Mormon Parents of Gay Children Speak Out On Their Behalf (Beaut
BY TRUDY RING JUNE 21 2013 9:11 PM ET
A short documentary premiering this weekend at Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBT filmfest, chronicles a Mormon couple’s journey from campaigning for Proposition 8 to accepting and supporting their gay son.
Californians Wendy and Tom Montgomery say they didn’t know their son Jordan, now 14, was gay when they were working for Prop. 8’s passage in 2008. When Jordan came out to them, they found out he had considered suicide because he feared being gay would mean he’d be cut off from his family for eternity.
“To be honest, before my son came out, I didn’t know any other families who had gay kids,” Wendy Montgomery told ABCNews.com. “It’s one of the things that’s not talked about in my church, which makes it so much harder to deal with and know who to go to for help.”
She eventually found help from the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, which produced the documentary about the Montgomerys, Families Are Forever. “It felt like a ray of sunshine in the middle of the darkest period of my life,” she said of the Family Acceptance Project. “It gave me hope.”
She added, “I am a better person for having a gay son. I love differently, and I love more openly. I didn’t realize the judgment I had before I realized that having a gay son was a great blessing and not a burden.”
Gary and Mille Watts were featured in the KUED-TV documentary, “Friends & Neighbors: A Community Divided,” a program that goes beyond the headlines to tell the moving stories of families and friends who struggle with issues surrounding homosexuality. Following is the full transcript of their interview.
Dr. Gary and Millie Watts Interview
Dr. Gary (M.D.) and Millie Watts are the current leaders of Family Fellowship, a support group for families with gay children.
Q: Okay. Let’s start off by talking about Family Fellowship. Tell me a little bit about why it was founded and why there’s a need for it. Gary?
Mr. Watts: Well, I think it was founded in 1993; we were not at the initial meeting. I think there were six people, as I understand, that met together and felt like there was a need for this organization. In fact, I think those six people decided to form a conference on homosexuality, which was held up at the University of Utah in April of 1993.
Millie and I had been dealing with this issue in our family for, I guess, about four years by then. And we got an invitation to come to the conference, and we attended it, along with about 400 people that attended that first conference. And we went with some hesitation, because we weren’t totally out and were still not sure where we stood on the issue. And we were very impressed with the conference. We met a lot of great people that were there. And out of that conference, we met several of the parents that had founded Family Fellowship and affiliated with them and have been fairly significant in that fellowship ever since.
Q: Millie, what’s the purpose of Family Fellowship?
Mrs. Watts: Well, it’s basically a support group. The purpose of Family Fellowship is mainly a support group for parents and families who have gay children. And it works like any other support group, I think, the camaraderie and being able to share your experiences. Education is one of our major goals and just to try to get the parents and siblings to love their gay child and keep their gay child under their wing, not kick them out of the house, like happens so many times with gay children.
Q: Isn’t a major component of this the Mormon faith?
Mrs. Watts: It is made up mainly of Mormon families. We have people of other faiths who are welcome to come, but we feel like the Mormon background, the Mormon culture, we have situations and problems that are maybe a little different from the rest of the people in the world, the rest of society, things that are a little harder for us to deal with. And there’s just camaraderie there.
I think a lot of us have felt through the years that we were the only Mormons, the only LDS parents who had gay children, we had nobody that we felt like we could really talk to. And so when we found these other parents, it was just like an instant bonding for us and common ground and thinking along the same lines, which was good for us.
Mr. Watts: You might be interested to know that since we joined with Family Fellowship in 1993 that it was a very small group of closely-knit parents, if you will, and over the last six years, that number has grown to over 1,300 families now that are on our mailing list through Family Fellowship. And almost all those families have contacted us and requested information on discovering the fact they have gay children or maybe a close gay friend or something, and they want to know something about it. And so they’ve contacted us and our mailing list has just grown exponentially from year to year.
Q: Millie mentioned that Mormon families may have a more difficult time. She used the word “harder.” Can you explain that to me? Why would a Mormon family with a gay child have more difficult issues to deal with?
Mr. Watts: I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the Mormon people have any greater difficulty. I think the Mormon Church, traditionally, has viewed homosexuality, and particularly homosexual behavior as immoral, and they’ve taken a fairly strong stance on that. And as parents, when you discover you have a gay child, you’ve been taught all your life that homosexual behavior is immoral and doesn’t square with church doctrine. And so, suddenly, you have this incongruity between your own personal experience and what you’ve been taught by the church.
And when I talk about an incongruity, that was certainly our case, because we certainly didn’t, in any way, think of our children as being perverted or unusual or sinners or immoral people. In fact, our gay children, we consider to be highly moral people. And so when I talk about the incongruity, I’m talking about the incongruity of the reality of our lives and the experience with our own gay children and what we’ve been taught by the church. And so that’s a difference that has to somehow be reconciled, and it’s a difficult one. It’s a difficult bridge for people to gap.
Q: That’s okay.
Mr. Watts: Yeah. A difficult chasm that has to be crossed. And some people are able to do it and some are not.
Q: Let’s talk about your kids. Tell me a little bit about your family and specifically about Lori and Craig.
