I am grateful for the life and vision of a pioneer named Dr. Rob Eichberg. He wrote Coming Out is an Act of Love and co-founded The Advocate Experience, a really intense workshop on learning to live with full integrity.
Our family attended a series of Experience workshops after my son, Joshua, came out in 1988 in Abilene, Texas. Joshua and my partner, Sue, went to a workshop led by Dr. Eichberg. My daughter and I went to a workshop led by Eichberg's colleague, Honey Ward, who continues to lead them today. I am grateful for Honey and her skill in blowing open the closet in which I was living out my fundamentalist Christian religion. I believe I would have lost my faith in God without her intervention. I know I would have lost my son.
Until the Advocate Experience, I confused God with religion and religion with truth. A tragic mistake.
Coming out cost us our church, part of our family and our familiar community. The Christian college that my family attended for three generations would not have Joshua as an openly gay student once he finished high school. And still will not.
We had to create a new life for ourselves.
The first thing we did was find a safe place for Joshua to live and finish high school. School officials in Abilene could not guarantee that Joshua could be safe at school. They attempted to adjust his schedule and remove him from some of the most tense situations. Ironically, they moved him to a vocational tech class where he spent his mornings doing woodworking. You would have to meet Joshua to understand the humor in this situation. He is a gifted academic, writer and speaker, loves to read and listen to people's stories. A woodworker, he is not.
In retrospect, those school administrators gave our family another gift: They put us in a situation so unworkable that we had to think out of the box. So, we moved Joshua to Santa Fe, N.M. to attend a high school for gifted students. He lived with a friend of our family. He had a lot of time on his hands and one day he walked into a place called National Coming Out Day (NCOD) led by an amazing woman, Lynn Sheppod. I am grateful for her. She took my son under her wing as the youngest volunteer in NCOD history. And he thrived. Today, he is finishing his Masters degree in Divinity at Episcopal Divinity School and has written a book called Uncommon Hope, a curriculum for churches working with people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. He is resilient and compassionate and reflects the inclusive love of God in the way that I now know is real. I believe that if Rob Eichberg, now deceased, can see the fruits of his labor from the after-life, he is smiling. I know I am.
Young people who tell the truth and have support from their religious communities and their families have the potential to live and love and be productive citizens. We now know without any doubt that young people who experience rejection often choose suicide. I am thankful for organizations like the The Trevor Project, Soulforce and the Equality Ride, the Family Acceptance Project, the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN, PFLAG, Metropolitan Community Churches, United Churches of Christ, The Fellowship led by Bishop Yvette Flunder, and other congregations where families like mine can find resources and support as they find their way to truth.
And, these organizations need our help. We need to support them financially and publicly. We need to insist that anti-gay religious and secular organizations like Exodus International, an ex-gay movement, stop recruiting and harming our children. They are reaching out to young LGBT adults through the Web, social media and YouTube to tell our children that they are sinful, that they can change and that they need to change.
Be bold and support young adults who resist these groups. If you have a young Joshua in your home for the holidays, let me encourage you to hear his truth, love him and ask him how you can best support him in living with integrity. I can guarantee that this choice will make it possible for you to share life with your son for many Thanksgivings to come. I believe that is a future that all parents really want to share. It is a future that our nation needs to share.