"Ralph never married, never had children of his own and if he had a partner my family never knew." -Erin Parrish
by Erin Parrish
When I was 6 years old, my mom would take me to my piano lesson every Wednesday evening. Walking into my piano teacher's home was like going to another world. It was filled with furniture, art and musical instruments from other countries. He would regale me with stories from the faraway places that he had visited, tales of famous artists and musicians, and recommend classic literature. I would walk around his home in awe of the larger world that existed.
I grew up in a tiny farming community. The school I attended was one town over-population 800. I attended high school with the same 30 kids I started pre-school with. Strapped for funding and without access to the latest technology and resources, the local school did its best to expose students to cultures beyond our own, but it was limited. My eagerness to learn more about the world was stifled but once a week when I walked through the doors of my piano teacher's house the world was at my fingertips for one hour.
My childhood piano teacher, Ralph, was gay and one of the best men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a mentor, an educator and a close family friend. Even during my teen years when I became "too cool" for piano and struggled to find my place in a small town, he continued to encourage me, gently scolded me when I didn't do my best and was patient with my teen angst. He showed me that I should always be myself, even when I obviously didn't fit in. He taught me that I was a valuable and special person.
I didn't know that Ralph was gay until he passed away from stomach cancer when I was 17 years old. Ralph never married, never had children of his own and if he had a partner my family never knew. Being open about one's sexuality in my hometown wasn't easy then but I know it is improving. Unfortunately, Minnesota faces a constitutional amendment this November that would limit Minnesotans' freedom to marry. This amendment would perpetuate a harmful message that some people are not as valuable as others.
Ralph was a role model, a talented musician and gay-but above all he was family. All families are valuable. Please send a message that all people are valuable. Vote No in November.
Erin Parrish is the executive director of the Minnesota Women's Consortium.
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