I am the mom of a gay son. He is a delight! My name is Donna Showalter. I love gardening, being outside in any form, and volunteering here and there. Until Michael came out, I had purposely kept myself ignorant about all things LGBT. I thought it was a choice, that it was wicked, and that it would bring about the downfall of our civilization.
Michael came to me one day between sessions of General Conference when he was 13, and with a pillow covering his face, he asked, “Mom, why am I gay?” I was shocked, and truthfully I didn’t believe him. I thought, “He hasn’t hit puberty. How can he possibly know something like this? I hugged Michael and told him honestly that I didn’t know why he was gay. It didn’t make any sense to me at all. In that moment my world, as I had known it, fell apart.
My husband wrote a heart wrenching letter to Elder Holland asking if we could bring Michael to his office in Salt Lake, thinking if he could just give Michael a blessing of healing, it would “fix” him. The letter was passed back to our Stake President, who invited us to come chat with him. He was understanding, incredibly supportive, and kind. But he let us know that there would be no blessing of healing—from anyone. Looking back I understand why, but in the moment, I was deeply hurt that all the blessings of healing talked about by church leaders in Conference did not extend to us. That was when I started to pray that I would die. I remember sitting in the bathroom on the side of the tub weeping, and asking my husband, “Where is our angel? Why did Alma the Younger get an angel, but we can’t? Haven’t we prayed as much? Are we not as faithful? Is our son not as important to Heavenly Father?”
Over time we realized Michael was who he was always supposed to be. His being gay is who he is supposed to be, with all the struggles, and all the beauty and sweetness too.
Our fears for Michael were that he would be rejected by his faith community, and in some ways, he was. We feared he would be abused or sexually assaulted, that he would be bullied, and that he would commit suicide. He was bullied in high school to the point that, combined with other things related to his sexuality, he attempted suicide more than once. I’m still not sure how we survived those years.
I love the feeling of community I feel in my ward. I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe Christ. I want to follow His example, and I want to live as He did. For me that means loving. Just loving. I leave the judgement where it should be-in His merciful hands. My job is to love, lift, and help. I can do that.
I used to believe the leaders of the church had all the answers, that they were infallible, that if I followed everything they said, and did everything asked of me, I would be happy, my family would remain intact, that none of the hard things going on in the world would affect my family. I believed them when they said if we had scripture study, Family Home Evening, attended the temple and church, and prayed as a family, we would somehow remain unscathed by “the world.”
They promised us these things. So we willingly did all we thought was required. And we did it happily and with great faith. When the policy change was announced, my heart broke. My world fell apart. My faith shattered. We’d hung on for dear life when Michael came out, relying on the promises. The policy change felt like a gut punch, with army boots on. Michael called me asking if I’d read it. He asked me what I thought. I think he thought I’d say that it must be right if the leaders of this church I love so much said it. Instead, I said, “I don’t know what to think. I don’t understand. My heart hurts. I feel like I can’t breathe.” That’s when I started weeping, and I think in many ways, I’m weeping still. I weep for my beautiful boy who put all his trust in the church, who believed in prophets, and followed willingly. I weep for my own broken mother heart, who could not save her own son. I weep for the loss of stability I felt in the church. I weep that my son would rather be dead than live life feeling as though no matter what he does, or the incredible person he is in every way, people cannot get beyond his being gay. That’s all some people see. I see more.
I want people to SEE Michael. I want them to recognize what I’ve always known: Michael is an incredible human being. I am amazed at his maturity, his level of understanding, his awareness of others, his ability to make people feel loved and accepted. I want people to love him the way I know he deserves to be loved.
I want people to understand that I haven’t walked away from the church because it’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know how to function without it. I have faith in Jesus Christ and in His gospel. I want people to understand that I will never choose the church over my son. I can love and accept him AND follow Christ.
I don’t have any answers. Sometimes I think there just aren’t answers to my questions, no matter how hard I pray, or study. For many people in the church, this issue is something that they cannot, and will not try to understand. They cannot see beyond policies and teachings, and maybe church culture. I would love for someone in my ward to say to me, “I don’t understand what you’re going through. Will you help me? Will you share with me your struggle?” I’d love for a church leader to ask me to come to their office and explain how our congregation can be supportive and loving. I look forward with great hope that in time the people in the congregations of this church I’ve loved my whole life will put aside judgment and gossip. I look forward to someone coming to me and saying, “will you tell Michael for me that I love him? Will you tell Michael that he has a place here with us? Will you tell Michael for me that I miss him?” And I look forward to the day when instead of asking me to tell him, they will tell him themselves, because he will feel welcomed and loved enough to feel he has a place there.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.