A Role Model of Acceptance (Eagle Tribune, 5/10/15)

May 10, 2015

Tom Bourdon says growing up in the Merrimack Valley in the 1980s and early 1990s, he never had any LGBTQ role models in his life.  “There were no groups in school, there really weren’t any influences,” said the 1994 graduate of Haverhill High School. “You didn’t see or hear of any positive reference to the LGBTQ community. Anytime you did hear it, it would be in a very negative sense.”

At the time, Bourdon said, he struggled with a lot of different feelings and emotions surrounding who he was.

“I didn’t know I was gay,” he said. “I can say I was kind of a sensitive and caring person. I didn’t exude a level of masculinity and was picked on and teased and made to feel different and not to like myself very much. … I had to really think about who I was and why there were parts of me that were different.”
It wasn’t until the tail end of his undergraduate days at Babson College that Bourdon was able to accept and love himself for who he was. But it took leaving the East Coast and heading to Los Angeles for him to really begin living his life.

“It was really scary, but also really exciting,” he said. “I finally could be myself … it felt very liberating.”

Today, he is happily married and raising a family in Andover. He and his husband, Jimmy Kontoravdis, who he met in Los Angeles, wed within the first year of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts, and will be celebrating their 10th anniversary in September. They have two children, Lukas, 5, and Maya, 3.

Acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community has undoubtedly grown over the past decade, Bourdon said.

But as the president and executive director of Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People (PFLAG), Bourdon said he knows there’s still considerable work to be done.

“The biggest change that I can see is that there’s a lot more awareness and familiarity with LGBTQ issues, people and society as a whole,” he said. “But at the same time, I see people every single day who are still struggling.”

Bourdon, 39, brings his own experiences to the role. Since taking over as Greater Boston PFLAG’s top administrator in February 2014, he has worked to broaden the reach of the organization, which strives to support, educate and advocate with the goal of creating a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ people.

“That involves a lot of getting in there on the ground level to open people’s hearts and minds,” he said.

Under his leadership, the organization ran 16 different parent and family support groups — six of which were specifically designed for parents of transgender or nonconforming children. Two of the groups are based in Andover. One is for parents with a LGBTQ child, while the other is specifically geared for transgender or gender nonconforming children.

The organization also reached more than 15,000 people through its award-winning Safe Schools and Communities Program, which offered 250 workshops and educational programs statewide, including 180 in middle and high schools.

“Nowadays, I think a lot of youths still struggle with the same things I did,” Bourdon said. “I see a lot of acceptance, but it’s still hard to be different as a kid. If boys are a little feminine and girls are a little masculine, they are still a target.”

On Monday, the organization will hold its main event — its annual Pride and Passion Gala — at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. The group’s primary fundraiser typically hosts 600 people and nets upwards of $500,000.

The event will honor Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Jason Collins, the only professional basketball player to come out before retiring from the sport. The two were roommates at Stanford University in California, and will be recognized for their friendship and acceptance of each other. Derrick Gordon, a UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay, will also be on hand to speak about his experiences.

“They’re the shining example of what it means to be supportive of each other,” Bourdon said, “and how much impact you can have to be out and proud of your identity.”
Bourdon has been working in the LGBT community since graduating college. He served as program administrator for the Office of LGBT Student Services at New York University and as the assistant director of the LGBT Resource Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was director of the LGBT Center and co-chairman of the Social Justice Leadership Initiative at Tufts University in Medford before taking over at Greater Boston PFLAG, which is based in Waltham.

“My first year has been great,” said Bourdon, who also has a Master of Education from UCLA and a Doctorate of Education from Northeastern University in Boston. “It has been an opportunity for me to take my passion and all that I had learned and developed in my career in LGBTQ and social justice issues and really expand my reach in a great way, seeing that this organization serves almost the entire state of Massachusetts.”

The past year for Bourdon has also been spent settling into Andover with his family. He said there were several reasons they chose the community, including its school system, its proximity to Boston and its recreational and cultural offerings.

But they also sought a community that celebrated diversity for their two Latino children being raised in a two-dad family.

“We wanted to be in an environment where the fact that having a different family is OK,” he said.

It’s the same environment he’s working to create through PFLAG.

“We need education, role models so it’s not a taboo topic, so being different isn’t a bad thing,” he said.

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