Finding out my daughter Candice was gay was not something I was prepared for. She was always very feminine, wore make-up, kept her hair long and wore girls’ clothes. She dated boys in high school, so I really had no idea. I grew up a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As a Mormon I was taught that homosexuality was a choice and an abomination. I didn’t know anyone who was gay. I had heard a few rumors of people, but they were only acquaintances, so I had nothing to base my personal beliefs on. But when you discover the person you love the most (your own child) is gay, the game changes.
The day I found out, we were living miles apart; she was going to college at Utah State in Logan and I lived in Texas. We talked on the phone a lot as she seemed to need me more than my other children did. I felt she was having a hard time with something as she was having anxiety and panic attacks. She had been to see a doctor and was on medication. I knew she was suffering but I didn’t know why. One day, during one of our phone conversations, she was upset with a “kid” she was dating. She wasn’t happy, and I just knew. When I asked her if the “kid” was a girl and she sobbed into the phone, I knew her life/our lives would never be the same.
At first, I thought Candice could change. I thought if she found the right boy she could still get married and have a family and a normal life. I was afraid for her and to be honest, selfishly sad and embarrassed for myself. I kept this to myself for a long time, not even telling my husband. I was clueless about all things LGBTQ (I didn’t even know what that acronym stood for). I knew I needed to educate myself, so I began to research. I read “No More Goodbyes” and “Goodbye I Love You” by Carol Lynn Pearson, which is a memoir of her marriage to a gay man who died of AIDS in 1984. I listened to a Mormon Stories interview with William Bradshaw, (former BYU professor and father to a gay son) which was incredible and life saving for this naive Mormon mom. A Ted talk called “The Ally Within” made so much sense to me and really turned my thoughts around, while the books “Unclobbered” by Colby Martin and “A Bigger Table” by John Pavlovitz inspired me greatly. There was so much more I watched and read but what gave me the most courage and strength was finding several LGBTQ affirming Facebook groups to join. Mama Dragons was especially life giving; I found in it my lifeline. Here were (eventually) thousands of mothers who love and celebrate their LGBTQ children AND love the Savior, many of them staying active in their church even when it was so painful at times. These women are some of the most understanding, loving, smart and spiritual women I have ever met. We mourn each other’s pain and celebrate our victories big and small. We give and get advice and serve our LGBTQ community in any way we can. We get together for lunches, activities and march in Pride Parades together. These women get me….they are my Tribe!
I’ve been inspired to wear a rainbow bracelet on my wrist and a Mama Dragons pin on my purse. I speak up in church when I need to, and walk away when I can’t. I try and post LGBTQ affirming thoughts and articles on social media whenever I see things I think need sharing. I was even able to give a very LGBTQ inclusive talk in church which was very well received. I try in small yet important ways to advocate for my child and others like her. There is much positive LGBTQ information to be found online these days, but it is much more difficult in the real world. Sometimes I felt and still feel very much alone, especially at church – the one place where I should feel the most secure. In the beginning of this journey I went to my Bishop for help and advice. He had none. He gave me no advice, no help, and no ideas. While pouring my heart out about how unfair it was that my daughter was born gay and should have the same blessings others have, he proceeded to tell me that pedophiles are also born with a desire for children and they must learn to control those urges and this was no different. I was crushed and left feeling VERY defeated.
Soon after, I was released from my church calling as a Relief Society President (group leader over women) and when I asked my Bishop if it was because of my support and love for my daughter he answered, “Yes”! How do you choose between your child and the church that was woven into every single aspect of your life?
One day while I was shopping I got a text message from Candice that read, “Mom, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to hurt you anymore. I don’t want to hurt anymore.” And she included a long list of pills she had just taken. I was frantic and tried to call her, but she didn’t answer the phone. I panicked. I lived over a thousand miles away while her dad and siblings were over an hour away. I called her ex-girlfriend who was the only person I knew who could possibly get her quickly to the hospital. She survived that horrific experience, but after that I was in constant fear I would lose my precious daughter. Those days were a wake-up call to the reality of life without her.
How do you reconcile a religion you hold close to your heart and a child you hold closer? I chose my child and I did everything I could to let her know her family would always have her back. She remembers the day we talked about her future and how I helped her see that she could still have all the things she had been promised – a wedding and a family. It was that day that gave her hope that she could still have a happy life. She did eventually marry and had 2 incredible children, although her marriage eventually ended. Candice is now a single (and amazing) mom, a high school English teacher, a writer, an artist and has her own Etsy shop. We are closer than ever and she and her children bless my life every day!
It’s interesting in society and church how you can feel like an outcast when your life takes a different path than you had planned, and when your family no longer fits inside a certain preconceived “box”. Those you felt were “your people” start to look at you differently and judge your choices, saying you are “On the wrong path” or “No longer on the Savior’s side”. The truth is, I have never reached out to my Lord more – and I feel closer to my Savior and His love than at any other time in my life. For me, I choose BOTH. I choose God AND I choose my child.