It was a fleeting familial moment, that’s all, a brief father-and-son exchange around the house that, even if freighted with significance, still came off as more whimsical than soul-bearing.
There sat Andrew Edgerton in July of 2018, teenager and budding YouTube influencer, videotaping himself in his Flagstaff room doing another of his artistic, multi-hued eyeshadow tutorials for his followers. He was just about to daub more smoky magenta to the corner of his left eye when a gruff, but garrulous, voice interrupted from off camera.
“That looks so freakin’ awesome.”
Andrew looked toward the doorway and, with a giggle and flip of his eyeshadow applicator, gave a demure, “Thank you,” video still rolling.
Then the moment passed. Glenn Edgerton, Andrew’s father, went back to whatever he was doing and, knowing Glenn, it probably was watching some game on TV. And Andrew went back to finish his session for his social-media followers.
No big deal, right? Nothing to see here. Just another dad who loves his kid who happens to be gay and very much was into makeup at the time. Neither Glenn nor wife Stephanie had ever struggled to accept Andrew’s sexual orientation; they were just as interested in Andrew’s passions as they were with his kid brother Gabe’s interest in soccer.
And yet, it turned out to be a big deal, bigger than either father or son could have imagined. After Andrew decided to post the video on Twitter — hey, he’s a member of Gen Z, so one’s life is always public and performative — with the message, “why is my dad the sweetest most supportive person ever im crying :’),” the clip went viral. In days, it garnered more than 70,000 comments and 300,000 likes, and the media picked it up.
Yahoo News. The Huffington Post. Buzzfeed. Pride.com. They all did stories. News crews from channels 12 and 3 drove up from Phoenix for in-depth interviews. It became one of those feel-good, end-of-the-newscast pieces that was picked up and aired nationwide. Incredible, really, how a spontaneous 11-second clip could lead to 15 minutes of fame.
The angle: a story of unconditional love between a straight father and his gay son.
Now, two years later, amid Father’s Day and LBGTQ Pride Month, Glenn and Andrew no longer are social-media sensations — though Andrew still toils away as an influencer, Tik Tok now his medium of choice — but they are just as close as before and have seen their lives transform in small but meaningful ways.
Andrew is 20 and an upperclassman at the University of Arizona. His foundation of parental support, buttressed by encouragement from his social-media community, has made it easier on him to be out on campus and advocate for gay, lesbian and transgender issues. And for Glenn, 48 and an associate clinical professor of athletic training at Norther Arizona University, having a gay son and being public about it has prompted him to advocate for LBGTQ issues, including serving on an advisory committee on civil rights for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association.
The two say, in retrospect, they shouldn’t have been surprised that the video resulted in an outpouring of support. They say they are lucky, in many respects, to have the type of loving relationship in which acceptance is a given and support unceasing.
“I’m super grateful for the way my dad and mom raised me and how they’ve always accepted me,” Andrew said, home from college this summer and sitting on the family’s front porch. “But I shouldn’t have to feel lucky. It should be this way for everybody. It’s so sad it’s not.”
From eyeshadow to eye-opening
The makeup video episode has been an eye-opener for Glenn, who at first wondered why people were making such a fuss over loving your child regardless of sexual orientation and divergent interests.
“I came to learn,” Glenn said, “that not everyone has a supportive parents, and they end up disowned. Or, the kid doesn’t even come out because they’re afraid they’ll lose the roof over their head. So they end up living two lives: one life away from the parents, and a straight life with their parents and constantly having to balance things. The more I think about it, the more I realize I had no idea about the plights of other people.”
Consider Glenn educated now. What he always thought was encoded in every parent’s DNA — that they love their child no matter what — is far from universal.
“This thing with Andrew and serving on this advisory committee has taught me a lot about all the disparities,” he said. “It made me look at what I have and what others don’t and what I can do to support people.”
A professor, Glenn is accustomed to expressing views clearly and being verbally adept. But, in a wide-ranging conversation about his relationship with Andrew and about gay rights in general, he struggled at times to get to the heart of the matter. Eventually, he paused and zeroed in on what makes a good father.
