Tuesday, December 17, 2013

" I’ve Lost Track of How Many Times My Son Has Attempted Suicide"

Update: Since this post was published, Mikey has passed away. I don't know the details of his tragic death, but in his honor, I'm reposting this piece that was published on December 17, 2013.

I'm Carole T. Warburton. I'm the author of this blog. I am not gay, nor do I have any close family members who are, but I'm very interested in creating a dialogue to increase understanding. I'm so grateful to the people who have opened their hearts to share personal stories with the desire to increase understanding about our LGBT children, brothers, sisters, and friends. This week I talked with a friend, Shelly, about her wonderful son, Mikey.          

The following is written by Shelley, as told to Carole. 

Our son, Mikey, said he knew he was gay when he was ten. When he was 18, he left a voice message before leaving home. That's how we found out. He’s now 25, and I’ve lost track of how many times he’s attempted suicide. If he really wanted to be dead, he’d be dead. But three or four years ago we almost lost him.  Someone dropped him to Logan Regional Hospital after he'd been drinking or doing drugs. They’d admitted him and he aspirated during the night. So the hospital called me around six in the morning and said, you need to get up here. And I didn’t even know he was in the hospital. When I got there his body had shut down, and then he went into cardiac arrest. He didn’t have a heart beat for seven minutes. It was in January and life flight couldn’t land because of the weather. So they brought a team up from Salt Lake. Even though the roads were really bad they took him to Salt Lake where he was on a respirator for probably five days. He spent a week in the Intensive Care Unit. He recovered but still has lung damage from it. He gets sick really easy. And he’s gone into septic shock a couple of times.

We’ve had a hundred prayers answered. His life has always been up, down, up down. Maybe if he’d been able to accept who he was, he might not have gone down that self-destructive road. He was always fighting with himself and was a defiant, angry and unhappy child. Now I know why, but we didn’t know. I wish we'd known. Even though, he was teased in school, he didn’t tell me. I was supposed to be his protector and he protected me. We had him in therapy as a young teenager. But because of the confidentiality, the therapist couldn’t tell us very much. It’s taken a long time, but for the most part now he’s stable and happy. It’s on a daily basis though, and can be rocked anytime. He’s had a partner for about three years now. They have their ups and downs, just like any other couple, but we just want them to be happy. Mikey has a heart of gold. He’s very caring and compassionate.  He has a tender spot for the elderly and loves to do random acts of kindness. He never hangs the phone up with me without saying he loves me.  He is a very good cook and loves to try new things.  All the cousins just love him and want Mikey to come play and come to all the family parties. My family has been a great support too. 

When I first found out though, I was just devastated. I had been taught that being gay was wrong and that it was a choice. But Mikey said to me, “Mom, do you think I would choose this? Do you think it’s been an easy go? Do you think it was fun in school?” It took me a couple of years to come to terms with it. Now I just hope others would educate themselves. The good ol’ Mormon families that sit in church every week can be the cruelest. I have a lot of resentment about that. People can be mean. People have been mean, not just to Mikey, but to our other two children. Sometime, I want to teach a Sunday school class and just lay it all out. Teach people. We don’t really know for sure what God’s plan is. And sometime science will prove this world wrong, and they already have. It’s not a choice. Sometimes you hear stuff in church that hurts. Sometimes people claim they don’t judge, but then they stab you in the back the first chance they get. I’ve become very protective of myself and my family. I keep to myself a lot. I don’t want to put a lot out there just for people to judge and make fun of. I wish church members would be more Christ-like and not judge. I guarantee you there’s not a person in this world who thought they would have a gay son or daughter. But I also think education starts in the home. Parents need to teach  their kids.

Some church members and leaders have been helpful. I visited with our stake president (when she found out) I was so distraught. I couldn’t deal with anything. I didn’t know where to turn, so I went to talk to him. He just looked at me and he said. You’re not alone. And he said, All you do is love, love, love, love. He said, You’d be surprised, there isn’t one person in your ward, or any ward that is not affected by a gay relative.  Don’t let people tell you different. I guarantee there is someone in every family who is gay. That was very positive for me. He didn’t say, come in and let me meet with your son, I’ve got to talk to him. He just told me love, love, love. And I was just like OK, that’s all I need to do. Another woman said to me. Your wants and dreams are not his wants and dreams. I wanted him to have a wife and kids. I was devastated that he wasn’t going to give me any grandkids. I think for a person just finding out that their child is gay, you have to give it time. It’s sad to say, but it’s almost like mourning a person’s death. You have to grieve all those emotions in order to move on and work through it. Eventually it’s going to be ok. And knowing that in the end you still have your son (or daughter) that you can hug at the end of the day—that’s important. Because we almost lost our son. But when you stop and look back at the picture. Ok, these were my dreams and my wishes. Now turn it around and make your dreams and wishes ones are possible for them. Dream that they find a good partner. Wish them happiness.

