Dear Abby, the newspaper advice columnist who has been dishing out life lessons to Mom and Pop America for almost 60 years, gave an especially stern talking-to in her Wednesday column to a Florida couple whose feelings were hurt by their gay neighbors who “excluded” them from community gatherings — after they, themselves, had barred the two gay couples from social events earlier.
The syndicated Dear Abby column was started in 1956 by Pauline Phillips, who penned advice under the nom de plume Abigail Van Buren until 2002, when her daughter Jeanne — who had co-written Dear Abby with her mother for years — took over as the sole writer and legal owner of the Dear Abby and “Abigail Van Buren” names.
Jeanne Phillips, who will be 72 years old this year, has been the iconic Dear Abby ever since. Her mother, who gave up the column due to Alzheimer’s disease, died in 2013 at age 94.
While the Pauline Phillips Dear Abby was also openly sympathetic to gay correspondents, Jeanne Phillips has been a prominent champion of gay rights, announcing her support for gay marriage to the estimated 95 million Dear Abby readers in 1,250 newspapers, in 2007.
That same year, the organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays honored Dear Abby, presenting Jeanne Phillips with its “Straight For Equality” award.
So it was somewhat puzzling that a woman signing herself “Unhappy in Tampa” thought she might find an understanding ear when she wrote Dear Abby to complain about her and her husband’s their hurt feelings at being “excluded” by their neighbors — after they, themselves, refused to host invite two gay couples into their own home when it came time for them to host a neighborhood social function.
“While they are nice enough,” Unhappy in Tampa said of her gay neighbors, “My husband and I did not include them when it was our turn to host because we do not approve of their lifestyle choices.”
Then what happened? Well, pretty much what you’d expect.
“Since then, we have been excluded from neighborhood gatherings,” said the Unhappy correspondent, and someone even suggested that we are bigots!”
Dear Abby, however, wasn’t having it, beginning her response by telling Unhappy in Tampa, “a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a ‘lifestyle choice.’ Gay people don’t choose to be gay; they are born that way.”
Then Dear Abby remarked that she found it “interesting” that Unhappy in Tampa was, “unwilling to reciprocate the hospitality of people who welcomed you and opened their homes to you, and yet you complain because you are receiving similar treatment.”
Dear Abby finished off by, effectively, counseling the Tampa couple to either learn to accept their neighbors for who they are — or pick up stakes and get out.
“It appears you would be happier in a less integrated neighborhood surrounded by people who think the way you do,” Dear Abby advised the letter-writer. “But if you interact only with people like yourselves, you will have missed a chance for growth, which is what you have been offered here. Please don’t blow it.”