“Look, all your kid wants — all Andrew wanted — is to be loved and accepted,” he said. “Your kid doesn’t want you to become the world’s best advocate for the LBGTQ community or be on some board. Or want you to go on the news and say if you believe in homosexuality you’re going to hell. They don’t want that, either. They want someone they can come to and be who they are. They don’t want to fit into your box. They want to live in their own box.
“I never thought about having a gay son. I never thought, ‘I hope he’s gay’ or ‘I hope he’s not gay.’ I never thought of what I’d do if he told me he was gay — until he did. And it was a pretty simple choice. Love him or not. I chose love.”
Glenn admits he wasn’t always so enlightened about LBGTQ issues. He grew up mostly in the middle-class Long Island suburbs “in an era when being gay was a combination of ‘wrong’ and ‘funny,’” he said. As a young man, Glenn made jokes about gay people, stood by when other people picked on them. Glenn came from an athletic family and extended family in which no person identified as gay or lesbian — at least, openly — but also was not inculcated into thinking being a homosexual was wrong.
“My family respected people as they were,” he said. “And I wasn’t religious growing up, so I never had a faith telling me (being gay) was a sin and you were going to hell.”
It wasn’t until he attended Springfield College, in Massachusetts, where he studied athletic training and was exposed to athletes who were “out,” that the issue of different sexual orientations first reached Glenn’s consciousness. Still, it’s one thing to be tolerant of a lifestyle different from your own; it’s quite another to fully embrace your child’s sexual orientation.
“When Andrew came out, I became someone who had to look at my lens differently,” he said. “We all grow up with biases, and Andrew coming out allowed me to become a better person.”
The way Glenn sees it, there was no choice. He loves Andrew and Gabe, now 18, unconditionally. Many fathers, perhaps narcissistically, yearn to have their children share their interests, but Glenn was not one of those dads who pushed either of his kids into sports. Same with Stephanie, who played basketball in college and also loves sports.
“I don’t think I was ever openly disappointed he wasn’t going to be an athlete,” Glenn said. “He started pretty young trying to fit the mold of being straight and you could tell he was struggling.”
Freedom to face challenges
As a toddler, Andrew loved to push a pink stroller all over the neighborhood. The Edgertons’ best friends in Michigan, where the family lived before moving to Flagstaff in 2011, had three daughters. When they visited the family, Andrew played dress-up with the girls while Gabe went ziplining in the backyard. Andrew, too, tried playing soccer for a year; but his heart wasn’t in it. Gabe took to the sport and was, in Glenn’s phrase, “jock central.”
Andrew loved singing and acting as a kid — he belted out Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” in the car every chance he got — so Glenn and Stephanie steered him toward choir and drama.
“We were in tune with what Andrew liked and didn’t like, and didn’t try to force him into a box,” he said. “By being in tune with what your kid likes and doesn’t like, you as a parent become fine with him walking two miles per hour pushing a pink stroller.”
Andrew, for his part, said he never felt pushed to conform to his dad’s interests.
“When I was little?” he said. “Yeah, I played soccer for a while, because I wanted to, because my brother was playing. When I decided not to play, it was fine with them. I was always in dresses and heels as a kid, and they were fine with that, too.”
Not everyone was so accepting, though. When Andrew came out to his parents at age 13 — rather anticlimactic, since Glenn and Stephanie pretty much knew — Glenn worried only about Andrew facing a hard life of discrimination.
“Andrew is who he is, but I was worried he’d be judged and picked on and be ridiculed and held back from jobs, possibly,” Glenn said. “Or if he goes to Target wearing a mesh half shirt, sleeveless with 6-inch stilettos and makeup and tight white pants — which he does — will he have to deal walking through the aisles with someone saying, ‘You’re such a queer?’ I don’t want him to have to deal with that. I wanted to protect him from that as a dad. But at the same time, that’s not a reason not to accept him.”
Andrew, a gender and women studies major, is also worried about discrimination. But, “because I’m privileged and white, that helps me. I have a great support system with family and friends. My dad and I, we’re always giggling and roasting each other. That’s what makes us close, we talk (smack) about each other all the time.”
When Glenn walked by the front porch just then and the subject of Father’s Day gifts came up, Andrew shook his head and said he didn’t need to buy anything. Spreading his arms wide, he said, dramatically, “He has the gift of me!”
Both erupted in laughter. Too bad no one had a video camera rolling.
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