Our bishop now is a wonderful guy. He’s always very concerned and asks how Mikey is doing. We appreciate that. Last Mother’s Day, we went to church and took Mikey and his partner. His partner has a niece and a nephew that I just love. I treat them like my grandkids. So we sat in church with these two little kids and our whole family. The bishop came up and talked to them. Mikey and his partner met the bishop. He greeted them. I couldn’t believe we did it, but afterward, I was so proud of myself. I deserve to sit in church on Mother’s Day, or any other day with my family, just like anyone else. I wasn’t even uncomfortable. But I could tell people were staring. I said, well I just wanted to make sure everyone had something to talk about come Monday morning on the Paradise hotline.

Even though there is a lot of judgment and misunderstanding, especially in such a small town, there are also some good families who have been kind and invited us all over for dinner. But some leaders haven’t been as wonderful as our current bishop. One bishop kept coming overm sure he could change Mikey. I didn’t understand that. And then recently Mikey called really upset and said his bishop in Logan sent the missionaries over to their house and one asked, “Do you have a problem with same-sex attraction?” The first thing Mikey wanted to do was have his name removed from the church. But I asked him to let it go. The missionaries were just doing what they were told. But why would he do that? I get really frustrated with that. I think there should be a place in the church for the gays, and for my son.

My faith has changed. It’s hard for me to have faith in the church. I pray a lot. I have a relationship with God. I know he answers prayers. I don’t know why my son is gay, but I know he created him to be who his is, just like he created me. In a lot of ways, I am a better person now. God creates a lot of different people. I think we should be more loving, caring, and be more accepting. It’s just like our former stake president said, love, love love. I can do that.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Love...It's That Simple

Explanation from me. My name is Carole T. Warburton. I started this blog to increase understanding about our LGBTQ community. The first three are interviews I've done with mothers with gay children. I, along with the mothers, and in some cases, the children, are co-authors on these posts. Without exception, each mother I've sat down to talk with has taught me so much and has filled my heart with increased love. Please spend some time with an incredible woman and mother, Carolyn Bentley. 

By Carolyn Bentley and Carole T. Warburton
Our son Matthew has always been very bright and had a life of the mind that has sustained him throughout his life. As he was going through elementary, middle, and high school, his interests gravitated to music and theatre. In high school, he was involved in student government and went to all the dances, although it was always in groups. After high school graduation, he studied at BYU. And I know now he had a really fine bishop there, who talked to him about some of his feelings. He hadn’t talked to us yet. As I’ve said many times, the person sitting behind the desk in the bishop’s office is critical when a young person shares his feelings. Matt’s been quite blessed and had only one or two who have been kind of tough. Whether the person [bishop] uses that position as a sword or a salve is vital. 

We wept: He went through college very happily. He went on a mission to Argentina. Served honorably. Graduated from college at BYU. Then was accepted to grad school in Virginia. He lived not far from his big sister Annie, and he would visit there often. One night, Annie came down the stairs and found Matt crying. She came and sat by him and he told her his secret. He’d been struggling with his sexuality for a long time. To his bishop in Charlottesville, he’d served as an executive secretary and they had conversations about his situation. It wasn’t until he told Annie, that he called us. And when he told us, he and I wept. And the tears weren’t necessarily from “Oh shoot, I have a son who is gay.” They were rooted in the same concerns he had. He wanted a family. He knew it was going to be a life that was more challenging. And that it would be very difficult for him to maintain his church membership and have the life of love that he wanted. The next thing he did was ask how his father would be about this revelation.  But he needn’t have worried, his father was very compassionate and accepting. I don’t think this surprised Matt, but it’s still always a concern how the father feels. It seems to be a greater struggle for fathers to accept. 

Prayerful answer: He was so earnest about trying to find a way to be ok with who he was and still be part of his religion of origin. And he finally got a clear message. He went to the temple a lot and he had a very strong sense come to him, that basically said to “Matthew, go and find a life.” And so he did. He left the church. It grieved him. I think he did about everything he could to stay. But I also think that his staying could have been lethal. He didn’t have a love interest at the time he left the LDS Church. He’d never dated anyone of the same sex. 

By and by, he met Frank. And Frank was a member of the Episcopal Church in Charlottesville. So Matt joined that faith and they became partners. I had worried about him meeting someone because he was so vulnerable. I worried about the wrong person coming into his life. I had hoped to just process this for a while. But when he called to tell us about Frank. I asked, “Is he a good man?” “ Oh mom, he is the best man.” And he is. We are very blessed that way. So that’s how it came about.  By the time he met Frank he would have been close to thirty. He and Frank were made for each other. I tell you it is one of those magical things, this relationship. They’ve been together ten years. 

