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Mother, daughter share coming-out story at Barton College

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Kathy Proctor is the first to admit that she didn’t handle her daughter’s “coming out” as well as she could have.

“I wish that I had said, ‘I know, sweetie, and that’s OK,’” Proctor said about her response to the first time her daughter told her she was gay. “But that didn’t happen quite yet. It took quite a while because I had to process it.”

Proctor and her daughter, Emma Jane, (EJ for short) told their story of EJ Proctor’s coming out and her mother’s fears and eventual acceptance of her daughter being gay at a public reception at Barton College’s Hamlin Student Center Theater on Nov. 19. The event was sponsored by SPECTRUM, the LBGTQ student club on campus, and Campus Activity Board, the official student overseeing body. SPECTRUM stands for sexuality, pride, education, community, trust, respect, unity and multiculturalism.

There were very few empty seats in the auditorium when the Proctors began telling their story.

Kathy Proctor took her story public in a viral post published on her blog, “Teach and Beach,” on Oct. 11. That post has been viewed more than 17,000 times and shared across social media.

EJ was a soccer star at Fike High School and went on to play goalie for the Duke University women’s soccer team and was drafted to play pro with the Utah Royals. Toward the end of her sophomore year of college, EJ decided to be her true self and not live a lie. So she sent her mother a letter telling her that she had been dating a fellow student for about a month and that student was a woman.

Proctor’s blog post admits “This is not a story about my good parenting.”

Proctor said she knew deep down inside that EJ was gay before she ever got the letter confirming that her daughter was in a relationship with a woman.

Her blog post is titled “Praying for Grayson Allen: My ‘Coming Out’ Story.” Grayson Allen was a basketball player and classmate of her daughter’s at Duke University. Proctor writes:

“Of my many screwups as a parent and the myriad things I wish I had done better — or could do over — praying for Grayson is the one that makes me feel the most ashamed. You see, what I was really praying for was not for Grayson Allen to meet my daughter and fall in love. I was praying for Grayson Allen to save my daughter from being gay because — and I hang my head in shame here — a part of me believed, deep down in my Southern Baptist ‘love-the-sinner-not-the-sin’ soul, that being gay was something that needed fixing, something that could be prayed away. God, forgive me.”

“We call it our coming out story because I think her blog post was the first time she ever shared her side of the story, and it was kind of a bit of ‘coming out’ for both of us,” EJ Proctor said. “I think my mom was more nervous about my brother finding out because he was still in high school, and would it (EJ’s coming out) be difficult for him as people found out about me? I was at Duke by this point, which was kind of a ‘safe zone,’ so it didn’t matter if people there knew, but it could impact my brother here.”

“My husband, Kelly, was so good about it all,” Proctor said. “He gave me some really good advice, which I was not quite ready to follow, but I remember he said after EJ wrote the letter about being gay and being in a relationship with Savannah, ‘Whatever you say and whatever you do now will affect your relationship with her for the rest of our lives.’ It was such good advice and so simple. And that’s the reason I wrote that blog post — I hated the way I reacted to it (EJ’s coming out).”

Proctor said her daughter had told her that she still has to “come out every day,” and that let her know her daughter still goes through this and that she wants to be her advocate and supporter.

“She does go through things every day, especially when she comes home to Wilson,” Proctor said. “People will ask her, ‘Are you dating?’ and things like that, and you kind of wait to see how people react.”

EJ Proctor said girlfriend Savannah has gone through some negative experiences while interviewing with law firms.

“Companies can still choose their own discrimination policies, and some places would not hire her,” EJ said.

Kathy Proctor said she had a simple reason for writing her Oct. 11 blog post.

“I wanted to reach out to parents going through this and tell them what I wish I had said when she said, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’”

Steven Fulks, director of Barton College’s gerontology program, serves as co-chairman and faculty adviser for the SPECTRUM club, along with Jeff Tilson. He had seen Proctor’s post on social media and thought it was an important message to bring to campus.

“We have a sizable LBGTQ population within the student body and faculty/staff and Barton is a very inclusive, nurturing environment,” Fulks said. “The timing of this event is to coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday. Sometimes people come out to family during that time.”

Club members Jenne Davis and Madison Harkey organized the event alongside Fulks.