Articles by/for Allies
Mormon Parents of Gays Share Views at Seminar
By Shawn Foster, Salt Lake Tribune
May 4, 1998
Rob Steffensen knew they could not be right about his gay son. "There was such a great difference between who we knew our son to be and what society said he was," Steffensen said.
Mormon parents of gay children gathered in Salt Lake City on Saturday to learn about the roots of sexual orientation, to cope with homophobia and fight for a change in social attitudes about gays and lesbians.
The conference on homosexuality was sponsored by Family Fellowship, a support group for Mormon families with homosexual relatives. It was organized by Gary Watts and his wife, Mildred.
At the Saturday seminar, Carl Braithwaite talked about his gay son's decision to speak about homosexuality to his Mormon congregation in Boston. The Mormon worship service evolved into a mini-lecture series on the importance of acceptance and Christ-like love.
"It turns out that if you're going to give a talk like that," Braithwaite said, "Boston is the place to do it."
Steffensen recounted the learning process of coming to understand a little bit about why his son is gay.
"We know for certain that our son did not choose to be gay," Steffensen said. "It is immutable and unchangeable."
That attitude runs contrary to many other mainstream Mormons' belief that their gay children can be "healed" by a controversial technique called "reparative therapy."
Many of the parents at the Saturday conference shared a different approach to homosexuality: These children are part of our family whether they are gay or straight.
And according to research by Gary Remafedi, a medical doctor and professor at the University of Minnesota, the Family Fellowship members are on the right course.
Remafedi found that as gay teen-agers discover their sexual orientation, they face incredible stress of parental disapproval, verbal and physical abuse and loss of friendship.
"When parents disapprove," Remafedi said, "kids will sometimes turn to the streets for approval."
There they face the dangers of violence, sexually transmitted diseases and drugs. But even more important, gay teenage boys may be seven times more likely than their peers to attempt to kill themselves.
"Almost all the attempts [in the study] came at the time of coming out to oneself and acknowledging that one was gay," Remafedi said.
Braithwaite and his wife Jane attempted to avoid the stigmatization of their son. They have attended gay pride parades in Washington, D.C., have watched their son perform with gay choruses and have struggled for gay rights. But more needs to be done, said Jane Braithwaite.
When the panel's topic turned to advocacy, the discussion centered on the organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
Family Fellowship's sole aim — according to its bylaws — is to promote love and understanding in a Mormon context among its more than 1,000 members.
© Copyright 1998, The Salt Lake Tribune