This Story Is in Honor of National Grandparents Day & LBGT Rights
In 1988 at the height of the AIDs epidemic and near-hysterical homophobia, my Aunt Barbara – who’d once been married to a Paul Newman lookalike — came out as gay.
The news hit my grandma Ellen (who we just called Gram) hard. She was a 78-year old devoutly Christian woman born and raised on a farm in the Bible Belt by Czech immigrants.
But the way she processed this information, quite possibly saved her daughter’s life and, by extension, the communal life of our family.
In a letter to her anti-gay church pastor my grandma wrote:
“I have two daughters. My younger daughter is Lesbian. As with most parents, I found this extremely difficult to accept. Denial was my middle name. I understand people who are homophobic because I was there – I was wrong.
“When homosexuality presents itself into your home, especially into your heart, it takes on a whole new meaning.
“About three years ago my daughter told me, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’
“I remember saying, “Oh, Barbara, I can understand friendships, even strong friendships with women, but beyond that I cannot go. It’s as though you tell me, I have this little red hen, she is so much company for me, I would miss her terribly if anything happened to her – and she is also my lover. Barbara, it’s that foreign to me.’
“We reached an impasse, the love never wavered, but the impasse was always there.
“To complicate it for me, quite a few years ago I had gone into an in-depth study of the Bible, which became a source of great strength and comfort as I dealt with my husband’s six-year battle with cancer.
“I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality. I Cor. 6:9-10 places homosexuals among idolaters, adulterers, thieves and slanderers. These will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
“So we continued with our impasse. I had no idea what a battle (Barbara) was waging. I was not aware that she had contemplated suicide more than once. She kept this from me.
“She called me one evening and she was crying (Barbara seldom cried or complained). She said something that reached deep inside me.
“She said, ‘Mom, I feel so abandoned.’
“I thought about what abandonment means in the life of a homosexual: abandoned by family, the workplace, society, the church. I put myself in their place and felt a brick wall.
“After this I knew it was imperative for me to do something for her, for myself, for the whole family.
“I called a Christian counselor and went to her professionally. At our first meeting, like the good counselor she is, she let me talk.
“I spoke not only of Barbara, but also how to reconcile all of this with my faith. At the end of the hour, she walked to her bookshelves, took down a book called, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? – Another Christian View and loaned it to me.
“I took an entire week to read and summarize it. When I finished, a question came forcefully to my mind:
“Is this Barbara’s problem? Or is it mine?
“I am reading much about the research on homosexuality. I don’t see how anyone can close his or her mind to these findings. Studies link the brain to sexual orientation. I have come to believe that homosexuality is not a choice.
“I hear of the tremendous oppositions and even dangers to Gays and Lesbians, I want to say: Learn about this, know the facts, be compassionate, it so easily could be your child.”
My grandmother had hoped the letter might soften her church’s stance on homosexuality, but it fell upon deaf ears.
One Sunday after church, she received a hate note on the windshield of her car saying “her kind” was not wanted in the parish.
We received our own letter from Gram shortly thereafter:
“My faith has not wavered, but I am searching for a place of worship that is more open and understanding and where not only I, but my entire family would feel comfortable.”
My grandmother left her church of 40 years to join the Unity Church and happily attended my Aunt Barbara’s wedding to her wife Suzanne many years hence.
Ellen Allred, the beautiful, soulful matriarch of two daughters, one daughter-in-law, one grand-daughter and two great-granddaughters passed away on September 24th, 2012, nine months shy of her 100th birthday. Happy National Grandparents Day my sweet, loving angel. xo S
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