The Washington Post

For Komen founder Nancy Brinker, gay rights is another issue close to the family

Eric Brinker and his mother, Nancy Brinker at a reception for Lambda Legal Thursday in her Georgetown home. (Courtesy of Eric Brinker)

A year after Nancy Brinker endured a public relations debacle, the breast cancer activist has added another cause to her portfolio: gay rights.

The founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and her son, Eric, spent the last year in damage-control mode after Komen’s decision to cut off grants to Planned Parenthood for breast screenings. The backlash was swift and severe: Donations to Komen dropped dramatically, and several executives and board members resigned — including Eric.

Now that things have settled down, mother and son turned in a new direction Thursday when they hosted a reception for Lambda Legal at Brinker’s Georgetown home. The gay-rights group is celebrating its 40th anniversary and preparing for Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage this spring.

It may look like a bit of PR-savvy outreach to liberals turned off by Komen’s actions. But it’s also another cause genuinely close to Nancy Brinker’s heart: Eric, 37, is gay and talking publicly about it for the first time.

“Having the most supportive mom in the world, I didn’t have to twist her arm very hard to get her involved,” he told us. He said his sexuality has never been a issue for his family, so “it’s very sad to us when we hear stories of people whose parents reject them.”

Eric was Komen’s first volunteer when his mother, galvanized by her sister’s death, founded the group.

He was 5 at the time. His bedroom did double duty as Komen’s first headquarters.

“More pink ribbons than any boy should have,” Nancy recalled to her guests.

“Which is why I’m gay,” Eric quipped.

Three decades later, he’s still raising money for Komen, while also running the family’s commercial real estate business in Indiana and now volunteering for Lambda Legal.

“They don’t take a political approach, they take a constitutional approach,” he said. “And there’s actually a lot of similarities between their work and Komen’s mission. They help people who are underserved and sometimes left behind.”

His mother said she doesn’t have time for many issues beyond Komen but that she was inspired to get involved in this one because of the number of gay teen suicides and her concern for equal rights: “Basically, I believe in solid, committed family structures. And family today doesn’t necessarily look like what we grew up with in the ’50s.”

Eric doesn’t personally have marriage plans in the near future, though he’s open to it.

“I would like to have the option,” he told us. “And I know my mom would like grandchildren.”

Earlier: Nancy Brinker: The steely force in the Susan G. Komen foundation, 2/14/12

Nancy Brinker speaks up on Komen controversy, 3/29/12

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