportive, but they don’t want to talk about it. They’re like ‘I know this about you and I don’t hate you for it, but we’re not going to talk about it.’ But it still is a big part of my identity,” Eden said, smiling. “I can talk about LGBTQ issues that I’m thinking about, or like – just make a joke.”
Vanessa Falcon is a rising college freshman who lives in the Miami area and is an intern with the Urban Health Media Project. Mary Stapp teaches journalism in D.C.-area high schools and for UHMP and is the D.C. state director for the Journalism Education Association.
This story was published by the Washington Blade