Grassi Team Members Share their Perspectives
As part of our firm’s observance of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we asked two of our colleagues to share their stories and personal perspectives. In the first story, Andrew Squillante explains what it’s like to feel different as a kid and eventually embark on the journey to acceptance and embrace his own gay identity.
In the second story, Robert Tobey shares his experience as the loving parent of a son who eventually comes out to his family later in life. Both stories help underscore the importance of diversity and LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Pictured left to right: Andrew Squillante, Audit Senior; Robert Tobey, Tax Partner
What Pride Means to Me: Andrew’s Story
I grew up in a very small, rural town in western Massachusetts that wasn’t exactly the most diverse place in the country. While it’s a very liberal area and I was raised by accepting and loving parents, I never got exposure to other boys who were like me. I grew up not knowing exactly why I was different from others; I just knew that I was different. I didn’t have the same desire to play five different sports (or any sport at all) for example. I didn’t have the same mannerisms as others I saw, and I didn’t care to talk about the same kinds of things as everyone else. I was different.
It wasn’t until I got older that I could identify that I was gay. This was further confirmed when I went to a large college outside Baltimore, Maryland, where I got the exposure I was looking for when I was a kid. College is where I discovered a diverse population to be able to actually choose who I wanted to hang around with, rather than settle for what was available to me. That’s also when I learned about Pride Month and the Stonewall Riots which enabled me to verbally express how proud I was and am to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Until college, I didn’t know that before the 1960s and 1970s it was illegal to just be a gay man and socialize with other gay men. While I was outraged by that realization, I was grateful that I was growing up in a period where at least I couldn’t be arrested for just being who I am. Pride Month is a celebration of everything that’s been accomplished while also being a reminder that there’s still work to be done. There are still too many people who don’t “agree” with me, and too many areas of the country where my rights aren’t as well-protected as they are in New York City where I live.
Since moving to New York, I’ve become more confident in myself and prouder to be exactly who I am. I’ve also learned a lot about the significance of Pride Month – a recognition born out of the Stonewall Riots and the social changes that have allowed someone like me to exist freely in society.
Embracing Diversity at Home: Robert’s Story
We have two sons and they are as different as night and day. And like most parents, I grew up with certain expectations of what my kids were going to be like and how they were going to go through life.
My older son is a unique individual. He decided that he wanted to be an architect when he was five years old, and he’s pursued that ever since. He’s done some very interesting things – he’s just an interesting soul. He’s traveled all over the world, taken all sorts of interesting risks. We imagined that he was going to eventually end up with a female partner who was out of the ordinary and would fit his personality. When he went to the Rhode Island School of Design, he ended up meeting a man who is now his partner. For years, we just thought they were dear friends. He’d talk about this guy all the time, and he told us he had girlfriends. We never really pressed for details.
Well, in the summer of 2018, my son and his friend went to France together to study. We thought nothing of it, you know, two buddies sharing an apartment is a normal thing. When he came back from Paris, I picked him up at the airport and we’re sitting outside on our deck. He was nervously tapping the arms of the Adirondack chair in which he was sitting and said, “I’ve got something I have to tell you.” I thought I knew what was going on, and I fully expected him to say he had met a girl in France. Instead, he announced that he and his friend were a couple. My response was, that’s great. For my kids, I have always said, “I’ve taught you guys everything I can teach you, the rest is up to you, you figure it out. Whatever you are, it’s okay with us.”
The hardest part that I’ve had to deal with was not the acceptance of my son and his partner, but rather the acceptance of my own feelings about what my life was going to be like and won’t be any longer. It’s not the same as what I expected. It’s coming to accept that while many things are the same, it’ll be different. You know, my wife and I used to talk about Christmases with the grandkids, this whole familial picture. Well, the family we now have is different, but we can still do the same things.
I don’t love my son any less and I don’t have any different feelings, but it really was a test of me, of whether I walk the walk – could I live my beliefs? And there are some moments where it’s trying and it’s difficult, but my feelings about all of this have nothing at all to do with who my son is. It has to do with what my expectations of who I thought my son was, which are my expectations, not his. This is on me.
So, it’s a journey. There’s no destination here. And you have to learn to live with who you are. You have to hope the best for your kids and, just like any relationship your kid may have, you have to live with the ups and downs and listen to what your son, in this case, has to say about it. Still be dad and still be there for him when he needs you with respect to whatever he’s doing in life.
Are my worries for my kids, for this son, different than my worries if he were a heterosexual and married to a woman? I do have concerns about someone taking offense if they were being affectionate in public and becoming violent with them. I also worry because my son’s partner is African American and, as a mixed-race couple, there’s an additional layer of worry about social acceptance. I worry about their physical and emotional wellbeing because they are who they are. I’m not going to try and change who they are, but as a parent I have concerns about how society is going to treat them.
For me, Pride Month is a time to push for broader social acceptance of our LGBTQ+ family members so our kids – and parents like me – have a little less to worry about.