Who is Welcome at Christ’s Table? I was asked to give a lesson in a special Relief Society night meeting about living close to Christ and I chose to approach it through The Feast of Christ and who is welcome at his table. I decided it was time to tell the truth about our son. I checked with Matt first and he was in agreement. At some point during the lesson, I asked the question? Is everyone welcome at the table? Oh yes, absolutely. Even Sinners? Yes, we all agreed everyone was welcome. Especially the broken. I asked, Are gay people welcome at His table? There was kind of a hesitance then, yes, they are. Do any of you know a person who is gay? And no one raised a hand. I said, “Most of you know my son Matt . . . he’s gay. I think you should know that because you know how wonderful he is.” I thought that was a good way to break the ice among the women in our ward and start to speak with one another more honestly. But what was really interesting is that afterwards five women came up to me and told me that either their son, or daughter, or nephew was gay. Again, that tells you something about where we were in terms of addressing it, and just letting it be part of the truth in the room so we can be sisters. And actually what I had said is after I asked the question, was You do know someone who is gay. They just haven’t told you yet. And whether or not you are the person they would tell, might be a question you’d want to ask yourself. It will be easier for some than others. Don’t beat yourself up, if it is difficult for you. But listen and be the person they can come to. 

I think it would be nice if we had a more open discussion in our wards. I think it would be really lovely if we could sit in Relief Society and make a comment or say, sisters, I’m struggling with this. Or will you pray for me because…. I would love the day when a dialogue about our gay members is just about how to be helpful to them instead of about where to put them or what they can’t do. And there are some people in our ward who are loving and supportive. But there have been times when many limiting, dismissive, marginalizing statements have been made, and such categorical and hurtful things I hear while we sit within the walls of the church. I feel the potential of a true sisterhood is not being fulfilled. I think it would surprise many in the R.S. sisterhood that there have been times when I have either walked out or felt I wanted to walk out and never come back. That is just very sad.

The support of family and friends: In our family, I had absolutely no question that there wouldn’t be one person who would say, “Oh dear! That is tragic.” In fact there was this great outpouring of love. This was across the board, without exception, including my parents who were in their 80’s at that time. I just knew they would all be loving, and there is great comfort in that. It says a lot that I expected nothing less of them all. To a person, they were very sweet. They said, oh, we’ve always loved him. And I’m so glad he has Frank. It was really a lovely kind of revelation to me.  I think people can surprise us in good ways. Don’t sum them up. Don’t always protect them from this information. Don’t sell them short of who they can be when we tell them about our sons or daughters or sisters or brothers. Give them a chance to be that person who is more loving than even they knew. 

People can be supportive by continuing to show interest. Our friends and family have done this for us. They ask us how Matt and Frank are doing. I love it when they include Frank. So as a friend to those who have a gay family member, stay interested. Most of our friends have been fantastic. Some were curious and wondered how we handled it and we were fine with that because they were at least interested in understanding our process. Being able to talk about it and even open someone else’s mind is a good thing. We’ve had really good friends who always ask about Matt. Even our friends who are more “straight-liners,” more conservative in their beliefs about the issue of gay members of the Church  seem genuinely happy for Matt to have found a life of love and of the spirit.

On LGBT and church leaders: There are many ways to be ok and be gay. There are people who stay in the church, who can because of the emotional makeup of their persona. Those who fall in the less intensely pulled toward the attraction on spectrum of same sex attraction. There are people who stay and agonize. They stay and they are constantly clenched fists, anguished, and feeling left out. There are people who stay and say in essence, “I can give up a relationship and a life of love and show my devotion by staying and serving and being chaste.” We had a good friend who was a bishop on campus [USU] and he was fantastic. He would have young people come in and say, “I think I’m going to have to leave the church.” It wasn’t always someone who was gay that would come to him, but in any case he would say. “I want you to be happy. I will help you get to the place you can to be happy” Which is an amazing and powerful response, instead of, “You know, if you leave it’s all over…….slippery slope…. empty chair in the Celestial Kingdom” and all of that rhetoric of fear and dismissal. He just said, How can I help you? I love you. If you leave I want to stay in touch with you and still be your friend. If there is a way to help you stay, I want to do that. But I mostly want you to have a life. I mostly want you to flourish.” And quite often, if the person knew the bishop really cared about their struggle, they sometimes realized that they could stay, because they were accepted for who they are. This bishop friend didn’t do it in a calculating way at all. It was sincere. And some of these young people thought, “Gee, if I can come talk to the bishop sometimes, I’ll be ok.” For this bishop, it was never about wielding the sword. And I think the fact that many leaders use words and power as swords, we are losing gay members. We’re losing the friends of gay people. It’s like Andrew Solomon [author of “Far from the Tree”] said, This is not an illness - it’s an identity. We don’t have to fix this.

On faith:  I’m really comfortable in the gray area. I guess that’s one of the reasons I can stay in the church. That’s where I can exercise my faith. There are very few things I know for sure - very, very few. And most of them have to do with love. Other things, they’re kind of fungible. As a church we continue to evolve - even our doctrine has changed throughout our history. What can you say that is absolute about our Church? It’s our connection to Christ and our sacred and unique ties to Him. It’s about a context to practice living His teachings. And it is practice. But at the root of it all, it is love, isn’t it? Isn’t that the principle? It is also about community, and for many reasons, this is the community we choose to belong to, peculiar conventions and policies and all.

