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Education on diversity group's role


Dispatch/Argus Photo By John J. Kim

Jack and Joyce Wiley of Moline founded Quad-Citians Affirming Diversity in 1990. The Wileys have learned, in almost all cases, homosexuality is not a phase but a fixed part of a person's nature.

MOLINE -- The threat of losing their son launched Jack and Joyce Wiley into action.

When the Wileys learned their son was preparing to kill himself because he is gay, the Moline couple realized how much they had to learn.

``We would've been supportive, but we were too stupid,'' Joyce said. ``We didn't know anything about it, and we didn't know what to do.''

So, they learned.

When the Wileys founded Quad-Citians Affirming Diversity (QCAD) in 1990, Ms. Wiley said, a member of her congregation at Davenport Unitarian Church asked why she chose homosexual-youth support as a topic to tackle.

``I told her I didn't choose it -- it chose me,'' she said. ``As parents, we decided to do something to try to keep other kids from having to go through what our son went through.''

Besides having much to learn about sexual orientation and young people, the Wileys had to overcome their own fear. They had to learn how to approach their son and how to help him come to terms with his sexuality.

``The second worst thing you can do is ignore it,'' Ms. Wiley said. ``The first (worst thing) is to throw him out.''

The Wileys said most parents would have a less-difficult time accepting a gay child if they were better prepared for the possibility of having one.

``Pediatricians, ministers -- everyone -- should prepare parents for the fact their child could be straight or gay,'' Joyce said. ``Parents too often believe homosexuality is something their child will outgrow -- a phase.''

The Wileys have learned, in almost all cases, homosexuality is not a phase but a fixed part of a person's nature.

``In every lecture I give, I explain how it has a profound influence on you to hide who you are,'' Ms. Wiley said. ``Why would a child choose (to be) something he's going to kill himself over?''

While many people continue to suggest homosexuality is a chosen orientation, the Wileys believe choice is a myth and only confirms how much parents have to learn about homosexuality.

While her son has struggled to cope with the bias and judgment of his peers, Ms. Wiley said she also has experienced a first-hand feel for the public's uneasiness toward homosexuality.

``Mostly, our friends don't want to talk about it,'' she said. ``As we started to get out in the public with QCAD, I got a feeling for how my son must feel every day.''

Despite the early feelings of isolation, a big part of the Wileys' education was learning they were far from alone. Once the shock wore off, the family saw how many others were facing the same adjustment.

``Things are changing, though,'' Ms. Wiley said. ``Kids now know they aren't the only gay kids in the Quad-Cities.

``As far as our own son, we just didn't believe it was possible,'' she said. ``Of course, now I know how many gay people I must've known all along.''

While the U.S. Department of Health estimates one-third of all completed adolescent suicides have a sexual-orientation component, the Wileys said it probably is impossible to get an accurate count.

``Who knows what it really is?'' Ms. Wiley asked. ``But it seemed natural to us to suppose other kids were going through the same thing as our son and to do something about it.''

That something has paid off.

As QCAD continues to add to its 500-strong mailing list, the group's greatest accomplishment lurks on the horizon. A QCAD drop-in center is on the verge of completion. It shares office space with AIDS Project Quad-Cities at Rock Island's Plaza Building.

``We never, ever, ever dreamed (QCAD) would go this far,'' Joyce said. ``This community -- especially those at the church -- has been supportive and helpful, not hateful.''

-- By Barb Ickes (February 9, 1998)

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