Tag Archives: Straight Allies

Fortunate Families: “A Mom Comes Out”

We usually think of the sexual closet and “coming out” as applying to lesbians and gay men, but there are many others dealing with the same issues – especially our parents. “Voices for Justice“, the magazine of Fortunate Families (a group of Catholic parents who have LGBT children) has printed numerous stories of people who have found themselves in closets of their own when their sons or daughters came out, terrified at the anticipated response of friends in their Catholic parishes to the news that they had raised people that would now be regarded (they feared) as unabashed and obvious sinners).

The current issue of Voices for Justice has one more of these. In common with so many others, it carries many useful lessons for parents of gay, lesbian or trans people, but these are also applicable to those of us who are ourselves in that LGBT community:

  • Coming out is challenging, but ultimately rewarding
  • Coming out is a process, not an event
  • The reaction from friends and co-parishioners is usually warmer and more supportive than we expect
  • Where priests or others have made offensive remarks, they can learn from our honest and frank responses.

Here is the full report by Porter Ballard, in Fortunate Families’ Voices for Justice, Feb / March 2014 (reproduced with permission):

fortunate_families2Our son, Kieran, was a freshman at  Rutgers University 12 years ago when he came out to our family. It was a shock to me, but not to my husband or Kieran’s older brother. Kieran’s disclosure did not cause us to love him any less; if anything, his courage and honesty made us love him even more.

However, I felt I had a big secret to  keep. My husband and I were founding parishioners and were active in several ministries. After Kieran came out, I started investigating the Church’s official position on homosexuality. The more I read of  intolerant and uncharitable policies, the more ashamed I felt of my church. It has been said that when a child comes out of the closet, the parents go IN, and this is what happened to me, most especially and particularly at church.

Thoughtless remarks of other people wounded me greatly. I was afraid to speak out because every time I talked about Kieran and Catholicism, I cried. The lowest moment was during a talk on Bible history, when a priest cited the book of Leviticus as proof that homosexuality was an abomination. I cried myself to sleep that night. During this period I was so hurt and angry about the thoughtless remarks and the “official” position of the Catholic Church, I seriously considered leaving the church for good.

My own “coming out” was a long process. First, I learned of a support group for LGBT Catholics and their families at nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in South Plainfield, NJ, and I began attending monthly meetings. These meetings became opportunities to share stories and to pray with Catholic gay people and their parents. When our group, now named “In God’s Image,” staffed a booth at the New Jersey Pride Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, I enjoyed handing out pamphlets to people surprised to see Roman Catholicism represented at the event. The other group members teased me because I was the one calling out to passers-by, “Yes, we’re the real Catholic Church!” In God’s Image also ran a parish fundraiser which enabled us to make a donation to the Ali Forney Shelter for LGBT youth in New York City.

I was asked to make a short presentation about our group after Mass in our hosting parish. I talked about the hurtful remarks and reiterated that my child, like every child God created, had a place in God’s heart and at the Lord’s table. As I talked, much of the hurt and anger I felt at the Church began to fall away. After Mass, many people came up to hug me and thank me for speaking. Speaking publicly was a big step out of my closet!

I also learned about Fortunate Families and began reading the newsletters. It was heartening to read how many Catholic parents of LGBT adult children were actively engaged in creating Catholic communities which welcomed their children. After hearing Mary and Joe Byers speak of their experiences reaching out to LGBT Catholics, and reading “I Wear a Rainbow Because” in the FF newsletter, I began to wear the rainbow pin every Saturday night when I served as a Eucharistic Minister.

Later on, I heard Deb Word, current President of Fortunate Families, speak about her experiences helping homeless gay teens. Deb said something that really caught my attention. She  challenged parents to speak up when priests or bishops say or do something hurtful. Be respectful, she said, but be firm and informative about how and why you were hurt.

Not long afterward, I decided to take Deb’s advice and speak to my own pastor about the hurt I felt when he appealed from the altar for parishioners to sign petitions against New Jersey marriage equality. My pastor was distressed by the depth of my reaction to what, for him, had been merely an act of obedience to the bishop. He asked me if he could give my name to other parents of gay children, should they need support.

Recently Central NJ PFLAG asked me to speak about my experiences as the Catholic Mom of a gay son. That experience caused me to look back over the past few years and see how far I’d come in twelve years. I’m so grateful I’m no longer in the closet!

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The Miracle that Created a Southern Baptist Straight Ally

If the coming out process can be difficult, and coming out in church even more so, those difficulties can be even more so deeply religious parents of lesbian or gay people.  Lance Bass was raised in Mississippi by a committed Southern Baptist family – not the easiest environment for any religious family to discover that their son is gay – and very publicly so, on the cover of tabloid magazines. At Huffington Post, Lance Bass describes what happened after he came out, how his mother prayed for a miracle – and how the miracle granted was not the one she expected.

