Expert Advice: Accepting Congregations
by Suzanne Brockmann
Let me tell you a story. I have a wonderful son named Jason who happens to be gay, and when he was sixteen, he went with some friends to an equal marriage rally in downtown Boston. While he was there, he had an encounter with a stranger — a grown-up with her anti-gay rhetoric cloaked in the self-righteousness of her religion — who looked my sweet, gentle boy in the eye and told him that he was “better off dead.”
When he came home that evening, I could tell that he was shocked and appalled — stunned — by what she’d said. This was his first up-close encounter with this kind of hatred, fear and ignorance, and he was terribly hurt and confused. “She hates me, but she doesn’t even know me,” he said.
I remember hugging him there in the kitchen, and saying, “She’s wrong.” I realized in that moment that I couldn’t protect my baby from the anti-gay ugliness that’s out there in the world. I also realized that my baby wasn’t a baby anymore. Jason was growing up and going places without me, and I couldn’t always be there to shield and protect him.
I understood in a flash that, try as hard as I might to keep my son safe, he was going to get hit with anti-gay messaging telling him that because he’s gay, he’s bad or wrong or somehow broken. That noise is out there. It’s unavoidable. And it’s ugly.
Words can hurt. They can harm and batter and bludgeon. Words have the power to bring deep emotional pain. And when repeated over and over and over, they bring doubt and confusion.
You’re better off dead. (What kind of godawful god would want one of his or her followers to say such a thing to a child? Please think about that!)
That night, in our kitchen was the first time I dropped the f-bomb while in a conversation with Jason. I realized that my kid was being treated by the often-angry world as if he were a man, so I had to treat him the same. I believe the words I used were, “She’s a fucking idiot.” Yeah, I intentionally delivered a little “shock and awe” of my own that day. I still remember that “OMG Mom said a bad word!” look in Jason’s very wide eyes! But my child needed to know the strength and power of my beliefs, and he got the message! By being gay, Jason is not “better off dead.” He is not bad or wrong or broken. He is beautiful and loving and sweet and, yes, “fucking perfect,” to quote Pink. And it’s my job, as his mother, to make sure that he knows — that he really believes — that he is all those things. It’s his best and sometimes only defense against the ongoing barrage of hate.
I remember telling him, “It’s a very good thing I wasn’t there,” and we changed the pain of the moment into humor as we drew word pictures for each other about how I would have given that lady a verbal (and perhaps literal) ass-kicking. But after we finished laughing and even crying a little bit, after we hugged some more and made celebratory midnight pancakes, we talked honestly.
Because I believed (and still believe) in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” I believe that violence is never the answer.
I told Jason that there were plenty of people who had been wrongly taught that being gay was bad or somehow scary, and those people were just confused and that they could and would eventually learn that being gay is just another part of being human.
But there are some people, like that lady at the rally, whose hearts and minds were never going to change. They were too fearful, too angry, too locked in to their ignorance-fueled hate. I told Jason that when he met people like that, the best thing he could do was protect himself. “Don’t expose yourself to their ugly words and ignorant untruths,” I said. “Turn and walk away and go — quickly — to a place of safety.”
By all means, try to educate others. Speak up, speak out! There are many great resources here at this site and at the PFLAG and HRC websites to help you learn how to do this. Some hearts and minds can and will change — I’ve helped it happen, and it’s wonderful. But my bottom line is always this: “I am the proud, loving mother of an out gay son. This is what my family looks like, and just like your family, ours is filled with love and joy, loyalty and support. Love is love and we’re all more alike than we are different!” (Yes!)
But if the answer you constantly, relentlessly receive from your friends and church is No, with a heaping side-dish of “Your child is broken, bad, wrong,” then perhaps it’s time to find new friends and a new church. Because if you’re receiving that message, your kid is hearing it, too, and it’s wearing them down.
There are plenty of churches who welcome LGBTQ members to their congregations, and who will love and accept your child unconditionally, rather than battering them with outdated and ignorant dogma. Google “LGBT friendly churches” in your city or town for more information. And you’ll also find wonderful new friends by joining your local PFLAG chapter, and your state’s equal marriage organization.
Because here’s the deal: Your child is eventually going to learn that lesson I tried to teach Jason that night — to avoid the people and places who batter LGBTQ people with their ugly, hateful words.
It’s your choice to make your home a sanctuary of love and safety, rather than a place to escape.
Suzanne Brockmann is a proud PFLAG mom and the New York Times bestselling author of fifty-five novels. Her favorite is the one where her most popular character, gay FBI agent Jules Cassidy, wins his happily-ever-after and marries the man of his dreams. Called All Through the Night, this was the first mainstream romance novel with a hero and a hero ever to hit the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list, and in 2007, Suz donated all of her earnings from this book, in perpetuity, to MassEquality, to help win and preserve equal marriage rights in Massachusetts. Known for her hunky Navy SEAL heroes, Suz is also the author of When Tony met Adam, a romantic e-novella published in celebration of the repeal of DADT. Suz is also the co-writer/producer of The Perfect Wedding, a sweet gay romantic comedy movie, currently available on DVD or via streaming from Netflix.