For Marion and me, it is about how we can maintain a sense of belonging and safety and fellowship. It’s been difficult sometimes. It’s been really hard to sit in a room and hear harsh things said. I have close relatives who have left the church who can’t figure out why we are staying, and are even upset that we don’t just get out. I always feel a little defensive about this, because every single one of us gets to have our own journey. It’s our trip. And I really feel that it’s important for me to stay within this church community to be part of the dialogue. If I leave, in a sense my ability to help change things, will be gone. We have seen in the last 20 years a slow change in the rhetoric from most of our leaders. I hold out hope that we will continue to progress toward other changes. We not only lose our gay members when they leave the Church, but too often to suicide, which is not acceptable. No More Goodbyes!

There’s a great Catholic activist nun, Joan Chittister. She is one of my models in this regard. She and Carol Lynn Pearson are right there by each other. And Joan said the same thing - why would I want to leave, when what I really want to do is stay and keep things moving forward? Keep it a dynamic kind of conversation. I see Carol Lynn Pearson as that person for us. She just keeps those questions and the possibilities we have for learning and changing out there in front of our church leaders. She’s a loving critic. The leaders respect her and she has the ability to say what she thinks without offending. Marion and I both struggle with that. How do we say what we think and really believe deeply about our son, as well as other struggling gay members of the LDS Church, without exploding all over everyone? So that is really a challenge. Mostly it’s done with asking the right questions rather than giving answers. 

Being blunt: I think it would be helpful to have a really good panel or fireside in every ward, to talk openly about this issue of understanding and accepting our gay friends an family members . I would love to have it be part of a fifth Sunday meeting with parents of gay children, psychologists, and if they are willing, a gay member of the LDS Church. A panel fielding questions – and any question is okay. This whole fixation on the sexual aspect of gay relationships is very strange. And it’s insulting. How often do we define heterosexuals by what they do in the bedroom? What I said to my stake president was, “It’s sex, the mechanics of it are weird anyway. Get over it. It’s just part of a relationship. Why would you reduce anyone to that?” Most gay people want what all of us want – a relationship of sharing all aspects of our lives, mutual support, respect and the sense of being cherished.

Continuing Revelation? I think the statement “we will know more when we are ready for it [change]”, or the statement that a certain revelation wasn’t given until we were ready for it is fascinating. I just want to say “Can’t we get ready? Can’t we get there earlier? Can’t we evolve? Can’t we move forward and be ready? Why should God wait around for us to give us His latest word, when we’ve already been given it – the word is love, love, love, love. 

For the mother and family who is struggling: I fear I may hurt people by seeming that I have it all figured out. It’s just love. It’s your child. I know it isn’t that simple for some people. If you’ve had that spiritual almost elemental narrative throughout your life about the black and white – that this is right and this is wrong, it takes a brave person to start looking for the nuances and the contradictions and inconvenient truths we each personally live in. For the person who is new to it and who is in agony, basically all I can do is listen. I don’t think I can tell them to evolve. All I can say is, “If you want to talk, I am willing to listen and to share.” I don’t want to come across too strong but I would say that most people eventually figure out that this is what they were given. I would say to someone new to the knowledge that their child is gay what I feel the Savior would say. “This child was given you for this very purpose, for you to learn something and you will be amazed at who you really are. You will learn things about yourself that you didn’t know. Even though this is agony right now, I promise you, you will come out knowing things about yourself and your capacity to love that you had no reason to know before. You may have thought, ‘Oh yes, I love my children,’ but this will be the hardest thing and the best thing you can ever do for this child. 

Blessings: We feel what Christ’s love is actually like. Why He chose to be with those who were marginalized, why He chose to be with those who were disenfranchised, struggling, or feeling less. This experience of having a gay child revealed to Marion and me who we were as a parent team, what we are capable of together, and we are richer for this experience. And our children who struggle with this and other problems, well, they get to know that we love them and there is No condition or limit to that. It’s really important to us for our children to know that, whether or not they are in the church of their heritage or another faith, or even if wonder if they have a Savior. We have a child who struggles to know that there is a caring power, a personal deity who accepts her. But I think she knows what love is. And if our children can know this, that’s the essence of what the Savior lived. This journey has taught us to hopefully be better and less judgmental about people who struggle, no matter what the struggle is. This challenge gave us as a married couple, a kind of a dynamic that served us well as a team. It was kind like a gift - reminding us what this marriage is about; it’s about unity and trying to do good and help our children flourish. It has made me aware of inequities in other areas in life. It’s given me friends I would never have known. I mean really important deep friendships because there are no bounds to it. 

I would say to other parents who are struggling, This is a sacred journey you are going go on and Christ will be with you the whole time if you let that love in. And try really hard not to think about what others think. (We do tend to care very much in our church, about the “other” and about how we appear in the Sunday Showcase.) There is that sort of model family thing we have going for us - affluent, fun, everyone’s going on missions, etc……and this is admirable, but move away from that and embrace the family that you are. A family is whoever shows up for the people who need them. And if you aren’t the family for the LGBT child, they will find another family and it will not necessarily be a good thing, and you will miss out on all the growing there is to be done, and you will miss out on your child’s search for a life of happiness and love. Wouldn’t you want to be that family for him or her? Wouldn’t you want to? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"I Just Want My Son to Be Happy" A Conversation with a Mother and Son

Written by Carole, Judi, and Justin

By the time Judi’s son, Justin, told her he was gay, he was 27-years-old. He’d been very religious in the LDS church his entire life, served a mission, worked as an officiator in the temple and taught seminary for two years. It was when he was told he would have to marry to keep his teaching job “and not to a guy,” Judi quipped, that he knew that couldn’t happen. Her son came home for dinner one night and told her the secret he’d been carrying. “So, you’re still my son,” she’d said.