Mrs. Watts: We have six children. Our oldest child is Nancy. Craig is our second child and our first son, and he is now 33. And then we have two more daughters, Becky and Wendy, in between Craig and Lori. And Lori is 25. And then we have a younger son Brian. Did I get six?
Mr Watts: I think you got all six.
Mrs. Watts: I just think we had a wonderful family life. We enjoyed our children. We loved our children. I think our family was very close. And Craig, being one of the oldest, was the one that the children particularly looked up to. He was a good student, you know, honor student, student body president, just your all-around good kid. And, of course, all our kids are that way. And then Lori has just always been a sweetheart, just a good friend to her friends and a good student, honor student again. And just kind, wonderful people.
Q: Tell me about when you were told that they were homosexual.
Mr. Watts: Well, Craig came out to us near Christmas time in 1989. I remember it very vividly. He spoke with me first. And, in fact, I remember it was in the next room, right in our family room. And he came to me and he says, “Dad,” he says, “there’s something we need to talk about.” And it happened that my mother was visiting from Logan and there was quite a bit going on in the house. And I said, “Fine.” And so we sat down to talk. And he started out by saying, he says, “Dad, I’m gay.”
And I couldn’t have been more surprised. In fact, I was incredulous. I had never even thought for a moment about that as a possibility. And I said to him, I said, “Well, are you sure?” Or, “How gay are you?” You know? I guess I knew enough about homosexuality to recognize that there’s a spectrum of homosexual feelings and I think I immediately recognized that this would have some significant impact on our lives and on his life and wondered what that meant for sure. But I didn’t ever have any real negative feelings about Craig as a person.
Part of my reaction to Craig’s coming out, I think, was maybe tempered by my own respect for him as an individual. As Mildred had mentioned, he was really an outstanding person. And I honestly don’t know of another person that I respected more in my life than Craig. As we’ve grown up, I’ve learned so much from him. And I’ve told people previously that, you know, you hear fathers say that, or you hear sons say that they learned a lot from their fathers. Well, I felt like my situation was a little different. I felt like that, as a father, I learned a great deal from Craig. And I had immense respect for him.
And so when he said he was gay, in no way did it imply anything negative about him as a person, because I knew him intrinsically as a good person and I knew him as a man of integrity. And so I accepted it immediately and thought, Well, what does all this mean? And then it was a matter of probably going from there and just working through the discovery, the understanding, and then trying to learn all you could about homosexuality so that you could deal with it in your life in an appropriate and kind, humane, sensitive manner, which is the course we chose.
Q: You had mentioned to me at some point that, in your own mind, you had kind of had his life mapped out.
Mr. Watts: Uh-huh.
Q: You mentioned about him being the student body president and then going on a mission and having girlfriends and, in particular, I guess, a specific girlfriend. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how that altered?
Mr. Watts: Yeah. I think parents always, you know, you think about what are your children going to do. And I saw Craig as being an outstanding person who had unlimited potential. And we saw him marrying and fathering some of our grandchildren. In fact, he had a girlfriend. He had a couple of girlfriends. But he had one girlfriend that I was particularly impressed with, and I anticipated that they would marry. And when he talked with me about his homosexuality, he indicated to me that he had already spoken with her and that that was not going to happen, that he didn’t feel like that it would be right for him to pursue that relationship any more.
And I think every gay person must go through that, you know? Here they’ve got this perfect camouflage, if you will, people maybe don’t know they’re gay and it’s very tempting for gay people to maybe pursue a relationship and marry and do the thing that’s expected of them. And I guess that’s another reason, another thing that increased my own respect for Craig, that he was able to recognize that that would not be an appropriate course for him to pursue. And so these dreams that you have, suddenly, you have to sort of reconsider. “Well, what does all this mean and how is this going to impact us as a family and impact his life?” And you know that things are going to change.
Mrs. Watts: Well, and I think, you know, they’re dreams of our children too. I mean, they’re taught at a very early age, “You’re going to grow up. You’re going to marry,” and you encouraged the little girlfriend and boyfriend situations when they’re small. And they’re taught, you know, particularly in our church, that there’s a road map for them. They’re going to grow up, they’re going to go on a mission, they’ll come home, they’ll marry, they’ll have children. And so it’s a dream for them too. And so I think it’s very difficult for them when they realize that this is not what’s going to happen to them. And I have felt really sorry that we didn’t somehow let our children know that there was a different way of living, and that maybe some of them would have to adjust, that it wasn’t all, You grow up and live happily ever after.
And I also feel badly that Craig in particular, because he was older when he told us that he was gay, that he hadn’t felt like he could come and talk to us about it. When he was in high school, he said that he was having feelings and and beginning to wonder and felt like he was different from his friends. They’d be talking about, you know, the girls in the locker room at school and making out with girls and things. And to him, you know, he just had a hard time relating to that. And I guess, you know, we’ve always felt like we were a close family, but he did not feel like he could come and talk to us about it. And I feel badly that we didn’t have that situation where we could have. And, you know, as I think about it, I might not have been very open to talking to him about it. Somehow I thought gay people were people that are chosen, that the people that you see in the gay pride parades and things like that, and, golly, our children were not like that at all.
Q: How about Lori?
