The phone rang late at night. When Dick Eick answered, he heard his daughter Alyson’s voice. She said, “Dad, I have to tell you - I’m a lesbian.”
Dick paused, then said, “You are our daughter and always will be our daughter. No matter whether you are gay or straight, we want you to have a loving life and satisfying, healthy loving relationships.”
That was in 1996 and Dick and his wife, Carol, lived in a small town in Iowa. Dick was a minister and had already heard that one other minister had been fired because he supported a family in the church that had gay children. Another minister from a different church had been transferred to another location because he advocated studying the homosexuality issue.
After the phone call, Dick was afraid he might lose his job. He and Carol discussed their daughter with a few good friends, but kept the news to themselves throughout the time they lived there. Dick struggled to be a good minister to people he felt would be hostile to him if they knew the truth, as well as people he knew would be sympathetic.
In 2008, the Eicks moved to Red Wing and met members of the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which changed their name to PFLAG in 2014. They quickly made many friends in the group, and as the group grew and shared their stories, it became clear that the stories were important reflections of each family’s struggle with gay and lesbian issues.
The group decided to collect and publish their stories, and their book, “Coming Out Together: The ‘How We Did It’ Guidebook, was released in early June by Cavitt Productions in St. Paul. Sisters Christina M. Cavitt and Geni Cavitt are the authors.
“This book is about bringing light to heretofore shadowed information so that anyone can use it,” Christina said. “This is a Red Wing story, but it is germane to anybody who has children whose sexuality isn’t mainstream and who needs help. That’s why it is called ‘How We Did It’ not ‘How It’s Done.’”
Christina lives in St. Paul and Geni lives in San Diego. They work together remotely every day to write the stories and produce the books for Cavitt Productions.
“Everybody in this book is a hero as far as I am concerned,” Geni said. “The parents who were willing to go on record and tell their stories. Every one of these stories is heartfelt. You can tell there is so much pain, and yet they made it out the other side. Now they are celebrating their lives, and it’s really beautiful.”
Having the book published is a “source of pride” for Bob and Marge Lewis. As they talked with other families in PFLAG, they knew the group was doing good work and helping people, but to see it all brought together in a book made it very clear how much progress they had made. They look forward to sharing copies of the book with family members and schools.
“There is a time when you just need to keep it to yourself and mull it over,” Marge said, “but then there is a time when you are comfortable and you need to talk to other people and get their take, because more than likely, you are going to be reassured. When you are ready, and hopefully that is sooner than later, you are ready to join forces with other people and not do it alone.”
Burt and Judy Will have been members of Red Wing PFLAG for many years. When their son came out, they were concerned about what it might mean for them and what the implications might be for their son.
The process of raising a gay son was at times difficult, but Judy said it gives her “a lot of satisfaction that we’ve gotten to this point, both as a family and as society as a whole. I would say that it has opened and broadened my life so much. It has invited new people into my life that I value, and the experiences that we have had together have enriched my life.”
Having a personal family story told in a book can be a difficult experience for some people. For Dick and Carol Eick, it was a welcome event, because they believe it is an important piece of Red Wing history that needs to be preserved.
“We were very excited about being included in the book,” Dick said. “We were eager to support the effort. We came to Red Wing and found a community and found a church that was open and affirming. The difficulty for us has, in a sense, disappeared.”
Carol said that she and her family learned an important lesson in that “people can grow and change their minds and come to different conclusions and different values, especially when they are touched by an issue personally and within their own family. You find out that it is important to you when it touches your life.”
Title: "Coming Out Together: The ‘How We Did It’ Guidebook"
Publisher: Cavitt Productions, St. Paul
Copyright: 2020 by the Goodhue County Historical Society
Cost: $29.95, full-color, 149 pages
Books are available at the Cavitt Productions website or at the Goodhue County Historical Society