Marv and Geneva Peterson
Reprint from Reunion: The Family Fellowship Newsletter Summer 1995, Issue 5
By way of introduction, we were both born into the LDS Church and raised in active LDS families. Geneva graduated from Brigham Young University in 1952 and served a mission to Brazil in 1954; Marv served for three years in the Marine Corps during the Korean War and graduated with a Master's degree from Utah State University in 1956. We married int he Salt Lake Temple in June, 1957, and have been blessed with seven wonderful children, five daughters (one is deceased), and two sons. They are no between the ages of 25 and 36. We are active members of the Church and have served in many ward and stake positions in the various auxiliaries. We are presently serving as temple ordinance workers.
Eight years ago, we learned that our youngest son, Michael, who was 18 years of age at the time, was homosexual. Two of Michael's sisters happened to notice that he was crying one day at a family gathering, while he was observing his nieces and nephews playing. When they asked him what the problem was, he replied, "I'll never have a family of my own." They had noticed his melancholy moods on other occasions, and began to put the pieces of the puzzle together. After fasting and praying, and attending the temple, his sisters decided to approach him with their feelings that he might be homosexual. (At one point we, his parents, had even thought strongly about asking him if he were having same-sex feelings. If it proved to be the case, perhaps we could help; if it weren't, on the other hand, it would be a devastating blow to his ego to know that we had even entertained the thought. That idea was abandoned.) When his sisters confronted him, he denied it at first, but then he broke down and sobbed - partly because he was relieved to finally share this information with someone else, and partly becaue he was afraid that we, his parents, would find out. His main concern has always been, "I don't want to hurt Mom and Dad." His sisters convinced him that it would be better for everyone if we knew. They felt that his family could help share his burden.
When we met together and heard Michael tell us of his life-long secret, he revealed to us that he had known he had same-sex feelings from an early age. He told us of absolute horrer stories of humiliation and fear that he had experienced since he was in grade school - not only from his peers - but from some of his teachers as well. We asked him why he always found excuses not to attend ball games and other high school functions. He related how he was usually confronted by a group of boys who would shove him around and call him "faggot." One time he was pushed and kicked down the bleachers at a high school football game by a group of boys shouting "Queer, fat!" etc. (There were some people who would have us believe that Michael chose this lifestyle!) He recalled the negative expressions we had always communicated to our children whenever we spoke to them about homosexuality. He knew his church taught that homosexuality was an abomination, and that anyone who had same-sex feelings was morally corrupt. He confided to us that every Sunday he made excuses to his Priesthood leaders to avoid blessing the sacrament, because someone had told him he sounded like a "fag" whenever he spoke on the microphone.
We wondered how Michael possibly could have lived with these circumstances, wondering constantly when someone might find out. He told us how he went to his ward and stake ecclesiastical leaders for help, and was told to pray and repent of his feelings; after that, they never again mentioned Michael's concerns. He spent long hours in the mountains, meditating and praying, and contemplating how he could commit suicide and make it look like an accident, so his family wouldn't be hurt too much. The most logical plan to him would be to drive his car into an oncoming semi-truck. Thank heaven our daughters felt inspired to confront him, and we were able to convince him that he was still the same Michael, that we would accept him as he was, and that our love for him would never change. At the conclusion of this very tearful and heart-wrenching meeting, Michael, in a very humble staet, asked for a father's blessing. During this blessing Marv felt that the words he uttered were directed by the Spirit, and his blessing was one of reassurance, understanding, and above all, of love for our son.
We recongized some of the different tendencies which Michael had exibited as a child, but denied them, feeling there was really nothing unusual abou this. Many were the times we removed the dolls from his hands and replaced them with a toy truck or a football. He seemed to enjoy the company of his female friends more than he did the friendship of his boy friends. He was always talented and wanted to get into plays and take gymnastic lessons. We discouraged this, thinking it would be better for him to become involved in more "masculine" activities. How we regret this decision now; he would have excelled in either of these areas, and we denied him that opportunity. Our greatest regret is knowing that we were ignorant of Michael's situation; consequently, he suffered his personal turmoil alone, thinking he had nowhere to turn. When he was 16, Michael got a part-time job. Naturally we were proud of him, thinking he wanted to earn some dating money, or perhaps buy a car. Just recently we learned that he was using the money he earned from his job to secretly pay for psychiatric counseling, to help him achieve some degree of self-worth!