Challenges aren’t new to Judi. She unexpectedly lost her husband, the father of her children over a decade ago and before Justin “came out.” Every day she battles numerous painful health issues that make each day difficult to perform even basic tasks. And yet, when I sat down to visit with Judi, the kitchen table was covered in the latest quilt project for her humanitarian work for the church. On the sofa, I slid the carefully stacked quilt squares aside, so I could sit down for our visit.

Looking back, Judi knows the signs were there, but she was in denial. Once she knew, it didn’t change any of the love she felt for her son, but she mourned the loss of expectations that she’d envisioned for him. “He would be such a good, good father. He’s so cute with kids.” Now everything would be different. Right after she found out, her sister came to visit and Judi wasn’t ready to talk about her son yet. So she took long showers and cried, then put on her happy face. “I cried for two-weeks straight.”

 Justin: “I think I knew as early as 21. I had known for some time that I was different. I knew that I did not look at girls the same way that others did, but I did not realize that I was gay until I was on my mission and we came in contact with a couple of gay individuals.  I just never really had a point of reference growing up in such a small town. So I was surprised when I realized WHY I was different. But I was so under the thumb of the church in that I believed that I could be "saved" or "cured" if I gave myself completely to the Lord and to the church. So I did.  Looking back, I knew back as early as 11 or 12."

Judi would tell mothers who are just finding out that their child is gay; “It’s a process. It took me a long time to wrap my head around it. It gets better, but it’s okay to mourn the change of expectations. One of the things that has been hard for me is that once I am gone, unless he finds someone in his life who is going to be permanent, he’s going to be alone. He has a brother, but he has a family of his own. It’s not going to be like the relationship we have. He calls me every day and we talk for 15-20 minutes. I look forward to that. Hopefully one day, he can legally have a love the same as any other person.”

Justin’s advice to parents of LGBT kids: “Love them for who they are and always stand by them and support them. Listen and embrace the things that make them unique. Encourage them to follow their dreams. In other words, treat them the same as they would if they were straight. They are no different and should not be treated any differently. They are still your children.”

Bumps in the road--Judi. “Hardly anyone cares. Unless you are personally impacted, you just don’t care. It’s not your problem; it’s someone else’s. I get really frustrated when people who know nothing about it, say that being gay is a choice. Nobody would choose to be gay. It is not an easy life, not easy at all. That’s the argument I had with some of the things that have been said by church leaders and some other people I know. They are born that way. Church leaders and others make judgments about things they know nothing about.”

I object to the word “choice.” That’s what I objected to in conference. That’s what I objected to the day the counselor in our bishopric spoke. That’s what I objected to when my friend, said (yelled on the phone) that God would not do that, quoting what President Packer said. And when I said, it was not a choice. She insisted again, that God would not do that. I said, don’t tell me what God would do. If you are trying to say that people born with multiple sclerosis or any nasty diseases, why would you think that God would do that? So the reasoning is faulty when you insist that God wouldn’t do something to someone. It’s been such a joke that those who are gay are a sub-human culture, something to be looked down upon, harassed, discriminated against, any number of things. No one would choose that.”

Judi wishes she had stood up and told the counselor in the bishopric that he was wrong, but she didn’t. Other times friends have made disparaging remarks or told stories that aren’t respectful of the LGBT community. At first Judi didn’t speak up, but now she does.
 “Suppose there was a child who was in the congregation that heard him [church leader] say that, at which point he or she feels totally ostracized, that they are wrong, that they are evil. They lose all sense of self-worth. Why are they even here and why do they need to stay here? That is so hurtful.”

Justin:  “When I first realized and really knew that I was attracted to men, I felt I had to stay in the church because it is what was expected of me. I really wanted the wife, the kids and the picket fence. But the longer I tried to stay in the church and the longer I tried to be the perfect man, I became very angry. I hated myself. I hated the people who were getting married. I hate people who told me I would meet the right girl. I was angry at God for letting me feel this way. When I finally came out, I was able to be honest for the first time. I felt free.” (More about Justin)

Making a decision—Justin: “I was really not that torn once I got to the point of leaving the church. To be honest, I had a bishop who understood and was willing to talk to me openly and honestly. Then I changed wards. The new bishop was not as kind. He wanted me to know that I would have to be brought in front of a disciplinary council and then I would probably be excommunicated. He was less tactful than that, and I was not willing to go back into the closet. I was also not willing to let my mother to have to say her son was excommunicated. I did not feel that I could stay in a church that did not accept me and did not see value in me as a person. I could not support leaders who were quick to judge and blind to the person. When I was younger, I could not stand up to those realities, but I could by the time I was in my 20's.”

