We Must Do Better
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
By Rissa Koenig
I had a distinct feeling that my son might be gay when he was very young, four or five. It wasn’t one big thing, but many small things–choices he made, his sensitivity, his choice of friends, the games he played. He is my third child of four, and is my second son of three.
As he grew up, the thought that he was gay was always in the back of my mind. I tried to push it away and involve him in sports and “boy” things, but still, he was who he was. I worried about him in junior high. He was shy and sensitive and seemed to struggle finding himself. His best friends were girls, and they carried each other through those tough years. I kept my thoughts about his sexual orientation to myself and didn’t want to admit that I might be right. Every time he was asked out on a date, or acted like he might be interested in one of his beautiful girl “friends,” I was hopeful that my feeling that he was gay was wrong.
We raised our family very strictly in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As it came time for him to serve a mission, he became more anxious. He knew he was expected to serve the Lord for two years. Even more pressure was put on him, because his older brother didn’t go, and he didn’t want to disappoint his family. After months of therapy, he finally came to us and let us know that he didn’t feel a mission was right for him. I admit, I took it hard but accepted his decision. As he moved out and started college, it became more and more apparent that he was sad and depressed. He spent a lot of time on his own and was more emotional. I would talk to him, and try to get him to open up, maybe even tell me he was gay, but he didn’t. He wasn’t ready.
When he was about 20, I started to see the sadness fade, and saw that he was happier. I was so relieved. All I ever want for all of my kids is for them to be happy. Just before his 21st birthday, he called me, and said, “Mom, I need to tell you something”. I said, “Son, you can tell me anything.” He said, “I’m gay.” I said, “OK….you know I love you—no matter what, right?” He said that he knew that. I asked him if he was seeing anyone. He asked me if I remembered the boy he introduced me to a while ago. I said I did, and he went on to explain that they had been dating for a while. I asked him if he was happy. He said yes, more happy than he had been for years. I told him that is all that matters. Everything else will work itself out.
Since then, my grief has not been because my son is gay, my grief comes from the years he was taught that he was broken and that he wasn’t worthy. These thoughts haunt me daily. I should have known better—I knew he had these tendencies, so why didn’t I protect him better? I have apologized to him many times about putting the teachings of a church over who he really was, potentially putting his life in danger. It breaks my heart that I allowed anyone to make him feel that he was less than perfect.
It has been 10 years since that phone call. Much has changed since then. Never again will I allow someone or something tell me to treat any human being with anything but love, dignity, and equality. My son and I are closer than we ever have been. He is happy and thriving in a beautiful relationship with a wonderful man, who I love. My relationship with a church I loved has changed. I still love many parts of its teachings but cannot accept the way it treats the LGBTQ+ community with inequality. Sadly, I have had to distance myself from weekly attendance, because I don’t hear things in the same way my friends and family do. I love my son first. I follow Jesus’s example by loving ALL of God’s children. I feel extremely blessed to be the mother of a gay child. My faith and spirituality have grown in ways it never could have without this experience.
I had it wrong THE WHOLE TIME. People in the LGBTQ+ community aren’t wrong, or broken. WE as a culture and a society are wrong and broken in not seeing that they are PERFECT and exactly how God intended for them to be. In the words of Elder M. Russell Ballard, “We must do better.”