A Test of Faith
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 19 May 97 00:58:46 -0700
Subject: A Test of Faith
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Excerpted-from: The Washington Post, May 11, 1997
By Accepting Her Gay Son, a Mother Tests Her Faith
by Cindy Loose, Washington Post Staff Writer
Lanette Graves always had been a deeply religious person, a devout Mormon
whose beliefs permeated her life. But one summer afternoon, she encountered
something she didn't know how to pray about.
"What do you say to God about your son's being gay?" asked Graves, of
Clifton. "Do you say, `Gee, God, did you create him this way? If so, why?
How am I to reconcile my love for my child with my beliefs?' "
After weeks of sleeplessness, as she huddled on the floor of a bathroom
illuminated only by a night light, the beginnings of an answer came to her:
"This is your child. This is who he is. Love him."
It was the beginning of a long process that she compares to a second
labor and delivery of the same child. The pain before the actual birth
of her eldest son, she said, was all but forgotten the moment she saw him
and caressed his tiny fingers and toes.
The pain was greater at his second birth, she said. But whenever she gets
the chance to comfort other mothers experiencing the same distress, she
takes them in her arms and tells them: "One day you will be as full of joy
as the first time. You will look at that child and say, `This is my gay son,
this is my gay daughter,' in awe and wonder of who they are and what they
Graves's answer does not coincide with the teachings of her church, which
regards homosexuality as willful sin and "same-sex addiction." The church,
with 10 million members worldwide, counsels homosexuals to change their
orientation or to dedicate their lives to celibacy and service to others.
But soon after hearing in 1991 that her oldest son, Kerry, was gay,
Graves learned that he'd spent years trying to be different, promising
God he'd do anything -- be the best son, the best friend, the best brother
in the world -- if only he could be like other boys. Eventually, Graves came
to believe that her son had no choice and that she could worship God and
If there are 4 million to 10 million homosexual Americans, as various
sources estimate, then there are 4 million to 10 million mothers with gay
children. Many of them struggle, Graves said, with the disconnect between
the love of their children and devotion to their faith.
Recently, she decided to reach out to such parents in churches across
the Washington area, as religious affairs coordinator of the nonprofit
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-Flag). "I don't want other
mothers to suffer so much and feel so alone."
Graves's own journey began nearly six years ago, the summer before
Kerry's sophomore year at the University of Delaware. Kerry, then 20,
had an elaborate plan for how he'd tell his mother. But while doing errands
with her, he blurted it out. Kerry cried. She was stunned.
The two went home, and Graves completed preparations for a weekend trip
with her husband.
"My world had shattered, but I made dinner and packed a suitcase," Graves
said. "I remember watching my hands, amazed I could do normal things." She
and her husband waved goodbye and drove off. The minute the car's back
wheels hit the end of the driveway, she burst into tears.
"Sorrow poured out, the kind of tears a mother cries at the death of a
child," Graves said. Her husband couldn't imagine what could be so
earth-shattering. Finally, he asked, "Are you having an affair?"
She calmed down enough to tell her husband that Kerry was gay and watched
in surprise as he pulled the car into a strip mall parking lot and jumped
out to use a pay phone.
She rolled down the window, listening. She knew one Mormon family who
had tried to "beat sense" into a gay son; another put their son's
belongings on the sidewalk. Some parents stop paying the tuition of gay
Then she heard her husband's words: "Mom told me. I love you
unconditionally. It's okay. We'll figure out together how to have a happy
life." Graves said she'll always love and admire her husband for that.
But her understanding was longer in coming. She barely slept or ate for
weeks, until after that night on the bathroom floor. "Thoughts tumbled over
each other and fragmented in a zillion directions," she said. "I remember
feeling like I had died. Then a passage of Scripture passed through my mind:
`He that believeth in me, though he is dead, yet shall he live.' "
At that moment came, not a voice or a visitation, but what Graves calls
a moment of pure clarity of thought about the need to love and accept
her son. The struggle was not over, but peace came. "The unbearable feeling
was gone," she said. "I could begin to think in an orderly way and figure
out how life was going to be."
She began to read books by physicians, psychiatrists, theologians --
especially those who reinterpreted Biblical passages on homosexuality. She
learned about and got involved in Affirmation -- a gay Mormons support
One night she attended "Pray for Bobby," a musical written by a
fundamentalist Christian mother about her gay son, who at age 16 committed
suicide by leaping in front of an 18-wheeler truck. It was there she
discovered P-Flag, walking up to the mother handing out literature and
saying, "I need to know you, and you need to know me."
Her acceptance of her son has come with a price. Relations with her
mother and some siblings are strained by their urging her to help Kerry
change so that he's not lost in this world and the world to come. Her mother
does not want to lose the family vacations each summer, the holiday
reunions. Those things will be unchanged, she tells Graves, as long as Kerry
keeps what she calls his addictions private.
Graves still struggles to be a good daughter while being a good mother
to her son. She understands her family's devotion to their faith. She
knows they are good people for whom religion brings certainty in a crazy
"Remove any piece of the certainty, and you could lose it all," Graves
said. "If you accept that the church is wrong about gays, you wonder what
else it could be wrong about, and your whole world crumbles."
She understands so well because so much of her world crumbled as she
reevaluated what she calls "received traditions and beliefs." The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formed the basis of her life, her
friendships. It is her heritage, and she remains proud of it.
But she no longer feels comfortable in the church, even as she longs for
the sense of belonging and community she once found there. None of her four
children remains active in the church, but all, she said, still identify
themselves as Mormons. And all "live what we would call the gospel of love
and gospel of service."
Kerry Graves, who manages a store in Manhattan, sat recently with his
mother at her kitchen table, and explained why grown men at Affirmation
meetings cry when they hear the story of his parents' love and acceptance.
"It's like a fairy tale for friends rejected by their families," he said.
This Mother's Day, Lanette Graves will send her own mother a gift and
call her in Utah to remind her of how much she loves her.
Her immediate family will sit down together for a special meal. They will
hold hands around the table and pray together, forming a bond and inviting
God into their lives as a family. She will look at her children, as she
often does, and remember a favorite line from a movie: "God loves infinite
Interfaith Working Group Religious organizations, congregations
email@example.com and clergy supporting gay rights,
http://www.libertynet.org/~iwg/ reproductive freedom, and the
215-235-3050 separation of church and state.
© 1997 Peter Langston