Updated: Jul 23
By Kelli Gubler George
My husband and I met at church as students at BYU. We are the parents of 3 sons and 1 daughter. They are our world. When I was pregnant with my second son, I had a distinct thought that this child would have some struggles in this life. I didn’t know what that meant exactly, as I had always been told that each child comes with their own personality and traits. Dustin was born with no specific health issues, and seemed just as bright as our first son, although there were some differences. Even as a young baby, sometimes only I could settle him down when he was upset, and he was more sensitive than his older brother. Eventually his younger brother and younger sister joined our family. My husband and I are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and raised our children in this same religion.
When Dustin was 7 years old, his paternal grandpa passed away from cancer, and so my husband and I, along with his mom, built a home together, so she wouldn’t have to live alone. We moved to a new development, so all of the houses and families were new to our church congregation, with many being very young families. There were a handful of families that had kids that were at least the same age as Dustin and his older brother, but most families were just starting out. That presented some challenges with teachers and leaders who weren’t sure how to handle elementary age boys who turned into emotional teenagers. Luckily, my husband was involved in their young men’s activities for part of the time.
My mother-in-law had many health issues, so the six years she lived with us consisted of me trying my best to raise my kids, work part-time, be involved in their sports and school activities, and taking care of my mother-in-law. Later on, due to some financial issues, I went back to work full-time after my mother-in-law passed. Looking back now, I wish I would have been even more observant of the things that were going on in my kids’ lives. I learned Dustin was bullied at school, and sometimes at church. He tried so hard to fit in and be liked. Thankfully, some kids, teachers, and leaders, to their credit, loved him, though others, unfortunately, were unkind or did things to exclude him. I have felt a lot of guilt for not doing more to help him. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel he could share this with me at the time, or feared the kids doing this would treat him even worse if this was discussed with them.
I am not sure when Dustin really recognized that he was gay. He went to dances with girls when he was in high school, did very well academically, and enrolled in BYU when he graduated. He was doing everything he was taught to do in the church, including serving a mission. I later found out he was bullied by some of the other missionaries. Fortunately, when his mission president and his wife found out about one incident, this missionary was reprimanded. When Dustin told me about it later, the Mama Bear instinct was fully lit, and I hope to this day I never meet the person who did so much damage to my son.
After his mission, Dustin went through a lot of depression and struggled with school at BYU. My husband lost his job of 23 years and was also struggling. Dustin finally came out to me during this time, but was trying to find his true self, and was only sharing this with a few people. I honored this and kept this to myself for the most part. Besides immediate family, some extended family and my best friend knew, as she is like another mother to my kids. However, I didn’t feel like I could speak up in church, at work, or other settings for fear of “outing” my son. It was a very lonely time. It still is sometimes.
When I started working full time, some people in my church congregation made unkind comments. Looking back now, I shouldn’t have cared. However, there were a lot of traditional ideas in my congregation, so this is when I began to feel like I really didn’t fit in. Now that I had a gay son, who they all knew, since he grew up there, it was even harder. Dustin has since left the church, moved to New York, and is currently getting his masters at NYU. My husband and I support him in his decision, since this was the best thing for him mentally, emotionally, and physically. We love him and want what is best for him, and his experiences in the church have been extremely difficult for him to go through.
As for me, I have a strong testimony of the gospel, and in all honesty, my relationship with my Savior is what has helped, and continues to help, me through this experience. I can turn to Him and cry, share my feelings, seek for strength, and know that He cares and is there for me. It was hard going to church during that time, more due to my own insecurities. However, I went because I knew it was something I needed in my life. My husband was called to serve in a young single adult congregation three years ago, which was greatly needed for me. To be around a group of vibrant young adults who shared their thoughts and concerns so openly has been such a breath of fresh air. During this time, Dustin came out publicly so I have shared comments about my experiences with them. Some have thanked me for doing so. I am nervous to go back to my home church congregation, even though with time so many are more open minded regarding the LGBTQ community, which is promising.
Although I don’t understand everything regarding the doctrines of the church, I choose to stay, as I now have more of a voice to help educate others of how the Savior truly loves all of His children. No exceptions. We especially need to be there for the marginalized. They need us more than ever.
It has been less than 7 months since I came upon Mama Dragons and other parent support groups. It has been so nice to know I am not alone in this journey. I am learning to be more trusting of those around me, and to share thoughts and feelings. This is liberating. I am proud to be a Mama Dragon, for Dustin, who is excelling in school and is more true to himself. I am also there for my other two sons, their wives, my new granddaughter and future grandchildren, and my daughter and her fiancé. Like I said earlier, my family means the world to my husband and me. Hopefully we can make the world a little bit kinder by our actions.