It was November. New York City. I was 18 and living at Rubin Hall, one of the dorms at New York University, during my freshman year. Since we already lived in the city, my parents made me agree on a deal: to live in the dorms, I would come home every Thursday night to have dinner with them and sleep overnight.
I came home as planned one Thursday after class. My parents were fighting but I wasn’t sure why. They never really fought. I remember three previous fights happening before this one in my entire life. I went into my bedroom, turned on some music, and settled in.
My dad was cooking Filipino food for dinner. Adobo—my favorite. My cassette player stopped in between songs when I heard my father say in Tagalog, our Filipino language: “Ano kasi bakla ako?” I didn’t speak Tagalog yet, but I certainly understood what that sentence meant.
I walked out of my room and asked, “What did you say?” My father looked at me and paused. He was furious with my mom, my mom furious with him. Still, I had no idea what they were arguing about, but, now, they both froze, shaking with anger and fear about what I heard.
“That’s right, Cher. I’m gay,” he said.
I was shocked. I just couldn’t understand how it was possible. My father—the matinee movie star idol in the Philippines…married for 19 years to my mother…having me…all my high school friends posing with my dad for “worship pictures” because they all had a crush on him—was gay?
I had been introduced to the LGBTQ community at an early age, whether it was a trip to Fire Island and Cherry Lane Grove when I was nine or going down to the West Village to join the Halloween parade with my parents. They never explained why we visited those places, but perhaps they knew one day—that day in November—everything would make sense.
I walked out of our house located on Roosevelt Island, a small two-mile island in the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens. It had a promenade and a place called the Meditation Steps towards the middle of the island. I didn’t even know what meditation really meant back then, but it was my safe place since I was a kid, a place I would always go to enjoy the view and the buzzing sound coming from the city across the river. It was a place my dad knew he would find me.
I saw him walking toward me as I sat on the steps. He was distraught—almost crying—but more distraught. He was shaking, worried, exposed. I looked at him and said, “You lied to me.” All these years…and now I was confused. Hurt. But then I saw how hurt he was, how scared he looked as though I wouldn’t accept him.
“I’m sorry, Cher,” he sobbed.
Hugging him, I said: “It’s OK. You’re still my dad.” It felt so good to say it to him because nothing was going to change my love for him.
That entire moment played out in about 30 mins—a half-hour that changed my life forever. It’s why I give to the LGBTQ community, why I walk with my dad and KTLA 5 at the Pride parade, why I fight for LGBT people’s rights, and why I hosted the Center’s first-ever televised telethon Love in Action.
During the two-hour telethon, I honestly had no idea whether we would hit the $1 million goal. After all, no other LGBT organization had ever done a telethon, especially in the middle of a pandemic! My eyes grew wider, my spirit lifted as we inched closer—and surpassed—our goal. Such an incredible feeling to know there were so many compassionate, generous people watching the show who probably never heard of the Center before and decided to donate.
And I was excited that my father—who felt compelled to hide his identity from society for so long—was able to watch it and witness the LGBTQ community and its allies achieving great things together. The Center is critical help for those who need vital resources, such as LGBTQ youth rejected by their families and those who have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
I am honored to have been part of the Center’s momentous event and to share my and my dad’s story. I hope someone who reads this will know they are not alone and to have the courage to simply love no matter what.
Because love is love.
The six-time Emmy Award-winning Cher Calvin anchors KTLA 5 weeknights at 6, 10, and 11 p.m.
Follow her on social media @chercalvin