Judi’s lowest point: “It was a really hard thing for me when I  had my husband’s temple work done and we were sealed together as a family to not have both sons sealed. They each have to be there to take part. That was an extremely difficult thing to exclude one child. I also tried to do family history. At this point, he had taken his name off the records of the church because he felt like—(there was nobody more religious than that child)—he felt like if he was going to live this lifestyle, that he could not keep his name on the records of the church. So I’d go to do family history and I couldn’t put him in for his baptismal dates and so on, so I just stopped.

I don’t know how other families handle it. I have no idea. But that was a really hard thing for me. The longer he is away from the church, the further he draws away from the church. I can understand that. And it’s hard because the teachings of our church make it very difficult to try and balance what you’ve been taught your whole life and balance that with this child that you love. As you’ve accepted who they are and that you want what’s best for them.”

Justin’s Darkest Time: “I think the darkest time came right after my dad passed away. I was in therapy at the time to try and overcome my sexuality. The therapist suggested we work on my issues with my dad's passing. So we did. When we finally got back to the reason I had started seeing him, he told me that he would not help me change, but would help me accept myself and come out. He was LDS and he was honest about the fact I could not change who I was, I could not be something I was not. I was crushed. I cried all night. I was so destroyed. And then I slowly started to see that I could be happy with who I was and I could be authentic and honest with myself.”

On supporting each other--Judi: “The first time he asked if he could bring his partner home, we discussed it as a family before it happened. He (his partner) was welcome in my home. I’m still in contact even though they are no longer together. He used to call me mom. I totally enjoyed him. I think that was important that we had that relationship. That he knew I could be mother to this partner. As far as my son goes, he knows that I’m still involved with the church and he supports me in that. I still believe it’s true. I’m not as strong as I was though. I have been knocked down a few pegs. Having to go in and seal my family and leave one out. It’s wrong. He’s mine as much as the other one, and according to church teachings, if I understand correctly, I can’t have him. He calls me everyday.  We just try to bumble through the best we can. Do we always get it right? No. But we try. He has a good support group, but as far as a family anchor, I’m it. So when I kick the bucket, he’s going to be lost.”

Justin about his mom: “She has spent time learning about what it [being gay] really means. She has kept an open mind and offered her support. She has loved me the same as she did before. She embraced and accepted my partner. She opened her home and her heart to him. She has stood up against those who are insensitive or indifferent. She has educated and she has been an example. She has been my biggest champion and she has listened. She has continued to love me and really that is all that matters. She is my best friends.”

Importance for legislation--Judi: “One of the hardest things is the discrimination that exists on the laws of the nation. They are definitely discriminated against. I have a really hard time with that. As a church if you want to say marriage is between a man and a woman, that’s one thing. But civilly they should have every right and every benefit including tax laws, insurance, next of kin, inheritance, etc. that a marriage between a man and a woman has. A same-sex couple should have every right to be legally married and accepted as a couple. I have hard time understanding why people can’t separate that. Church and state are two different things. When my son’s partner was in the hospital and my son would go into see him, he was not always treated as next of kin.

Recently, I watched a you-tube video about a couple, Shane and Tom, who were together for six years. Together, they started a company and bought a house. But when Tom died, Shane had no rights. He was threatened by Tom’s family that he would be beaten if he came to the funeral. The hospital wouldn’t release any information to Shane. The youtube clip is the basis of a documentary called Bridegroom. I would encourage you to watch it. Shane’s mother said, “It’s not a gay thing. It’s not a straight thing. It’s a human thing.'”

Progress--Judi: “There are areas in Salt Lake that are a lot better. Though a few years ago, my son and his partner went to a restaurant and the server wouldn’t serve them. I don’t think that happens anymore. Not only are the restaurants being more accepting now, there’s a lot more places specifically for gays. It’s not like they have to fit into someone else’s mold. They can be who they are. But, I would say rural communities are harder for gay kids. I know of a young man who had been living out of state and tried to move back to Cache Valley and had to leave again because he couldn’t find himself here. He felt like it was too hard.”

I’ve seen changes in the church. Elder D.Todd Christofferson for one, has been involved in meeting with the Montgomery family. I think they [church leaders] are starting to look at things instead of automatically saying this is the way it is and this is the way it always will be. They are starting to be more open to the fact that there are differences and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad or wrong.

The women who were seeking priesthood ordination, if I get it right, all they were asking was that the church hierarchy take it to the Lord and ask the question. The same thing when the blacks were given the priesthood. They took it to the Lord. I think that if more of the apostles were more open then they could discuss (LGBT issues) and take it to the Lord, changes could be made. I don’t believe that the church will ever say that same sex marriage is ok. But I would hope that they can make it more comfortable for LBGT persons to be able to attend church without the shunning and judgment that they are subjected to now. That people would realize that being gay is not a choice, but how a person is born.