Mr. Watts: Lori’s coming-out process was difficult and different in the sense that when Craig came out, and particularly when we affiliated with Family Fellowship and became quite public about being parents of a gay son, we were known as parents of a gay son. And then Lori was experiencing some of the same kinds of processes and trying to work through her feelings. And it was a little different, because we’d been through it before.
And, yet, at the same time, I think it was difficult for Lori to talk with us because I think she recognized immediately that there might be some indication that there’s some family pathology here, that maybe we’re too gay-friendly or something, and this has given her license now to choose this lifestyle, that maybe if we hadn’t shown support that maybe she would stay straight, so to speak, and follow the heterosexual norm. And it was a little awkward for us, because we might be involved in an interview or something and people say, “Well, now, you’re the parents of a gay son.” Well, suddenly now you have a lesbian daughter and how do you introduce that into the equation? And you say, “Well, not only do we have a gay son but we just have a daughter that’s come out also as a lesbian.” And so there are quite a few differences.
I remember very distinctly the night Lori spoke with me, particularly about her same-sex feelings. We talked till about 3:00 in the morning that night. And the advice I gave to her at that time, I think, was good advice. I think I would give it to any person that came to me that was expressing same-sex feelings, because she had developed some romantic interest in a friend at school and wasn’t sure what it meant and what to do.
And I said to her, I said, “Look, if you’re feeling the feelings, you ought to talk with her and see if they’re reciprocated and see if there’s a mutual kind of affection. And it was shortly after that had taken place that she found a relationship that she was very comfortable with and went from there. People might say, “Well, you shouldn’t encourage your daughter to be pursuing that kind of an interest,” but I have this strong belief that homosexuality is largely biologic, that people come that way. I certainly don’t see it as something people choose to do. It seems nonsensical to me that people would suggest that people in our society would choose to be gay. It makes no sense. And I think research certainly has shown us that these same-sex feelings are discovered very early or at least are exhibited very early in life. And most researchers will say that your sexual orientation is set by no later than four years of age. And I believe that. And so I think this is the way people are. And I think for us to try to change them or try to have them mask their feelings or try to be something they’re not is an inappropriate response.
Mrs. Watts: I think for me with Lori it was a little bit different. You know, after Craig came out to us, we started meeting a lot of gay people and having gay people in our homes. And I think Gary and I suspected that Lori was probably a lesbian before she really came to terms with it, just because we could kind of see certain characteristics and things. And so when Lori told us that she was gay, it was not so much of a shock. With Craig, it was a total shock. With Lori, it was kind of like, You’ve found yourself, you know?
Q: It’s interesting. It’s very interesting. You talk about choice and your feelings about biology and things. But we just took a look at that Dallin Oakes…
Mr. Watts: Uh-huh.
Q: …article. And I’ve read the stand, or the little statement that Hinckley, Pres. Hinckley made this last October. The church has stated time and again that they feel like homosexual behavior is immoral. How do you temper your belief in God and your church with your children being gay and not being accepted by the church?
Mr. Watts: That’s a tough question. I think everybody sort of goes through their own mindset or their own rational reasoning process in order to come to some conclusions about what is moral and what is immoral. It hasn’t ever really made any sense to me to suggest that gay people have no capacity to be moral in their relationships, which is really the position that you take when you say that gay people cannot have a moral sexual relationship. That makes no sense to me.
I don’t know how morality is judged, but the way I look on morality is the way people treat one another in their relationships. And it seems to me that if heterosexual people have a capacity to be moral in their relationships, why can’t we apply the same standard to gay and lesbian people? It seems to me that both have a capacity to be moral or immoral. And to denote or to set aside a group of people, a significant group of people, percentage of our population and say to that segment of the population, “You cannot have a moral relationship in your lifetime,” seems inherently unfair to me. And it seems like there’s a double standard that isn’t correct.
Obviously, if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, then that’s the genesis of where this comes from. But that’s a big leap for me. I mean, we see homosexual behavior in virtually every mammalian species that’s been studied in the world that, to me, is a big argument that this is largely biologic, that it isn’t something that people choose, it’s the way people come. And then to arbitrarily suggest that that particular group of people can’t be moral in their relationships just doesn’t compute with me personally. I think that they have the same capacity to be moral in their relationships as heterosexual people do. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that gay people are all moral.
Obviously, we have great examples of immorality in the homosexual culture as we do in the heterosexual culture. But to suggest that one group has a greater capacity for morality than the other seems the antithesis to me of what Christian people ought to be doing. We ought to be less judgmental and more tolerant and give people the opportunity to decide for themselves what’s moral and what’s immoral.
Mrs. Watts: You know, I’ve noticed gay people fall in love just like heterosexual people do. I mean, it’s interesting to watch the romances and how they bloom. I mean, they gaze into each other’s eyes, they write love letters, they e-mail back and forth, they send flowers to each other. It’s just the same. It is not just a sexual relationship. It is a bonding, it’s a friendship, it’s just like a heterosexual marriage is. It’s a companionship.
And I know it seems strange to heterosexual people, and it has to me to begin with, and now, as I watch these romances bloom and I see people become committed to each other and the happiness that they’re finding someone who loves you and someone you can share your life with, it is just the same. It’s the same as it’s been for Gary and me.
