Paul Carr was married with three children when he decided he couldn’t suppress his sexual orientation any longer.
“It was time to figure out what it was all about,” he recalled of that life-changing moment when he came out to his family as gay in 1996.
The man he started seeing suggested Carr join Gay Fathers of Toronto, a downtown peer support group.
Gay Fathers of Toronto was formed in 1978 as a way to help gay men who were fathers and married to women. The group doesn’t pass judgment or tell members what to do. It simply offers support and shares stories to assist others in similar situations.
Carr, who now sits on the group’s steering committee, said members are typically 40 years old, with one to three kids in elementary or high school. Their wives may or may not know their sexual orientation.
He recalled an email he received from a man in December who simply, yet poignantly, wrote “Why can’t I be normal?”
Carr suggested the man attend a meeting, which he did. The man was concerned how his teenage child would react to his homosexuality.
“Typically, children today don’t see it as a big deal to be gay,” he said. “Talk to your kids, and be prepared for unexpected questions.”
The man came out to his child, who was accepting, Carr said.
But Carr acknowledged things don’t always go smoothly.
“There are still lots of men who, for whatever reason, don’t come out,” he said. “Or they deal with their sexual orientation issues later in life.”
The group is trying to reach gay fathers in the city’s suburbs, areas that typically don’t have the same support networks as downtown, he said.
Chris Gongos was married for 20 years with two kids when he decided “it was time to move forward and live my life as it was meant to be.”
He learned of Gay Fathers of Toronto after telling his therapist he was gay and in need of help.
Five years later, Gongos is a group facilitator.
“I had suspicions of my sexuality but was not ready to acknowledge them,” he said of his younger self, adding his marriage ended when he came clean about his true sexuality.
Gongos said he went to a Gay Fathers of Toronto meeting because “I wanted help from men who had gone before me.”
“There is a sense of community, we are a special subset of the gay community,” he said.
If he has any advice to share with men who are thinking of coming out of the closet, it’s this:
“Your life will not completely fall apart if you come out,” he said. “In Toronto we’re very fortunate, we live in a very accepting society.”
Gay Fathers of Toronto drop-in support group meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at The 519 Community Centre, 519 Church St. Registration is not required.
For information visit www.gayfathers-toronto.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org