Progress and hope—Justin: “I see all the progress being made around the world and in the states and that gives me hope that I will find my spouse. I had a partner for 8 years and we were very happy. We had out ups and downs like any married couple. We had arguments and we had some of my most cherished and happy moments. In the end, we knew we had to make a change. We are still very close friends. I want him to be happy and I hope I will be too. Now that there are 16 states that have marriage equality, I hope that when I am able to get married I will have someone to share the rest of my life with.”

Blessings--Judi: “I have learned to be more open to other lifestyles, other religions, other beliefs. It used to disturb me for instance, a black and a white person together. Who cares? If they love each other, go for it. I’ve learned a lot. I’m more open to learning things. I don’t want to say accepting, because that sounds like something is wrong if you have to accept it. I’ve tried to learn a lot more and be more knowledgeable and try to understand, instead of forming opinions from antiquated ideas. I think I’m a better person for it. I really, truly believe that. I’m not as narrow as I used to be.”

“I just want my son to be happy.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Changing Hearts One Conversation at a Time

I'm privileged to introduce Janet, in most ways a typical Mormon woman. She grew up in a very Mormon Patriarchal home where she learned to be more concerned with appearances than the content and character of a person’s heart and soul. At 28, she married the love of her life.  He had three children from a previous marriage. Together they had two children. The youngest is gay. Janet has held many callings in the LDS church from nursery leader and merit badge counselor, to Young Women’s President and Relief Society President. She lives in a comfortable home, nestled in beautiful Cache Valley. As I walked in I noticed some of the typical Mormon symbols of faith decorating her living room. We sat down at her kitchen table and I asked her to take me on a journey. A journey of discovering what it means to be LDS and have a gay son. We began with the day everything she had known, or thought she knew, changed. The rest is in Janet’s words.

Blindsided: When our son was 17, (nine years ago) we found some hand-drawn pictures of male genitalia in his room. We didn’t know what to think, so we questioned him. At first he wasn’t forthcoming, but eventually he told us he was gay. I didn’t know what that meant. I thought it was a choice. I didn’t think it had anything to do with love, just sex—sex with men. He had been such a good young man, so fun and so knowledgeable in the gospel.  I just knew he would grow up to be a General Authority.  While in high school, he baptized one of his friends.  He was a 4-year seminary graduate.  He read his scriptures and prepared thought-provoking Family Home Evening lessons.  He was an Eagle Scout, and later served a successful 2-year mission. How could he be gay? When was he having sex with guys? He hadn’t.  I just didn’t know. I didn’t understand that it was about who you are, that it was about the gender you are attracted to. We took him to a therapist at LDS Social Services. He later confessed that it was one of the worst days of his life. I think he went just to appease us. I was stubborn. “We’ll fix this. We’ll get you right.” It was devastating to my paradigm. My paradigm was LDS and it was black and white. It took me a long time to wrap my head around it.

Everything was looking good. He got ready and served a successful mission. We hoped, along with him, that the mission would change him. Some time after he returned, he served as the primary chorister. But then one day, he looked downcast. I asked him what was wrong and if he would talk to me about it. He said, “Mom, this is who I am. It’s not going to be anything different.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. He’d written a letter addressed to President Monson, pleading with the First Presidency to listen to the gays and all he got back was a form letter from a secretary and a pamphlet explaining how to be celibate.

 The rejection: There wasn’t anything personal, nothing to say we’re sorry for your pain,  just a form letter, that in essence said, your pain is nothing. He took his garments off. (Temple garments are sacred undergarments that adult members wear once they’ve made commitments in the temple.) And he’s been inactive ever since. As much pain as that caused me as his mother, I realized making the decision to leave activity in the church must cause him pain too. So I asked him, and he said that it did. I realized that this isn’t just about me and how I feel. He made covenants. And for what? He feels betrayed. It was hard.

I was anxious to learn and to understand. I wanted to know what gay sex meant.  What does it mean to love another man?  He was so patient with me as he answered my many questions. He gave me Carol LynnPearson’s book, “Goodbye, I Love You.” I read that and it immediately opened my eyes and made me more tenderhearted toward him and others. And then I couldn’t stop reading. I wanted desperately to understand. I read Carol Lynn Pearson’s second book (on this subject) “No More Goodbyes” and when her third book came out, we read that, too. My husband and I read “Peculiar People” and a book from a PFLAG perspective (Parents, Family and Friends of Gays and Lesbians) called “Beyond Acceptance.”  Both were really good.  They fed our souls.

Paradigm Shift: Once I began to understand, I no longer cared what people thought about me. At first, I thought, Wow, if people in the ward find out we have a gay son, we’re going to have to move. They are going to think we’re awful parents. But my paradigm shifted in another way. So many rely on an outward rather than an inward righteousness. Now, I will talk to others about what it means to be gay, but I wait until they ask. It’s almost like it’s sacred.  I don’t want to put it out there for others to make fun of. 

