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“Like Phillip Schofield, my dad came out as gay to my family”

Phillip Schofield has come out as gay, and thanked his wife of almost 27 years, Stephanie Lowe, and their two daughters, Molly and Ruby, for their support. Here, one woman shares her own story of her father coming out to her and her family, and how it changed her life for the better.

We were having spaghetti bolognese. It was our usual family weeknight dinner, with me, aged eight, my sister Kate, aged 10, and my mum and dad. We were a tight family unit of four.

As we chatted about our school days, I mimicked the way we’d been singing a gay slur in the playground. And then it happened – slow motion but quick as a flash. The water from Dad’s glass was suddenly all over me. The shock in my face was asking ‘why?’. To this day, I can still see those water bubbles suspended in the air.

As I wiped the water from my eyes, now mixed with tears, Dad – and Mum – began to explain to Kate and I that he was gay. 

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Unlike Phillip Schofield, I unwittingly forced my dad into telling me he was gay earlier than he would have chosen to. But the mid-80s was a different time.

I think I’d known back then that gay slurs were unkind, just by the way they were said in school, but I didn’t understand what they meant. Repeating this particular word over dinner had touched a nerve – and my usually calm Dad had erupted. There was a lot of hurt inside him to be let out.

For Kate and I, the revelation didn’t actually alter our lives in the short-term at all. For us, life carried on as normal – except the word ‘normal’ quickly became a banned word in our house. 

dad-2-daughters
Jo (right) with her dad and sister Kate.

Mum had actually found out about Dad’s sexuality soon after we were born, in 1971 and 1972. She’d found gay magazines under their bed. They decided to try and stay together, for us – Kate and I were also ‘different’. We were both born with the life-threatening genetic condition cystic fibrosis. That was our parents’ main priority – Dad being gay, even in that less open-minded era, wasn’t.

Mum actually told me many years later that she’d found it all ‘exciting’ and that the gay scene was part of the north London 80s zeitgeist. Both Mum and Dad had had very traditional, suburban upbringings, so Dad bringing LGBTQI+ culture into our family was different – and she liked it.

I can’t remember when Dad came out to his family – I always sensed his mother and two sisters didn’t approve. Their relationship was strained for many years. He wasn’t ‘himself’ when with them – and as I got older, that saddened me. Dad’s gay self – his true, honest self – was his best self; he was relaxed, happy and incredibly quick-witted.

In April 1985, my Mum moved out. I was 12 and my sister was 14. Mum met another man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She’s still with him today. Kate and I stayed living with Dad – a shock to many, but he was already the house-husband while Mum worked as a magazine agony aunt. You really couldn’t make it up.

christening-
Jo with her mum and dad on the day she was christened.

This was when our lives did begin to change – for the better. Dad decided to take lodgers in – all of whom were gay, bisexual, lesbian or trans. Most were young, only a few years older than Kate and I by this point. And we loved it. The house came alive. We were the UK Tales Of The City; north London’s Barbary Lane. Many of those friends are still friends today, 35 years later.

At secondary school, I never told my friends outright that Dad was gay. I didn’t need to. The perceptive ones knew. The others always just said they were jealous because he was ‘so cool’. Having a gay dad made me feel special. He knew exciting people – Fay Presto, the magician (who is transgender), performed at our birthday parties (because Dad, in his former life with the family joinery business, had built her box to chop people in half). 

Dad was a gentle pioneer on the LGBTQI+ scene. He founded the London Bisexual Group and retrained as a counsellor, volunteering at Terrence Higgins Trust as a phone counsellor at the height of the AIDs crisis in the late-80s. I was always proud of him. 

When Dad died, from Parkinson’s and dementia, in July 2018 – on my 46th birthday – messages poured in from his friends, all with one over-riding message. How he’d helped them when they had decided to come out, or had helped them when they felt they couldn’t turn to their own family. That’s one hell of a legacy to leave.

My dad was brilliant fun. A lasting memory is ‘clubbing’ with him from the age of about 10. A dingy venue in London’s Leicester Square at a regular night called the Whirligig – dancing with him and other ‘alternative’ people under a rainbow-coloured parachute.

If I had one message to Phillip Schofield and his daughters, Molly and Ruby, it would be this: your dad is still your dad, the man you’ve always known. Now he’s come out, he’s going to be a truer version of himself. His honesty is valuable and will enrich your lives. And more importantly, you can still be a loving, supportive family. 

If you need help or support with any of the issues raised in this article, please visit Terrence Higgins Trust here

Images: courtesy of author

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