Mr. Watts: I think it’s a rather horrible dilemma to put onto a person, to suggest that they can’t, in this lifetime, find somebody to share their life with. I can’t imagine my life without Millie in it, you know? Our relationship isn’t just a sexual relationship. We depend on each other for everything emotional, financial, all kinds of supports that are there. And it’s a critical part of my life.
And I remember Craig when we were talking about that very issue, because that was one of the questions when he was coming out. Well, maybe he should be celibate and just live a celibate life and he asked me the question. He says, “Well, dad, suppose that the church came to you and said that you had to choose between the church and your relationship with Mom? What would you do?” Well, it was a slam dunk. I mean, there’s no question that my relationship with my wife was more important to me than my relationship with the church. And I don’t think the church ought to be in the position of putting themselves between me and that relationship.
But in the gay and lesbian people’s life, that’s the dilemma they’re faced with. And I can tell you, we’ve seen it happen time and time again. When gay Mormon youth come out and identify themselves as being same-sex attracted, they almost all go through the same process. “Well, I can lick this. I can change.” Or, once they come to the conclusion that they’re not likely to be able to change their feelings, “I’ll be celibate.”
And so they do, and for a while, they’re successful. And then what happens? Ultimately, they fall in love. And when they fall in love, they are faced with that, what I have termed, the Sophie’s Choice: “Which do I choose, the church that I’ve loved and grown up in or my new friend now that I’ve fallen in love with?” And inevitably and almost invariably, they choose the friend, they choose the relationship, and they have to leave the church or they hide from the church. They maintain a relationship but don’t tell their ecclesiastical authorities because, for if the ecclesiastical authorities become aware that they’re in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex, they know they’ll be excommunicated or cast out from the church.
And it’s a terrible dilemma to be in, but I see it time after time after time. And it’s when they fall in love that the dilemma really begins. And, you know, Craig’s question to me is a relevant one: What would you choose? And can I tell my son, “Choose the church and live lonely? Have a lonely life, not have somebody, don’t have anybody to share your life with and to” — you know, and we’re talking about sharing a life.
We hear this phrase, love the sinner but hate the sin. Well, that’s sort of a pernicious kind of statement to say, because it implies that gay people cannot have moral relationships. And so the church says to them, to its members, “Look,love the person. Don’t throw them out. Don’t disenfranchise them, but hate the sin.” But the implication is that those relationships are only about sex, that there isn’t this greater bonding, this greater part of the emotional hold that has to be considered. And I think that’s, to me, the destructive part of that particular saying; it implies to our gay children that any time they involve–embark on a — on a relationship that involves a sexual relationship that they’re sinning and, therefore, you know, not to be accepted by the church.
Q: Okay. Tell me — I’m going to backtrack just a tiny bit. What impact has this had on your family? Can you talk about your family? Because,to me, when I talk to you, family is the core issue with you. Millie?
Mrs. Watts: Well, I get emotional.
Mr. Watts: Well, maybe while she’s recouping a little bit
Mrs. Watts: Well, I think I can do it.
Mr. Watts: Okay.
Mrs. Watts: It, of course, has had a huge impact on our family. But the thing that we have learned from this is how much we love each other and how much our children love each other. And at the time that Craig came out and as each child found out that he was gay, there was never a rejection of Craig. Never. They all knew what a good person he was. And it was just more a struggle with our belief as a church. And then when Lori came out, I just think our family is so much closer now and the strength and the bonding — I don’t know, just the solidarity of the family. I have just been shocked at how solid our family has been and how united it’s been. We have friends in the Family Fellowship organization who can’t even get their families together for — you know, even for Christmas or it’s like, if the gay sibling’s going to be there, then the others don’t want to come. Or the gay sibling can be there but they don’t want their partner to be there, or something like that. And in our family, I’ve just been grateful that the kids have all been so good. And I think we all struggle with the church. We’ve all had a hard time with the church. And Craig’s excommunication from the church has been a real challenge for each family member. I think we’ve all really been hurt by that.
Q: Okay. Go ahead, Gary.
Mr. Watts: Well, I was just going to say that when Craig called to tell us that he had been excommunicated, I think my reaction was similar to everyone in the family’s reaction. And my reaction was: Well, now, if Craig’s not worthy to be a member of this church, who is? Because I revered Craig. I thought he was probably as good a person as existed in the world. And to have the church say that he was no longer worthy to be a member made me wonder about everything. Also, I want to just talk for a minute about the family value concept because, you know, we have this impression among some people that gay people are anti-family. And I can just tell you, as a father of gay children, that that could not be further from the truth. Our gay children are so family oriented and so interested in family, and our experience with them has helped bring our family together as a unit.
So that I think that we’re stronger as a family because we’ve had to resist the sorts of things that would divide the family. And, quite frankly, I think some of the church policies that deal with our gay and lesbian children tend to divide families. We see it all the time. We see these great divisions that occur. And they should be resisted at all costs. I think that the family ought to be first and our allegiance ought to be to our families. And I see so much of what’s happening is driving the family apart, particularly the family that has a gay child. It’s a very destructive force in those families. And rather than bringing the families together, it divides, and I think that’s a very unfortunate situation.
