Meet Matthew and Jill Calise. Matthew J. Calise is a native of Jacksonville, Florida and a proud supporter of his hometown. With a diverse upbringing, he found a passion in the arts. Matthew graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and now proudly serves on the Alumni Board. He has been a long time friend, volunteer, and advocate of Theatre Jacksonville, Players by the Sea, and the 5 & Dime Theatre Company. After high school, he attended Florida State College at Jacksonville where he received his Associate in the Arts degree. Matthew then moved to Tallahassee to pursue one of his dreams of graduating from Florida State University with degrees in both marketing and management. He began his professional career with the Wounded Warrior Project, and is now a marketing coordinator for Swisher International, Inc.
Jill Flowers Calise was born in 1954 in Norfolk, Virginia, to Max and Lantha Flowers (a proud Navy family) along with their first daughter, Cindy. Jill attended Duval County Public Schools, Cedar Hills Elementary, JEB Stuart Jr. High School and N. B. Forrest High School. She pursued a teaching degree at the University of Florida and attained a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of North Florida.
Jill considers herself a patriot and LOVES America. She is passionate about teaching and loves the students she serves. She goes home every day from teaching to two of her other great passions, gardening and her little dog, Gizmo.
We are incredibly grateful that Matthew visited our booth at One Spark this year and bravely chose to share his family’s story with us. Matthew’s parents, James (Jimmy) and Jill Calise, were married a little more than 25 years ago. It was through her sister, Cindy, and her daughter, Jill Anne, that Jill met Jimmy in 1987. One month before their wedding day, Jimmy learned that he was HIV positive. After sharing the news with Jill, he thought maybe they should call off the ceremony. After careful consideration, Jill knew she still very much wanted to marry Jimmy. Above all, they loved each other very much and she knew that would get them through any challenge life had ready for them.
In 1988, Jimmy and Jill married and the next year in May of 1989, they had Matthew. His name means, “gift from God.” Jimmy and Jill lived as a couple for 8 years before deciding that Jimmy needed to openly live his truth. So, when Matthew was 7-years-old, his father came out to him as gay. At the time, Matthew says he didn’t fully understand what ‘being gay’ meant, but he clearly remembers how challenging life had been for his parents because of this fact. Jimmy was disowned by by some of his family members and friends. Matthew also found it difficult to be open with his friends about who his father was.
It wasn’t until Matthew was almost to middle school that his father’s HIV had progressed into AIDS. Knowing that he didn’t have much time left, Jimmy’s only hope was that he would live long enough to see Matthew graduate from high school. Matthew was just shy of 16 when his father passed away. To honor the impact that Jimmy had on their lives, the wonderful father he was, and the great man he had been, Matthew and Jill each got a tattoo that they display with great pride. Jill and Matthew are still very close. She tells those she meets, that they are “as thick as thieves.”
Their story seems uncommon, but they are not alone. Today, many people live ‘under cover’ for fear of discrimination, abandonment, or threats of violence simply because of who they are, or who they love. We have lost millions of spouses, loved ones, children, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers due to complications from AIDS while millions more currently live with HIV. In their statement, Matthew and Jill explain why it was important to them to join the ‘We Are Straight Allies’ community, “In our family, we believe that it takes a village to raise a child. We also believe it takes a village to make a change and create a movement. Today, we become a proud part of that community. One that believes in both love and equality for all.”
We appreciate the Calise family’s willingness to share their story in hopes that our community will begin to celebrate our differences, rather than fear them.
We’d also like to thank the Florida Times-Union for also sharing Matthew and Jill’s story with their readers on this very special Father’s Day.
To learn more about HIV/AIDS, please visit AIDS.gov