The Mama Bear Story Project is a collection of portraits and autobiographical essays from members of Serendipitydodah for Moms – a private Facebook group for open minded Christian moms of LGBTQ kids.
Living in the Light
“Haven’t I always told you that there is nothing you could ever say, do, want, think, need, or be that would keep me from loving you?” These words closed my late-night text conversation with our son when he came out to me, five years ago today.
He was a junior in college and I had just finished watching his fraternity’s “It Gets Better” video. Although other students in the video identified themselves as gay or ally, he did not. When I heard my only child say, “I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere, and that I was really weird,” and “You don’t have to live in the shadows,” I knew he was saying he is gay.
I’ll never forget my emotions when the next evening he told his dad and me: “I want to live my life in the light. People who are forced to live in the dark do dark things, and I choose to live in the light.” He said he’d always known he was gay and he was relieved that we could accept him. That broke my heart because we more than accept him; we love him.
Among my emotions that night was relief, because since he was a small child I’d thought he might “turn out to be” gay, not yet understanding that, indeed, he was born gay. Always such a gentle and empathetic boy, I was relieved that he felt he could be honest with us. I knew that it took a lot of courage, because, sadly, too many kids are disowned when they come out.
I also felt fear. The fear I had started tamping down from when he was only a toddler, as hateful rhetoric spilled from the television about the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and again when he was four and the Defense of Marriage Act mandated that marriage was only for straight people. Ellen DeGeneres came out when he was 5-years-old, and within months her sitcom was cancelled. But my fear greatly intensified when our son was in grade school, and young Matthew Shepard was horrifically and brutally murdered at the hands of homophobic bullies. And, just two weeks after our son left for college, Rutgers University sophomore Tyler Clementi tragically jumped to his death after bullies shattered his life by invading his privacy.
I also felt sadness – sad that when he was in middle school, I tried to “steer him” away from being gay – like he had a choice. Although I’d had gay friends, I knew their lives were difficult because of how they were treated, and I didn’t want that for my boy. And, I was sad about the daughter-in-law and grandchildren I had envisioned. I now know that even if one’s “life script” changes, the happily-ever-after story doesn’t have to – just re-cast the characters.
Next, I started worrying about how to publicly acknowledge this new reality. I had been raised in the school of “what will people say” and what worried me most was what I already knew the people of the United Methodist Church would say. I’d heard what those at the UMC where we’d raised our son thought of LGBTQ people, and I’m ashamed to admit I never called them on it. Why? I was afraid that doing so would cast doubt on my son’s sexuality. So, when he came out of the closet, I took my relief, sadness and fear into my own closet to gather myself for the coming battle I sensed.
Darkness of Judgment and Anger
I began reading and studying everything I could find, including Justin Lee’s book “Torn;” Savage & Miller’s “It Gets Better;” and Betty DeGeneres’ beautiful story, “Love, Ellen.” With education came growth and also the next stage: being open about our love and support of our son – and confronting those who tried to convince us we were wrong. That included the church where we’d worshipped for nearly 25 years.
I was so angry about the UMC’s stiff-necked stupidity! Just four weeks after our son came out in 2013, Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman, whose son is also gay, announced a “change of heart” and supported gay couples’ opportunity to marry. In response, the so-called church “ladies” said horrible things about LGBTQ people during Bible study. Even though I explained with my newfound knowledge that the “clobber verses” they quoted did not say what they had been taught to believe, just two weeks later – when basketball star Magic Johnson’s son came out – the same ugly things were said. In my opinion, the verse that really does the clobbering is John 13:34-35.
I am thankful that during the height of our painful shunning by church members – including those in our share group – we attended a Reconciling Ministries Network class, “When Kids Come Out,” where I first met fellow Mama Bears and was invited to join this loving online community. The warmth and counsel from other mothers who also love and affirm their LGBTQ children has been a balm and bolster. A balm in that for the first time I was no longer alone, and a bolster in their encouragement to stand up and speak out to defend LGBTQ people from the fear and hate engendered by ignorant misinterpretation of scripture and the resulting harmful stereotyping.
My husband and I had already begun “shaking the dust off our feet,” searching for an open and affirming church, when we received an invitation from our UMC’s pastor to lead a new share group. So we decided to take another shot at educating church members and proposed a group for “Families and Loved Ones of LGBTQ persons.” We were called into the office where I was horrified to be told: “This issue will not be discussed. Not here, not now, not ever.” After several months of trying to inform him and soften his heart, we had a loud, unpleasant blow-out that ended with our terminating our membership. It was necessary, but painful to leave the church community we had been part of for so long, and where we knew other families – still in the closet – remained silent about their children. In 2020, the UMC will have a final chance to vote yes on inclusion.
I am certain that if being LGBTQ were “incompatible with Christian teaching,” as the UMC says, then Jesus would have said something about it. The fact is that “Christian teaching” and “Christ’s teaching” are two different things. Christian teaching is all about the rulebook – who’s in and who’s out. But Christ’s teaching is about inclusive love. Love is what matters most; love is what matters in the end. Jesus even gave a new commandment about it.
My views on the value of having organized religion and church in one’s life have sharply shifted – I no longer think it’s always helpful; instead it’s usually harmful. However, I do believe that the pervasive spirit of what many call “God” is real. I don’t believe God “listens to” or responds to prayer, blessing some while ignoring or punishing others. Instead, I believe that contemplation of the presence of God keeps me in the flow of the spirit, aware and attuned to living in the light. Indeed, Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit as counselor to help us understand things not yet comprehensible. He even warned us against resisting the transformative work of the Spirit.
Since I became a Mama Bear three years ago, basking in this nurturing network of friends and sisters, I’ve been able to turn my anger into action. These mothers have helped me develop the courage and the confidence to be an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community. I serve on the national diversity & inclusion committee for my professional association; I write articles and give presentations on writing/speaking and making the business case for LGBTQ inclusion; I am president of our local PFLAG chapter, and, of course, I encourage other mothers. Together, my husband and I financially support advocacy organizations, march in the Pride Parade and explore new ways of understanding and being one with God.
So much has changed, but what remains unchanged is how very much we love our son and how proud we are of who he is: Our son is an honorable man. He is happy, fun and outgoing, devoted to his true friends and to his family. He is educated and interested in his profession, dedicated to helping his organization’s clients realize their own passion for serving nonprofit agencies. Our son is artistic, creative and talented, launching Olly Awake, a gender equal clothing line to positively impact those who want to be their own best versions. And, he is also an advocate for equality, volunteering with the Human Rights Campaign, and other groups that advance justice and inclusion for the LGBTQ community. Most importantly, our son is out of the closet, living his life in the light.
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. Our official motto is “We Are Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. It was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 2,400 members. For more info email firstname.lastname@example.org