Mrs. Watts: You know, when you have people that experience prejudice like, say, African-American children that may have a problem at school or something and they can come home to their family and everybody in the family is African-American, they understand, they, you know, can sympathize with him. But gay kids don’t have this. You know, they may come home to their family and they’re chastised, they’re told, “Leave and don’t come back until you’re straight,” and they don’t get the family support like, you know, other people who experience discrimination. So it is a divisive thing.
Mr. Watts: We just had an experience this past week that disturbed me greatly. We have — through Family Fellowship, we have a newsletter that we send out on a quarterly basis that basically tells stories of gay and lesbian people and their struggle in terms of their acceptance in society. And this past week, one of our Family Fellowship members who’s a lesbian mustered the courage to send this reunion newsletter to her mother for the first time, hoping that this might be the way to bridge the chasm that was there as a result of her being lesbian and her mother’s disapproval. And when the mother got the newsletter, she called the daughter and told her to call us and take her name off the mailing list, called us and asked us to take her name off the mailing list and said she didn’t ever want to see any of our literature again.
Well, when I say it’s disturbing, I think it’s so sad that we have a situation in that family where the mother and daughter can’t even talk about homosexuality, you can’t even read anything about homosexuality. And it disturbs me to think that we’ve got situations like that where there are the divisions in these families. When we talk about family values, it seems like we ought to be doing everything we can to keep the families together not tearing them apart. And here’s a situation where the stance is of the church is driving this family apart and driving a wedge in the family instead of doing what they can to bring the family together.
Mrs. Watts: I think one thing that was nice with Craig, when he first came to us and said that he thought he was gay, we just kind of, all of us together, started studying and reading and learning and listening to his feelings. And it was like we were able to learn together and come, you know, to the same conclusions. And it would be nice if that could happen in every family. I mean, we’ve got stories. I mean, there was a young man who came home from New York City loaded with books and information on homosexuality and was going to tell his parents that he was gay. And his father took the books and literally burned them in a bonfire in the back yard. I mean, just not even willing to open a book and learn and study. And that’s one thing with Family Fellowship that, you know, when we say we try to stress education, I mean, nobody really knows the answers. All we can do is get in this together and try to find the answers and to learn and to keep our minds open. And I wish we could see that in the families more.
Q: Do you think these misconceptions, as you describe them, or the fear that people have about homosexuality, do you believe that is grounded in religion or is that a societal thing?
Mr. Watts: I think it’s a combination of both. I think that religions have certainly been the genesis of the the thought that God has said that homosexuality is immoral. Picking up on what Mildred just said, I think that it’s been well documented that people who know someone who’s gay tends to be more friendly and more understanding. And I think that’s borne out in so many ways. One of the things that I I felt like was that that worked for our good in our family was we listened to Craig a lot and he taught us a lot and we believed him, you know? And it’s interesting, when you have somebody who’s experiencing this firsthand and you see the struggle that they’ve gone through and then they explain to you and you’re able to dialogue and gather information, it’s amazing how so much of the misinformation and misconceptions that you might have sort of withers away and you understand that here’s a person who is struggling with an issue in his life that has paramount importance to everything he does and is desirous of trying to work through the thing and work through it with parental and family and societal support, which is so woefully lacking in so many cases.
Q: To talk a little bit about Craig’s excommunication and how that made you feel as parents. And you — I — I know you can’t — you’re not Craig —
Mr. Watts: Sure.
Q: — so you can’t say how he felt, although you can read the letter. And then also about Lori and the decision that she made.
Mr. Watts: Okay. I think it would be safe to say that we were ambivalent. I think we were devastated that it had occurred and sad and, at the same time, I think there was a fair bit of anger, at least on my part, because I felt like there was absolutely no justification for the church to treat our gay son the way they had done. He was living in Japan at the time of his excommunication. And people locally here have tried to suggest that maybe it was because he was in a foreign land and dealing with a foreign bishop and foreign ecclesiastical leaders, that it was handled the way it was. It was handled in a very poor fashion, in our judgment. He didn’t even know that he was going to a disciplinary council when he was excommunicated. The bishop had indicated that one of the area authorities was going to be in town and would like to visit with him, after Craig had confided in the bishop that he was gay.
And so Craig went over expecting to be in an interview with the area authority and it turned out that he was in a church court with five ecclesiastical leaders. And they asked him a lot of questions about his personal life and made the decision, in about a two-hour session, that he was to be excommunicated. And it was devastating to Craig. In fact, I took out of the file, the journal entry that Craig made after his excommunication, which I’ll read to you now, just excerpts. It’s a fairly lengthy part, but maybe I can read just a couple of portions of it. “It’s early Sunday morning. I can’t sleep. I’m in tears again for the third or fourth time since yesterday afternoon. Some of the most painful, confused tears I’ve ever cried, and I’m alone. I feel so alone. I thought of suicide again for the first time in a long time. My sister’s line is busy, my parents are in Hawaii, there’s no answer at a friend’s home in Salt Lake City; meanwhile — meanwhile, I’m alone in Kyoto, Japan, so far away from home. I need to talk to people from home, but talking on the telephone will be difficult. I’ll cry. I’ll say I can’t believe they’ve done this to me. I’ll ask when the torment coming from all sides ends. I’ll say my ancestors crossed the plains and they can’t tell me I’m not a Mormon. I’ll make my family worry about me, something I’ve already done too much of, far too much of. How much can I ask?
