Let’s accept and celebrate our differences

An editorial by GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati team member Fred Brushaber

A mother in tears. She just found out that her child is different. She worries about how cruel the world will be to her son. She worries about job discrimination, housing discrimination and discrimination in all aspects of life. How her son will be denied some of the most joyful aspects of life—a spouse and a family.


That mother might have been some of you when you received your child’s Down syndrome diagnosis. But in this story, that was my mom after I came out as gay.


My mom was neither wrong that the world would be cruel to me nor wrong about the discrimination that abounds. From middle school on, children were mean. The harassment was endless for having just too high of a voice or some of my mannerisms. Later in life, it was the “God hates F@&s” people at the PRIDE parades. The love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin people that always had to tell you where they thought you were going. The legislators painted us as pedophiles. Those legislators who signed OK-to-discriminate bills that made adoption, housing, medical care, and employment all harder for me. My mom’s fears were well placed.


You might have the same fears for your child with Down syndrome having to navigate the world. I do.


While gay bars might have a seedy connotation, they provide a safe space for LGBTQIA+ people to be who we are. GiGi’s Playhouse provides that safe space for people with Down syndrome to be who they are. While I’m sure that it was never the intent of Nancy—a devout Catholic—or GiGi—for their playhouses to be compared to gay bars, they do serve a similar purpose.


GiGi’s Playhouse serves an essential function even beyond the free programming for our loved ones with Down syndrome. GiGi’s Playhouse also gives a safe space to our loved ones to be who they are—free of the judgment and discrimination that the rest of the world can show.


Although my mom was right in many aspects of her worry, she did get the biggest thing wrong. I have had so much joy. That joy might have been hard-fought, but sometimes that makes those moments even sweeter. My husband Mark and I had to drive to New York to get married before the Supreme Court forced states to recognize my right to marry him. Michigan, where we lived at the time, allowed discrimination in adoption. So, we expanded our family through surrogacy from friends and family in Missouri. That gave us Freddy, our nearly two-year-old son who has Down syndrome. I was not denied some of life’s biggest joys.


My mom might have also underestimated all that I could accomplish as an openly gay man. She did not foresee me being a licensed attorney with a beautiful home, a wonderful husband and an extra-cute son. I hope this shows everyone that we can’t underestimate our loved ones, no matter what might stand in their way—whether that’s being gay, having Down syndrome or anything else. They will accomplish so much. They just need time, love and the tools to shine.


This month, we celebrate PRIDE Month. To me, this means rejecting the shame of being gay that so many others try to pin on us. But as Mark and I celebrate PRIDE Month, we also celebrate our son and how he is also genuinely celebrated by GiGi’s Playhouse.


In closing, even if after reading this you do not empathize with the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community, can you be part of the movement for global acceptance of our loved ones with Down syndrome? We are all different and that’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s awesome.

Fred Brushaber is the board treasurer, as well as the diversity and outreach chairperson, for GiGi’s Playhouse Cincinnati. The views expressed in this editorial are his own and not endorsed by GiGi’s Playhouse.

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