I was one of the lucky ones. When I came out to my mom at the age of 22 (in a moving car, no less), her first reaction to my stammered "I'm gay, Mom" was to reach out, hold my hand, and say, "Honey, the only thing that matters to me is that you are happy." Everything that happened since, and everything that I now am, can be traced to that moment. I knew that no matter what, I was loved. I was cared for. I was supported. There is no substitute for a parent's love and acceptance. With my mom's fierce love, I have lived my dreams and soared. Had my mom not been the person she was, had she rejected me and told me I was "wrong" and a "sinner," I would be a far different person.
I know how lucky I am.
I also know far too many who were not so lucky. I have seen many friends suffer the almost unbearable pain of family rejection because of who they are. I know many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults who have no meaningful relationships with their families because they cannot endure the ever-present belief that they are failures as sons or daughters, or because their mothers and fathers do not want them around. Growing up Mormon in Utah, I had, and still see, many friends who drink too much, play too hard, and ride a road to destruction all because they were ridiculed, rejected, abandoned, or left homeless by their parents once they came out.
Because I have seen the carnage firsthand in so many Mormon families, I nearly cried with relief when I read Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-Day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children, a groundbreaking and (trust me) lifesaving publication by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, and Dr. Bob Rees, a former Mormon Bishop who teaches Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union. I have long admired Caitlin's work, but this new resource strikes me at the heart. I cannot imagine how much better the world will be for Mormon families and their LGBT kids because of this booklet.
The most difficult part about being rejected by your family as a Mormon youth is that you lose so much of your identity when your family turns away. As a very young child in the church, I knew that family was the most important part of God's plan: "Families are forever." And the LDS Church means that literally. According to the Mormon faith, a family will live on for eternity, long after our mortal death. Many of the LGBT Mormons I knew whose families had pushed them away believed that while their family would be together in the afterlife, they would be alone -- for eternity. That is a long time. If this is your belief and all you have ever known, the loss is intolerable.
As Supportive Families, Healthy Children makes clear, the Mormon parents who reject and shame their children do so because they believe that that is the right thing to do. After reading this resource, it will be clear to all parents that rejecting their child, a child we all know they love so much, is never the right thing to do and will always cause more pain, devastation, and damage. What gives me the most hope is that I know how important family is to Mormons. I know that they want to do right by their kids. I know that they want their kids to feel love and support, and now they can provide all of that without fear that in doing so they are somehow betraying their faith.
I have always felt so privileged by the way my mom responded to my coming out. We had an incredible relationship right up until her too-soon death in 2003. I have never taken for granted our relationship, her love, and her acceptance. I know what a gift I was given. And now many, many more Mormon kids will enjoy that same priceless gift.