Yesterday at 4:15, I was excommunicated. It all happened so fast, I’m still reeling.” And then he tells about the experience of the court which I won’t go into, and I’ll skip over to his feelings after the and his attempts to reach family at home. He concludes his note by saying: “I just got through on the telephone to my younger sister, Lori.” Interesting that it was Lori. “I wasn’t sure if I should tell her, but she sensed trouble in my voice. She knew the pain I was feeling. We both sobbed. She said she couldn’t believe what they had done; it isn’t fair. She said she loves me and I told her I felt far away from home. I said I would be all right in time.” And then he continues the next morning. “It’s early Monday morning now. I’ve talked and cried long distance with the whole family now. Since Saturday, I’ve had a total of six hours of restless sleep. The feelings from the trial drift behind me like a bad dream, but I feel wrapped up in the warmth of family and friends. Friends came out of the woodwork. The family showed more strength than I knew we had. They told me they were proud. I’ve never felt so close, so loved. I somehow feel blessed. “Each person I talked to gave me something I needed to overcome the shock, the humiliation, the bitterness, the discouragement, the loneliness. There is still a hard road ahead of me. I’ll have to make some decisions. However, unlike so many of my gay friends, I don’t worry about excommunication from my family. They love me and despite the manuals, I think there is a place for me in the church, that there will be a coming home.”
Q: So what was your reaction when he finally talked to you?
Mr. Watts: Oh, just one of total empathy and sympathy for the situation and a reaffirmation of my love for him and our love for him as a person and our assurance to him that it didn’t make a bit of difference to us as parents, that we loved him and felt like he was a person of integrity and great worth and that we would stick by him through thick or thin.
Mrs. Watts: I think, for me, his excommunication was harder than finding out he was gay. I felt like he had gone to the church for help and that was the help he got. His court was held in Japanese and, you know, he did understand the language a bit. He’d been living there for, I think, about a year learning the language. But, you know, I think it’s pretty hard to communicate in a different language your feelings and understanding. I’ve said I felt like it was like my mother stabbing me in the back. It was like, at the time we needed the church the most and I felt like the church would be there for us, they were not there. And it was the first time I really learned that there is a line. There’s a line that is drawn by our church. And if you cross that line, it’s over. And I have since felt like excommunication, I don’t care what it’s for. I know we’re taught that it’s in the best interest of the person and that the person needs to be humbled and realize what they had before and all those blessings are taken away from them. But the devastation of that excommunication for our entire family will be there forever. It just will. I don’t think we will ever feel the same about the church.
Q: What should, in your opinion, the church be doing?
Mr. Watts: Well, I’ve learned over the years that they don’t pay much attention to what I have to say on this matter. So what I say is what I think, but I’m not very hopeful that anybody in the church will respond appropriately, because we’ve been rebuffed, basically, time after time as we’ve made suggestions. And so what do I think the church ought to do? Well, I think the first thing they ought to do is stop excommunicating gay and lesbian people. In fact, I think they ought to stop excommunicating anyone. I guess I even come to the point where if a person has murdered another person, is that grounds for excommunicating a person from the church? It seems to me like those are the people that need the church the very most and that we ought to be putting our arms around them and figuring out a way to love them back into society instead of disenfranchising them. So my first thought would be: Stop excommunications. I think they’re inappropriate, they’re not Christian. I do not think that they work towards the good of the people. They can always point to the one or two examples where people say, “Well, it was good for me to be excommunicated,” but they’re far outweighed in number by the people who never want to set foot in the church again and never have anything to do with the church.
Mrs. Watts: And one of the things that really happens too is that the gay people in the church, the ones that are really trying, really want help from the church, want to be celibate, remain active in the church, they are the ones that end up getting excommunicated. And the gay people who leave the church and just basically disappear off the church records, they’re not excommunicated. So it’s kind of the ones that are making an effort that get the ax.
Mr. Watts: The other thing I would say is that I personally would prefer to see the church encourage gay people to be involved in committed monogamous relationships just like they do straight people. When people come to me as a father and say, “What do you want for your gay children,” my standard answer has become, “I want exactly the same thing for my gay children as for my straight children.” And I don’t think it’s appropriate for gay people to be encouraged to be in heterosexual relationships. They’re inherently destructive. And I don’t think they ought to be encouraged to not be in relationships. And so I say: Why not do the very same thing for gay and lesbian people as we do for straight people; encourage them to be involved in committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships? I think that would do so much to alleviate the hurt and pain that’s there for those of us that have gay children. There’s a lot of animosity between the gay community and the church because frankly, the gay community feels abused by the church. They don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel understood.
