Stories by Parents And Gays In Their Own Words

Ron Chaplin writes:

Dear friends,

I have noticed that chat on pflag-talk [an email list for parents, family and friends of gays and lesbians -ed.] often deals with issues of religion and the Church, sometimes directly, more often by kind of skirting around the issues.

I am one of those unusual creatures, a Queer Christian (a beleagured minority within a beleagured minority, as I often say).

I attend St. John's Anglican Church here in Ottawa (where I have three times spoken from the pulpit on gay-related issues).

One of the features of our parish newsletter, *In Lumine*, is a regular column called "Pathways" in which members of the parish are invited to describe some aspect of their journey in the faith. We have had some terribly poignant columns over the years: one parishioner talked of the years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her (preacher) father. Another spoke of losing an infant due to medical malpractice.

In December, I was asked to contribute. I have posted my column below. It alludes to many things which have been discussed on this list. If you would like any further information or insight into my personal history, please feel free to post or to write.

Ron Chaplin
Ottawa Canada

Article for December issue of In Lumine

Ron Chaplin

I am living with AIDS.

It is a strange experience to find yourself, at age 43, slowly dying day by day. It is a stranger experience yet to have already buried more than a score of your friends, and to watch other friends fall more gravely ill each day.

Yet these are the best days of my life. Never before have my days been so fulfilling. Never before have I been so aware of the love which binds us. Never before have I felt in such close communion with my God.

My faith journey was not an easy one. It was, in fact, tortuous. Many obstacles were put in my way. Many special challenges had to be faced.

I was raised in a loving Christian home. I was very active at Bridge Street United Church in Belleville, Ontario, in the Sunday school and junior choir. At age 17, I found myself serving on the congregation's Board of Session. I had a reputation for being outspoken even then!

But the year of my life I still remember the most vividly was 1974. After years of self-delusion and evasiveness, I "came out", and admitted to myself that I was well and truly homosexual.

And I ranted and I raved and I bounced off the walls. And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I had a complete nervous collapse. I came within a hair's breadth of committing suicide. I simply felt I had no future.

I looked to the Church for guidance. I found none. The Church had taught me that homosexuality was the result of turning your back on God. I felt instead that God had turned his back on me, that He had abandoned me. And the pain of that moment was as intense as any pain I have ever felt in my life.

So I abandoned the Church. But I never, ever abandoned God. I continued my practice of daily prayer and weekly devotions and Bible study. After several years, slowly, tentatively, I returned to the Christian Church.

After much lurking in the back pews of several churches, I made the decision to seek membership at Bloor Street United Church in Toronto. Very early during my stay there, I "outed" myself one evening at a Bible study group.

The very next day the pastor called, asking me to come to see him. After asking me what had drawn me back to the Church, he suggested that he and I work together to improve United Church ministry and outreach to the gay and lesbian community.

It was then I realized that God had answered my prayers, that He had "cured" me. I was still gay. But my spirit was no longer broken.

And I realized that the "cure" had been made manifest in the simple gesture of another believer to reach out and embrace me.

Within two years I found myself serving on the Board of Session. I had been asked, not despite the fact I was gay, but largely because I was the only openly gay member of the congregation. And I was delighted to read several months ago that Bloor Street Church is now officially an "open and affirming" congregation; and that they have been blessing gay and lesbian relationships for several years.

The second most memorable year of my life was 1985, when I came to realize that I had been infected with HIV. Once again, I ranted and raved and bounced off the walls and prayed and prayed for God to "cure" me.

And once again, He has. It has been another tortuous journey. I am thankful that I was led to St. John's Church where the prayers and support of my Christian family empower me and sustain me.

God has led me to a place of serenity. I have reached the point where I "embrace" my disease. It is my constant companion. It is, in many ways, the source of my strength.

So I continue to confront those who, through ignorance or fear, revile us and demean us. I continue to be an advocate for those living with AIDS. I continue to seek, in every forum, simple social justice for the gay and lesbian community.

Because, at every turn, God is my guide and constant companion.

Ron Chaplin

Nancy Lampkin Olsen writes:

In fact, I *Was* Thrilled
by Nancy Lamkin Olson

You know, I don't honestly think anything has changed since I first learned that Christian was gay. But, to be honest, I'm the flake who is convinced I knew he was gay practically from the day he was born, remember?

Since Kurt and I have been going to PFLAG meetings, it has been Christian who has had to rethink the coming out process. He is forever saying that he created a monster between his father and me because we are waaaaaay too far out there for his comfort at times. This can be extremely frustrating for both Kurt and me. Isn't that always the way things work in life? The parents who are okay with it are the ones who have to be semi-muzzled because the child cannot be as out as he'd like to be. Bummer.

But Kurt and I are not just celebrating Christian's orientation. We celebrate every gay person's orientation. When Kurt and I met it was on the "boards" at St. Louis Muny Opera in 1966. I'm not sure I had ever consciously met a gay person before that, although I had a degree in Theatre. Talk about naivete.

But as I was exposed to gay people, I truly fell in love. Theatre people are exceptional anyway, but gay theatre people are in a class by themselves. Kurt and I moved to New York City with a whole gaggle of gay people from Muny Opera and it was a family like no other. We had two older sons who had so many "eccentric" aunts, it wasn't funny. So when Christian was born, he was born into a family of gypsies. Around the age of 2 or 3 our friends tell me now, they knew Christian was gay. How they knew, I don't know. They just did. I won't go into reasons. Suffice it to say some of them were stereotypical and I know that can be a hot button of sorts, so "I won't go there, Loretta."

