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Damian Pardo: Growing up gay in the storm

Pardo_momDamian Pardo vividly remembers spring 1977.

''I was 13 and I knew I was gay,'' said Pardo, now a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch and longtime Miami-Dade activist. ``I had never discussed it with anyone, but I certainly was aware of it.

Until then, no one had talked about homosexuality in Pardo's Coral Gables home.

''Before Anita Bryant? Never!'' he said. ``I thought I was the only one.''

During the campaign, Pardo recalls, there was a ``consistent battering in the press about homosexuals and gays.''

''It was all about stereotypes,'' he says. 'I remember it vividly, the `Save Our Children' theme. It was implicit that homosexuals were pedophiles and criminals. They were creating this image, the same way it was done during the Nazi era. They created monsters.''

Pardo said these TV commercials created ``a very stifling experience.''

''I felt God had created me,'' said Pardo, who grew up in a conservative Catholic family. ``I was a very good person.''

Things got worse when his Cuban-born mother, Maria Amelia Pardo, began quoting the anti-gay activists.

''She would say it was just not natural. Families were meant to be men and women,'' Pardo recalled. 'I would argue that gay people were not like that. She didn't know I was gay, but wondered why I would defend this cause. One day in the car she asked, `Why are you defending these people? Are you gay?' I said yes. She cried from this day forward for two weeks.''

PardoPardo would become a leader in Miami-Dade's gay community. He founded SAVE, the county's best-known gay political group, and served as chair for five years. He also chaired Care Resource, the state's biggest AIDS agency, for eight years.

Maria Amelia Pardo died four years ago at 74, long after becoming her son's biggest cheerleader.

''My mother was extremely supportive,'' he said, recalling the moment he was most proud of her. It happened during a church Bible study, in which the topic turned to homosexuality.

'She stood up and asked to be recognized. `I just want you to know that my son is gay and he's very much trying to bring human rights to Miami-Dade County,' she said. 'We must reconsider this. They are our children, our families and neighbors.' ''


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