And I think that if the church could get to a point where they could say to gay people, “Look, you follow the very same standards and the same course that we expect from our heterosexual counterparts,” I think that animosity would disappear overnight. I think gay people would stay in the church. I think that you would find a greater commitment to monogamous kinds of relationships. We know a lot of gay people that have been in monogamous, same-sex relationships for many years, despite the fact that society has really set up a system that’s designed to keep those from occurring. We have no opportunity for gay and lesbian people to commit themselves publicly in the form of a marriage or a commitment ceremony that brings families together and serves as a sort of a signal entry into a relationship that is then honored by friends and associates and recognized as a relationship just like a heterosexual is. We have sodomy laws, for instance, in the state where some people want to hold over the heads of gay people the fact that they’re breaking the law, that they’re lawbreakers. We have all sorts of disincentives for gay people to be involved in monogamous relationships, and so it’s no wonder that we don’t see greater numbers of committed long-term relationships. I think if we encourage those relationships and provide some means of public and religious sanction, we’d see a dramatic improvement in the way gay and lesbian people relate to one another. So that’s what I would like to see happen. And I think that, ultimately, that is what needs to happen in order for relationships between gays and lesbians and religious people to really reach anything approaching a civil kind of relationship.
Mrs. Watts: You know, I really feel like the church misses out by losing these gay people. They are wonderful people. So many of them are so talented. You know, I always say, man, you know, the best roadshow I was ever in as a child, now thinking back, I know that the two men that wrote and directed that roadshow were gay men. You know, there was just so much talent and all the love and the sensitivity that the gay people have, to me, it is just a tragedy that the church loses out on these wonderful people. I think the most spiritual prayer I have ever heard was given by a lesbian woman who had been excommunicated from the church. They’re very spiritual, wonderful, talented people, and they don’t feel welcome and are not welcome in our wards.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Lori and what decisions she’s made?
Mr. Watts: Well, Lori, I think, as a result of all of the experiences we’ve had and, certainly, with Craig’s experience of excommunication, once Lori decided that she was indeed gay, or same-sex attracted, and once she determined that she was going to embark on a relationship, she determined that she was going to have her name taken off the church records rather than go through the trauma that Craig experienced. And so she wrote to the church headquarters and asked to have her name removed from the church. Which I’m pleased to say the church did without a lot of difficulty. We know of many cases where people have tried to have their name taken from the church records and local and ecclesiastical authorities have tried to make that as difficult as possible. And in this situation, that was not the case and I give credit to the church for allowing her to have that happen. And that was a personal choice and, at this point in time, she is not interested in being a Mormon or participating in the Mormon church.
When I say be a Mormon, it harks back to what Craig said in his letter, “They can’t tell me I’m not a Mormon,” and I think Lori feels the same way. We certainly are Mormons and we’re Mormons by culture, by social acquaintances and so forth and that can never be changed. That’s what we are. We are Mormons and I think she would willingly acknowledge that. But in terms of being formally affiliated with the church, she’s chosen not to do that any more.
Q: Gary, tell me more about your feelings and expressing a sadness about how you feel like homosexuals are misunderstood.
Mr. Watts: That is a very sad part of the way I feel about homosexuality. And, suppose that because of our work in Family Fellowship, we’ve become acquainted with so many gay and lesbian people, particularly along the Wasatch Front, but really, across the country, because we’ve been involved in, you know, national meetings and so forth. And we’ve come to know so many gay and lesbian people, people that we’ve come to know and love as terrific, wonderful individuals. And I think there’s this perception out there in society that so many gay people are like the fringe that might — Mildred made reference to the gay pride parades where we see some people dancing naked and acting obnoxiously and — and basically turning people off. And that certainly has not been our impression of the gay and lesbian community or the people that we’ve met. We see them to be very much like our heterosexual friends and children. Their sexual orientation is different but, basically, they’re just like everyone else, and they’re interested in finding a job and living a life and, for the most part, making a contribution to society.
I think about our own daughter, Lori, really one of the truly great spirits in this in this universe. She’s chosen as her vocation to be a special ed teacher and she’s teaching in the public school system in San Francisco. And I admire her immensely because this is an area that is tough in education. But she sees a need that she wants to do because she wants to help people that are underprivileged and in need of service. And I look on her as one of the great people. And I feel sad for people that don’t know her as a person, who see her as a perverted lesbian or something like that and do not understand what a terrific individual she is. But she’s just a reflection of almost all the other gay and lesbian people that we’ve known. I really don’t know any gay and lesbian people that I don’t respect and love. I’m sure they’re out there. But the ones that have affiliated with Family Fellowship and that we’ve become acquainted with over the years are a uniformly terrific people. And they really have only one goal in mind and that’s to live a good life and to provide a service and do what they can to make the world a better place. And it hurts me so much to think that there are people that think they’re not worthy of respect and dignity.
For instance, I was hurt very significantly by the recent decision by the Department of Family — I can’t remember the name — but the organization that determines about whether gay parents should be allowed to adopt. I can’t remember — the Division of Family Services, I think it is. They recently voted 7 to 2 that gay couples could not adopt. And I think it’s a sad commentary on our society. I think that if they knew the gay people I knew, that decision would be a slam dunk. These people are very capable of being great parents. In fact, I think in many situations, they’d be a heck of a lot better than so many heterosexual people I know. And to deny them and to say to them that they’re not worthy of being parents is just one more indignity that they have to suffer as gay people. And when I told our gay friends about the decision, most of them just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well,” as if this was just another in a long series of indignities that they’ve had to endure their entire life. Well, I think we need to stand up for gay and lesbian people. I think they need to have somebody stand up and say, “You’re okay” and “Yes, you can be included,” and “You can be part of this community and we’ll no longer discriminate against you.” But we’re a ways away from that, and that’s a sad commentary on our society, in my judgment.