Maintaining Faith: For a time my faith wavered. If it weren’t for my husband and I both being on the same page, both supporting our son, and yet both wanting to maintain activity in the church, I could see myself drifting off a little bit more, and maybe he could have seen himself drifting off a little bit more too without me. We’ve held on together. I got the impression that our leaders are just men.  They’ve even said that themselves. I had the inspiration that our leaders have a heavy weight on their shoulders, that they have the weight of the whole church, and they have their own biases, their own prejudices that they have brought to the table of apostleship, If I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, but that the leaders have challenges themselves, it helps me have more compassion for them. I can still embrace the gospel and support my son. And besides if I left, I lose my voice with that population. But this way, I have inroads to help to change people’s minds and help them learn compassion one conversation at a time. 

When challenges come: Saturday sessions of General Conference were wonderfully uplifting. But after the Sunday sessions of Conference, I was down for the rest of the day. I couldn’t look up.  My eyes just wanted to close.  I was numb. I have this inner battle with myself because I’ve been taught all my life that these men are prophets, revelators and seers. But, somehow, some of them have missed something.  They have not asked the right questions if they’ve talked to a gay person, or they would not have said what they did.

So if someone says something to me like was said to WendyMontgomery, (Wendy Montgomery has a 13-year-old gay son and was told that she should have her son taken away and given to someone who can follow the prophet) and I had to make a choice whether I would leave the church or stay -- I would stay.  If someone says hurtful things, then why should I go? Why should I go? I have to remind myself that people are only human, even the church hierarchy.  They are only men who have been called to do a hard thing.

Is there a place for your son in your eternal family? Absolutely, there is. God has let me know that I don’t need to worry about him.  And that has given me so much peace. This peace has become stronger in the last couple of years. Even more so as each day goes by.  My only worry is that he’ll go into a deep dark place where he may be left with long-lasting regrets.  The world is not a very safe place. And because he feels the church has rejected him, he might feel like “why not go off and make unsafe choices, and do this and that. Obviously, there are no standards that I need to keep since the church doesn’t want me. So why not take these extra steps.”

From a challenge to a blessing: I don’t feel the need to judge anymore. I grew up in a very judgmental home. And that’s why I have the personality that I do.  My new paradigm has blessed my life by removing that debilitating burden off my shoulders. I don’t have to judge anybody. I can just let that go. If a man has a tattoo and earrings, which my son has, I wonder what his story is. What has his life been like? If I see someone who looks depressed because they may not fit the ‘norm’, I tell myself that the soul inside them wants to be loved and appreciated just like everyone else. And they are beautiful. I’ve been blessed in trying to look at people the way Christ would. I’ve never done that before. Everyone has their own chance to embrace someone who is different from them. If they can’t, they’re missing out.

Progress? Has there been progress made? Will it get to a point where your son or maybe other LGBT can feel like they can get on board with the church? Not in the near future, not from the body of the church.  But there are satellites in the church -- wards and stakes -- that are doing their best to be more inclusive. The more we have of those, it will trickle down to the main body of the church. I listened to a recent podcast on Gay Mormon Stories to an interview with Edward Jones. He had been away from the church for years, but now is active again. He and Randall Thacker, who are both gay, have callings in their DC ward as the primary organist and chorister.  And I believe that Randall is in a relationship. Here are men who are being their authentic selves and are active. I don’t believe they want to change the doctrine; they just want to change the level of love and acceptance. That’s all I want. The doctrine is Jesus Christ’s. To be more welcoming the policy and implementation may need to change. I think it will with time.

What is the church missing out on by not being more welcoming of the LGBT community? You look at the way my son served in the primary. The kids loved him. In fact, I substituted in the primary two years later and a boy asked if I was Brother X’s mother.  I said I was, and the boy said, “YES!” with obvious approval. Even two years later, they are talking about him. I do feel gays have so much to offer. They have so much compassion. They have cultural gifts to share. They are smart. They could teach us the gospel in ways that aren’t ‘general conference dry’. I was thinking about the podcast with Edward Jones, the chorister (who is moving to SLC next month). What he said got me thinking about when the Church would routinely excommunicate gays just for saying they were gay whether they were sexually active or not. And when the church would excommunicate others just for questioning church policy.  Yet the questions they were asking may have improved us and made us think.  They may have improved our relationships and may have made us softer. But by excluding the gays, you’ve terribly wounded them and their families. Fortunately, the church is not so quick to excommunicate anymore. So from the old point of view, they’ve come a long way in accepting them and all kinds of people. People have lots of different ways they can contribute. If we only accepted into the church everyone who played the piano and organ, but not those who know how to lead music, we’d miss out. It takes everybody.

Hope: When I asked Janet to tell me things about her son that she knows about him that other’s might not, her eyes filled with tears. And so did mine. I have a son too. I know that same mother’s love and pride also. He is very tenderhearted. He loves very easily. Because he seems so happy, you wouldn’t know that he’d almost committed suicide before his mission. You wouldn’t know that he’s felt depths of despair over his eternal salvation because of merely being born a certain way. You wouldn’t know that he speaks fluent Mandarin. He loves to read and think. He loves music. He has a wonderful memory. He’s so personable and great with people.  Once he graduates from college, I hope he can get a job that supports what he wants to do. He wants to get a graduate degree.  And I hope he can find someone to spend his life with. Somebody that he loves, somebody that cherishes him, somebody who loves him and treats him the way I feel my husband loves me.