Michael had always planned to serve a mission, but when the time came to receive his call, he was advised that he should not go. This was devastating and humiliating to him, because he had no answer for people when they continually asked him why he didn't serve a mission. Everyone just naturally assumed that he would, because it was a goal he had set for himself since he was very young. Two of his cousins, with whom he had always been very close, were preparing to leave for missions. They had always done everything together. They wrote to him and said, "Michael, just repent from whatever you have done, and let's all go at the same time!"
Questions arouse in our minds as to how we could have been so blind to what was happening. Where did we go wrong? Should we have insisted that he be more active in sports and scouting? What did we do, or what did we fail to do, that might have pushed him into homosexuality? We were aware that some psychologists believed a weak father/son relationship, coupled with a domineering mother, contributes to homosexuality. Our relationship with Michael was no different than it was with any of our other children. We sincerely believed that we did not fit into this mold - nor does Michael feel that we did. Where could we go to gain some understanding as to why he had these feelings? We somehow found the courage to share our plight with a very loving friend and church leader who was related to a General Authority. We poured our hearts out to him, hoping that his close relationship with the General Authority could help us gain some insight as to how we should handle this dilemma. It must have been a very awkward situation, however, because he never talked to us again about Michael. It was as if we had never had the conversation. We certainly do not fault any of our church leaders, because most of them have received little guidance in working with this issue. It didn't take long as parents to realize taht we, like Michael, had nowhere to turn for help.
We always felt that the most tragic and horrible thing that could happen in a family would be to experience the death of a child or a spouse. In 1964 our third daughter, who was 3 years of age, was hit by a car in front of our house and died a few hours later. We didn't feel that we could possibly survive such a tragedy. It became apparent, however, that our Father in Heaven Blessed us with a spirit of peace and understanding through the many prayers that were offered in our behalf. However, when a child or a spouse reeals his/her same-sex orientation, it is usually even more tragic. There are few prayers of comfort from friends, and the person (and sometimes the family) is ostracized and, many times, abandoned by church and friends. Most people simply have no idea what most homosexuals have to endure on a daily basis in the way of reminders that they are considered evil, depraved, or immoral because they have "chosen" to be homosexual. Sadly, most people do not care.
In 1987, we moved to a new ward and stake - a move which we now feel was directed by the Spirit. Our new bishop was compassionate, caring, and understanding, and he was a tremendous help to Michael and to us, his parents. He was instrumental in helping Michael to turn his thinking around, so that he no longer thought about suicide. As Michael's parents, we were also able to talk openly with the bishop and start our own personal quest to understand homosexuality.From that day to this, our entire family has been in a constant "coming-out" process, and it has probably been as difficult for us as it was for Michael to share this information. Even though it has been eight years since we have really tried to undersand it, we are still reluctant to discuss this issue with some people, primarily because they have little knowledge of the subject and are therefore very biased in their opinions. Some of Michael's closest, life-long friends have chosen to turn their backs on him. On the other hand, other friends have surprised him and have given him much love and support.
Eventually, we started to take interest in how many other parents and family members within the Church must be affected by the issue of homosexuality and wondered how these parents were dealing with this situation. Through a series of events, which we believe were an answer to earnest prayer, we were led to other parents who had to deal with homosexualtiy, and hwo were also seeking answers. After having been referred to the book, Peculiar People, we became more enlightened and became good friends with one of its editors, Ron Schow, and his wife, Adonna. They have been extremely helpful in helping us to understand this puzzle. They introduced us to other parents with homosexual children and, as a result, we made a commitment to help dispel the ignorance, irrational hatred, fears, and misconceptions about homosexuality. We became founding members of Family Fellowship and currently serve on the board of directors.
We have found that there is an army of homosexual men and women who have either been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or who have left our Church because of their feelings of rejection - if not repulsion - by the constant reminders from the pulpit by some leaders that they are evil and can "change" if they but repent. Most parents who have a close relationship with their Savior, and consequently have not abandoned their homosexual children, know within their hearts that thier children did not choose their sexuality any more than they chose their height or the color of their eyes or hair. It is our opinion that scientific evidence of "how" or "why" is not needed to prove anything to the parents, becasue we all know of the sweet spirits of each of our children. Michael's brother and four sisters and their families also feel this way.
We all believe that we have an obligaction to educate friends and relatives about the complexities of homosexuaility and the need for understanding. We, as a family, feel this burden should not be carried by Michael alone, but should be shared by all of us. We are very grateful for the opportunity of sharing Michael's experience because, as a result, we have grown closer to our Savior. We are more understanding and compassionate. We are more tolerant of others' differences and try to love unconditionally. We are more Christlike and less judgemental. We feel that we are better people.