Q: Tell me about some of the impediments that your children will have to face.
Mr. Watts: Do you want to do that?
Mrs. Watts: You can handle that one.
Mr. Watts: Well, I think that when we talk about the impediments that our gay children have, I think they are innumerable as compared to our straight children. I think there are considerations in employment, as an example, and it’s very hard for our children, when they seek employment. Do they go in and identify themselves as gay individuals? Do they not say anything? What should be their appropriate course? Do they wait for their employer to find out their gay? Do they be up front about it? I think that’s a dilemma that gay people have, because there is discrimination in the workplace. If a person is applying for work and the person that’s going to make that decision is not gay-friendly or perceives that they’re gay or learns that they’re gay; he may choose somebody else just on the basis of their sexual orientation.
When it comes to forming committed relationships, obviously, our gay children don’t have the same kinds of opportunities that our straight children do. When our straight children have chosen their companion, we’ve had a reception, we’ve had a marriage, we’ve had the community support, we’ve had the church support and people gathered around and validated that relationship. When our gay children choose a relationship, they do it quietly and independently and without public sanction and without public affirmation. And I think that’s an inequity that is inappropriate. I think these relationships ought to be honored just like our straight relationships do. And there’s always the concern about hate crimes and discrimination that gay and lesbian people have to face, just by virtue of the fact that, if they choose to walk down the streets of the city holding hands or something, people may say some negative things and certainly not honor the relationship the way it should.
So I think you’ve got employment problems, you’ve got committed relationship problems, and you’ve got just the societal discrimination problem. You have situations in work where our daughter is in a relationship in San Francisco and her partner isn’t entitled to benefits like most straight employees would be. And I think that’s unfortunate. You can go to a hospital, for instance, and if you’re in a committed relationship and in a committed same-sex relationship, it carries no power. If you want to see your partner who’s in the intensive care unit, you have to be immediate family member. And if you’re in a committed relationship that hasn’t been sanctioned then that committed partner may be excluded from visiting their lover or their loved and respected one who may be in the hospital. So there are lots of areas that gay and lesbian people do not have equal rights to straight people. And I get a little bent out of shape when people say, well, gay people want special rights. That is not what gay people want. Gay people want to be treated just like everyone else. And this business about special rights is a particular irritant to me because all they really want is to be treated like everyone else. Equal rights. I see him.
Q: …it’s almost like some of the people I — I talk to feel like it should, but yet they feel they are not. Are we ready? Okay. So I have to ask you that last question based on the fact of all that I’ve read that the church has published on the issue, based on what little bit I know about the Bible and their interpretation of the Bible and predominant feeling, do you really feel like the church will ever, ever make a change on this issue?
Mr. Watts: Well, to respond as to whether the church will ever change, the truth of the matter is the church is changing daily and the church has made definite positive progress in this area. As a result of my study in homosexuality, I’ve reviewed everything the church has ever written. In fact, if you go back to 1973, which was the first statement was published in what’s called the Welfare Packet, was the first broad statement by the church on homosexuality. It’s about a 20-page document. It’s been some time since I’ve read it. But it’s about a 20-page document. And the current position of the church is dramatically changed from that position in 1973. They did another major publication in 1982, I believe, and then they did one in 1992. And so about every ten years, the church has published sort of a church position on homosexuality. And while the changes are not dramatic, they are incremental and they do reflect improvement or standing of the situation of homosexuality.
So when people say the church will never change, they’re ignorant to the fact the church is changing and is changing on a regular basis. That’s part of our church doctrine. We believe that there are many things that God has yet to reveal. Will the church ever change its policy where gay and lesbian people might be accepted as members who are in committed relationships? I think “ever” is a long time. I think that the church ought to consider such a move, and ultimately I think it will happen. There will be those “nay sayers” who say it will never happen. But we’ve seen rather cataclysmic changes in the church previously. You look at the polygamy issue, you look at the black issue; these are social issues. And things happen in society that bring pressure on the church to respond and, certainly, that was true with the black issue, it certainly was true with the polygamy issue, and I think there are social changes that are occurring in this area that might bring some pressure on the church to do something to alter their stance. So I’m optimistic that it will happen. I think that it is a long way away. I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow. I think that we’re going to continue to see improvement in gay rights in our society. I think we’re seeing that happening. We’re seeing legal decisions, court decisions that are suggesting that gay and lesbian people are not treated fairly. And as these legal decisions progress, then people have greater awareness about the ramifications of church and public policy, those policies will change and bend to meet the improved information and the legal climate that results from it.
So I’m cautiously optimistic. I would say that it would be my strong feeling that I would much prefer to see the church be the leader in these changes instead of being the last one to sort of capitulate, which is, quite honestly, how I feel that the situation was with the black issue. I think the church would have done themselves proud if earlier on they would have taken the lead and said black people deserve the same respect as white people and we’ll not be a party to this discrimination that goes on. I think the church would have done themselves proud. And I think they’d do themselves proud if they would take some leadership in this area and be the leaders in making the appropriate adjustment, because social justice demands that our gay and lesbian people be treated more fairly. And the church ought to be the leader in this area and not the last ones brought to the alter, so to speak.