If you haven’t voted yet, this column is for you. With the election less than two weeks away, I want to share with you the story of my family.
I was raised in the heart of evangelical Christianity in Colorado Springs, Colo. My father has been in an executive position at Focus on the Family for more than 30 years, and my mom homeschooled my brother and me from kindergarten all the way through high school, shuttling us around to all the activities that embraced our family values: Awana, VBS, church, youth group, fundraising for missions; you name it, we did it.
I signed a vow of purity on my 13th birthday, I went on missions trips all over the world in my teens, and I did a year-long prayer internship after college. My family was the epitome of evangelical Christianity, and I was their poster child.
That is, until I realized I was gay. What ensued in my 20s was a battle that nearly took my life as I fought against the theology I was taught that told me you could not be both gay and Christian. I spiraled down a dark hole of depression, crippling anxiety, PTSD, self-hatred, self-harm and suicidal ideations because of the belief that God hates gay people, and therefore, now hates me. I felt completely worthless to God and others to the point that it almost seemed better if I were dead.
Eventually, with much biblical study, support and therapy, I found the strength to come out. But it cost me everything. My parents looked me in the eye and told me they felt like I had died. They compared being gay to murder and pedophilia and took away my key to their home. Nothing was ever the same again. After two years of strained contact, they cut ties with me completely, and we haven’t spoken since. That was more than six years ago.
About my wife
My wife, Clara, is a first-generation immigrant. Born in the Philippines, she was left there with her grandfather while her parents came to America to start a better life. Once established, they sent for her, and she was raised on the island of Oahu. She knew she was gay when she was 5, but had many of the same internal struggles about her identity because her Southern Baptist faith told her if she was gay, she didn’t qualify to be a child of God.
She graduated from Scripps College in California and, in effort to further suppress her sexuality, immediately enlisted in the Army, where she ended up building her career.
But after the 2016 election, she began feeling like she was protecting a country that wouldn’t protect her. In fact, it was doing just the opposite and actively fighting to take away her basic human rights as a gay, female, person of color. In November 2018, she retired from the military after 26 years of serving her country.
About our family
When Clara and I met, it was love at first sight — well, for her. For me, it took a little longer to hop aboard the love boat. Once we got engaged and began planning our wedding, we were denied our first choice, our second choice and our third choice of wedding venues because we were gay.
“In the end, I had no family present at our wedding.”
Planning a dream wedding as a gay couple with no family support was beyond hard. Leading up to the wedding, I had nightmares about my family that were so intense I would wake myself up because I was sobbing so hard in my sleep. In the end, I had no family present at our wedding, and many who did attend (although I’m deeply grateful for them) felt like placeholders for the family and friends who would have been there had I married a man.
Over the last six and a half years, we’ve created a beautiful life together. But it has not been an easy life. There have been many lonely holidays and life challenges we had to face on our own. We’ve come to build a wonderful family of choice, but that has taken time.
In recent years, my health has been failing as well. After four years of searching for answers, I was finally diagnosed this past June with a complex illness for which there is no cure. Best case scenario, I could be in remission in two to five years. This sobering news also closes the window on my ability to get pregnant or bear children of our own.
Me: A gay female, disowned by my family, fighting chronic illness and disability, and unable to have biological children of our own.
My wife: A gay female, a first-generation immigrant, and person of color who served 26 years in the military.
Our family: An interracial, inter-abled, same-sex couple, who have been happily married for 6-plus years.
This is us. Our family is beautiful and full of love, but our story is complex. Sharing these details with you makes me feel vulnerable, but I don’t do it for your pity. I tell you because how you choose to vote in this election will have a direct impact on the future of my family.
What’s at stake
“The outcome of this election will determine whether or not I am able to stay on my wife’s health care to get the treatment I desperately need.”
Will you vote to support a candidate or party that is actively working against the safety and well-being of me and my wife? The outcome of this election will determine whether or not I am able to stay on my wife’s health care to get the treatment I desperately need.
It will determine whether or not a physician can refuse me care.
It will determine whether or not I can get fired from a job without cause.
It will determine whether or not my marriage remains legal in the eyes of the law.
It will determine whether or not we will be able to expand our family through adoption.
For you, voting may be a matter of principal. For me (and so many others like me) it is a matter between health and sickness, employment or unemployment, marriage or anulled marriage, life or death.
You can’t say it isn’t personal. It is personal. It is deeply personal. It is personal to me. It will affect every aspect of my life moving forward: either for safety and equality, or for discrimination and oppression.
Voting the way you’ve always done is no longer an excuse. If you truly want to represent Jesus, do what I believe he would do if he were here: Vote for the people on the margins. Vote for me.
Amber Cantorna grew up in the deeply conservative evangelical culture of Focus on the Family and now lives in the Denver area with her wife, Clara. She is the author of Refocusing My Family and Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians. She is a musician, writer and speaker.