In Honor of My Dad, The Ally
by Alyssa Sileo
My father passed away last month suddenly. It has been a big shock for my family. He was very loved and will be continued to be loved forever by individuals from all over. I remember my dad as not only a caring father but as an ally and an advocate for the queer and trans communities.
He was always passionate about learning how to fight for the rights of the marginalized. He was aware of his privilege and wanted to lift up the voices of those constantly undervalued. When I came out, my dad worked hard to understand more about queer and gender identity. He loved talking with me about queer and trans characters in the TV shows he watched, and about the advocates he read up on.
My family was able to attend the 2017 Bear to Make a Difference Gala and the 2nd Annual Dru Project Party. These were two trips that he really enjoyed and always talked about returning to. It makes me happy to think that from Heaven he can go to these events. Last year, we even got to go to The Laramie Project: Twenty Years Later reading in September in New York. We saw original Tectonic Theater Project writers and other incredible artists like Asia Kate Dillon and Billy Porter perform a staged reading of this play that had come to matter so much to my family. We even got to meet Anderson Cooper and Reggie Fluty.
One of my funniest memories with him the day is how sometimes he would just blurt out quotes from The Laramie Project, especially those lines of Doc O’Connor. He had seen it so many times, thanks to driving to me to so many Laramie Project Project readings. My family got to spend the day together the day before he passed, and on the drive back to school from the town we were hanging out around, he just delivered a string of lines. And he memorized them perfectly.
Just a couple weeks before his passing, my family was at home celebrating my mother’s birthday painting birdhouses. He painted a rainbow birdhouse, I remember him proudly texting me a picture. He was so excited about the Pride Coalition that his hometown was creating so that LGBTQ+-owned businesses could be supported. We got to go to one of their launch events during my Spring Break and every day I am grateful that I have that memory of him.
My family was blessed with the idea of supporting The Dru Project in lieu of flowers. To think that my dad’s loved ones can fund the education of and create safe spaces in schools for queer and trans students is a beautiful thought in the midst of this sad time.
I believe I became an advocate because of him. My dad always worked hard to help others. We heard so many stories from his associates about how he would just visit offices of new businesspersons in the area and offer his help in getting started and learning more about the trade. For him, success was never about a competition. It was always about providing access to that success to his community. I care so much about queer and trans youth and I am able to be a caretaker and a mentor as a Campus Ambassador, Orientation Committee member, and Tour Guide. I strongly feel his presence in these roles because they require giving of your heart and knowledge in the hopes that your predecessors can make strides much farther than your own. And I can’t imagine more fulfilling ways to spend my time. This is all thanks to Dad. He loved my college and how it was a safe and affirming places for me, so now my dedication to making this a reality is tenfold.
Memorial work is what I have been doing through The Laramie Project Project and every other artistic-activist endeavor. When he passed, I needed to begin planning how I was going to honor him, because that was how I responded to events outside of my own experience, so I imagined these skills were going to come back to assist me now. I sent people links to his favorite songs and pictures of memorable events. I talked about the jokes he would tell. As I see in the news more reports of deaths of members of our communities, especially the murders of trans women of color like Muhlaysia Booker and Tamika Washington, I cry and mourn with these raw feelings of mine. It is difficult to think about comfort in a thought of “a better place,” because these individuals deserve to be on this earth now. After this event, I truly understand now what it means to lose a loved one way too soon. And while I wish I didn’t have this pain, I want to be able to understand it better so I can be a better friend to those who will go through grieving.
As I process our family loss, I am comforted by the values he instilled in me that I know will carry me to happiness and will help me make my dreams come true. I wish he was still here in this life to advocate with his voice and presence, but the love he felt for our communities will not go away.
About the Author:
Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.