Lance Bass
Lance Bass

The bulk of the post is in his mom’s own words, the text of a speech she delivered to a local church congregation. These are the central paragraphs of that speech  (read the full text at Huffington Post Gay Voices).

The First Thing My Mom Did When She Learned I Was Gay… and the ‘Miracle’ That Occurred After

Seven years ago, we found out that Lance is gay. We were totally blindsided and devastated because never in a million years would we have guessed it. Also, because it was such a public thing, the situation was so much worse on the family. I do not want to go into the personal details of that revelation, but I will tell you that the first thing I did was fall to my knees and ask, “What would Jesus do?” I almost immediately knew the answer… love my son. And that is what I have done. Never once did I ever think about turning my back on him. Never once was I ashamed or embarrassed. My feelings were more of sadness and just sheer disappointment in life.

If you believe that being gay is a choice, then the rest of what I say will not matter. I do not know why, but even as a staunch Christian, I personally never believed that being gay was a choice. I never knew a lot of gay people, but the ones I did meet I felt compassion for because I could feel their pain of being rejected and my heart always went out to them. Even though I never did believe Lance chose to be gay, I did not accept it as quickly as my husband did. His attitude was “It is what it is.” My attitude was “Yes, it is what it is but my God can perform miracles so I’m going to beg for a miracle to zap Lance and change him to straight!” And I did just that. I continued to love my son, stand beside him, and defend him, but for several years I continued to pray relentlessly for a miracle.

Well, Lance is still gay. However, I did get a miracle. It is just not the miracle I prayed for. You are looking at the miracle tonight. The miracle is that I learned to have unconditional love and compassion for my son and others in the gay community. I haven’t marched in parades or spoken at conventions, but I do feel that God has led me to speak out concerning the church’s role. My son is a Christian and wants to be able to worship, but he does not feel that the church cares about him and has pretty much disowned him as a fellow believer. There is something terribly wrong with that and I have to speak up on behalf of my son and others who find themselves in the same situation. When I was a little girl, I went to a celebration with my grandparents on the courthouse lawn in Laurel. I was thirsty and ran to drink some water from one of the water fountains. My grandmother screamed at me to stop. When I looked at the fountain it had the word “Colored” on it and she told me I had to drink out of another one. I was only 6 years old but I knew something was just not right about that. Just as my heart told me something was wrong that day on the courthouse lawn, my heart is telling me that something is wrong with the way the church treats those who are gay.

I could tell you many stories that gay young people have told me about how so-called Christian people have treated them but I will only share one. One of the young men told me that he was searching for God and visited a large church one Easter Sunday. He was enjoying the beautiful service and feeling so drawn to what he was experiencing.

Everyone was standing singing a hymn and when he sat down there was a note in his chair. It said, “You know you are going to hell.” He told me that he never went to church again. I don’t blame him, but to my knowledge, he has not accepted Christ and is lost.

via Huffington Post –  Lance Bass.

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Fr. James Martin Honors Passing of PFLAG Founder Jeanne Manford

In a Facebook post, Jesuit Fr. James Martin recently commemorated the passing of Jeanne Manford, the founder of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Accompanying a photo of the founder, Fr. James posted a reflection worth sharing about the positive impact that PFLAG has had which began because of the unconditional love Manford had for her gay son, Morty.

Jeanne Manford

In part, Fr. Martin stated:

“For she loved prophetically. That is, she publicly expressed her love for a group of marginalized people before it was safe to do so. That kind of love might remind you of another person who worked in and around Galilee, publicly loving all sorts of people–lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, Roman centurions–when it was not safe to do so, at all…

“There is a lot of talk about gays and lesbians these days. But in every thing we say and do, particularly for Christians, love must come first. And not the love that condemns first, or judges first, or labels first. But the love that loves first. Because God is love.”

Metro Weekly offered some details about Manford’s personal story, and how PFLAG originated:

“Hailed as one of the LGBT-rights movement’s first straight allies, Manford founded PFLAG after her son, Morty Manford, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, was among those patrons at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village when a police raid sparked the 1969 Stonewall riots. When Morty Manford was beaten during a Gay Activists Alliance demonstration in April 1972 and police failed to intervene, Jeanne Manford wrote a letter to the New York Post standing by her son.

“‘I have a homosexual son, and I love him,’ her letter read.”

From that moment, she began marching alongside her son, and in ensuing years, PFLAG grew to have over 350 chapters and 200,000 members in the U.S.

Catholic parents continue to be some of the best advocates for their LGBT sons and daughters.   Through their prayers, advocacy, and, most importantly, their example, they are teaching the Catholic church how to unconditionally accept LGBT people.  Their natural love for their children mirrors the love that God has for all people. Organizations like Fortunate Families support Catholic parents who have LGBT sons and daughters.

New Ways Ministry echoes Fr. James’ closing words of the reflection:

“May Jeanne Manford rest in peace, and may we always love prophetically, recklessly, prodigally, dangerously, eternally.”

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

via  « Bondings 2.0.