I firmly believe that it is a blessing to have gay people as friends. In our case, because we came from a theatre background, when Christian ultimately did come out to us, how could we, in good conscience have treated our own son any less than we treated our nearest and dearest friends?

I haven't had a moments regret that Christian is who he is, with a caveat. I hate the fact that he is despised by so many. I hate the fact that he has to look over his shoulder day in and day out because to know him is to love him. I wonder why he is a threat to mainstream America. He works very hard, pays his taxes, has a wonderful loving relationship, is kind to animals, yadda yadda. I know that "gay bashing" is said to be "violence against men who love men by men who fear they love men." But sometimes I wonder if homophobia isn't simply *fear* of men who love men by men who fear they love men, at least to some extent.

Somebody very wise in a FLAGPOLE article once said that when your son or daughter comes out to you, nothing has really changed from when that child first came into your life. Get in touch with the same feelings you had when he or she was born and become a tiger for that child. Kurt and I are tigers. Grrrrrrrr.

Nancy Lampkin Olsen

Background: Rhea Murray's son was driven out of school by an extreme case of harrassment, which local school officials refused to deal with. Her son's story became headline news in a respected newspaper, and the story was put online through that paper's web page. Her story attracted national attention, and she was invited to testify before the U.S. Congress recently about the harrassment her son had suffered in the public schools. She and her husband and son have filed a lawsuit against the local school district for failing to deal responsibly with the problem.

Rhea Murray writes:

Hi All!

I am a mother of a 17 year old gay son. We had to withdraw my son from school due to physical attacks and death threats, after our minister speculated to many in our church and that our then 14 year old son was gay.

My family had an unusual opportunity this week. Though, it involves risk, we decide to take advantage of it. We were approached by the students' school newspaper for an interview. They had seen Bruce's story on the internet. Bruce wanted to go back into that hostile environment and show them that he is no longer a victim.

When he entered the school's hall, I could see the tension in my handsome son's face. I saw that he was fighting back tears as he was flooded by painful memories. I was overwhelmed with pride for my child. He has such courage. Then both Bruce and I were interviewed by the high school staff. The issue will come out today. And, my family is preparing for the possible aftermath. But I wanted to share a thank-you note I received today.

"Dear Bruce and Rhea,

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day for an interview. I learned so many things by talking to you both. I hope you will be pleased with the final article.

I took the stand that both Bruce and Rhea have worked hard for 'equal rights, not special rights.' We plan on doing a follow-up on the harrassment issue. I will be contacting you again, if that would be okay.

Both stories touched my heart and the staff's hearts. You have opened our eyes and our minds. Good luck in your journey.

the editor (who is a high school senior)

I hope that the staff is prepared for the possible fall-out. I admire their courage, too.

I just wanted to share with my friends. It makes the waiting easier. I will keep you posted.


Laura Siegel writes:

My impulse to become involved in PFLAG was a selfish one. I did not join PFLAG to help people.

When my son came out to us, I was going through my own struggle of sexual identity - not if I was gay or straight - but if I was a fully sexually being. "What does it mean to be a woman?" was a question I frequently asked myself. I had spent my whole life armoring my body, not really feeling. What did it mean to be sensual or alive or vital?

So when our son came out, I told him I loved him, that his being gay was fine. Then I felt very emotional because the part of his story that effected me the most was when he said, "Whew, now I can relax my shoulders. Now I can raise my voice an octave." It crushed me to think that he too had distanced from his body, lowered his voice and held himself rigid to be "more like a man."

We were on the same journey, my son and I - to discover our bodies, to discover our sexuality. And my son (and his world) in a sense became my teacher.

On my first few visits to the Castro district in San Francisco, I was both frightened and alive. The people seemed to be dancing in the streets. The men were shirtless and beautiful; the women seemed bold and unafraid. Every establishment from A Different Light Bookstore to the Castro Theater seemed to be pulsating life. I had denied my body much of this excitment and vibrancy - so how was I to take it in now and yet how was I to not take it in.

In a way this has given me tremendous insight and compassion into the religious right. I can sense that rigidity and holding in their bodies and I fully understand the terror and fascination with being human and alive and sexual. Of course, they project their own fears onto another group of people, but then 10 years before our son came out, I probably would have done the same thing.

The first time I went to a PFLAG meeting was 2 years after our son came out. I wouldn't go to a parade much less a meeting - not because of homophobia but because the stimulation was too intense for me. When I finally did march with PFLAG I knew why I couldn't possibly have marched before. There was more love than I could handle, more life, more vibrancy, more joy, more pain - MORE FEELING! So when I went to my first PFLAG meeting, I was ready to shout, "I went to Josie's Juice Joint. I went to the Castro Theater. I had coffee at Cafe Flore. I come to the Castro once a week and it's great!" But everyone seemed so depressed. It's a wonder I ever came back.

Today, I meet many first time PFLAGers who are not afraid to celebrate their child's sexuality - probably because they are not afraid of their own. Some come to help other parents or support gay rights, but I have a feeling that many come like I did - to feel life and love and vitality and passion. And some stay and project that passion of LIFE into helping. It seems a natural progression - to feel one's body, to feel the earth, to project that feeling out into the world.

Laura Siegel

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