Son's coming out an eye-opener for family

When Abe Perez mustered the courage to come out at 22, it was a cathartic experience for him as well as his mother and brother.

Perez grew up in Puerto Rico. As a child, he and his two brothers and mother had a constant pressure to live up to a certain standard set by his father who was a preacher.  From the places they would eat to the clothes on their back, their father proved to be a dominant force always concerned with what other's were thinking. 

Realizing he was gay in his early teens, Abe knew the subject could never be discussed in his home. His father preached numerous sermons condemning those who were gay to hell.

“I wanted to change, and I prayed and prayed that someday I could," Perez said. "I thought there was no way God could love me.” 

When Abe moved to the United States with his family in 1995, he had to overcome several stereotypes. As someone of Latino descent, Abe quickly ran into individuals who automatically thought he was an illegal immigrant.

“While there are certainly illegal immigrants here, we have many in the Latino community with higher education who are successful in business and who contribute positively to the overall community,” Perez said.

Four years after moving to Nashville, Abe wanted to move to Florida. He thought it would be easier to live a 'gay life' there without his family's watchful eye.

“I thought living the gay life meant hitting the bars every weekend," Perez said. "I didn’t want my family to know that part of me.”

Just before Perez relocated to Florida, his mother reached out to him to confide in her saying “If there is something you are running from, you need to know it is okay. I love you.”

It was then that Abe came out to his mother. Oddly enough, it was a coming out for one other family member, as well.

Abe’s older brother also came out at that same time.

“My mother eventually told my father he had two gay sons…let me just say he didn’t respond very well. My father, who had been such a strong and dominant force in all of our lives, suddenly had no control or authority over this situation,” says Abe. Unable to live with having two gay sons, Abe’s father has had little contact with them since.  And just one year after coming out, Abe’s parents divorced.   According to Abe, “My father places the blame for their divorce in our coming out. But my mother would say they divorced for a variety of reasons.”

Abe and his family often joke that the coming out process wasn’t just for him and his older brother. Abe’s mother, who isn’t gay, was beginning to see that life offered so much more than what she had been allowed to see while married to Abe’s father.

After coming out, Perez began the process of trying to overcome another stereotype. As a gay man, Abe realized there were individuals who felt gay men were promiscuous child molesters who abuse drugs and alcohol.

“That simply is not who I am,” Perez said.

He eventually moved to Florida, but soon decided to move back to Nashville where he eventually met Carl, his partner of seven years.

The two discovered they had many common interests while chatting online. The most dominant commonality was their spiritual background.

Abe and Carl both grew up in the Pentecostal Church, but neither of them had been active in a church while together. They felt there was no way God would love them as they were. All their lives, they had heard nothing but condemnation from the church and had certainly never been exposed to a church that embraced them.

“We had come to a point in our lives where we both missed God, the church and fellowship with other Christians," Perez said. "So Carl and I began visiting Covenant of the Cross, an affirming church in North Nashville.

“Both Carl and I wanted to have a commitment ceremony, so I figured I would have to pretend I liked a church long enough to have a ceremony there, and leave. Little did I realize how much I would fall in love with Covenant of the Cross."

Perez said getting involved in the church again changed his life by allowing growth and healing.

“My relationship with Carl has grown on so many levels," Perez said. "But I also came to the realization that I had to forgive my father. And my mother, who is still in the healing process, has visited Covenant of the Cross with my brothers. They have had a great experience there.”

Abe said he and Carl are still working to disprove common stereotypes and are considering adopting a child.

“There are a lot of people who feel the gay community is so narrowly defined - you go to the bars, meet people, and do it again next Saturday," Perez said. "It doesn’t have to be that way. I take every opportunity I have to educate people around me about my culture and my sexual orientation.  Breaking down these stereotypes will help achieve equality for all of us.   All in all, I have a wonderful life, I am blessed, and I’m gay.”

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