Jake Boston realized he was different when he was only 13. That’s when he discovered he liked boys. He came out as gay two years later. His family didn’t take the news well, to put it mildly. “My family told me that I was going to go to hell for something that they see as a choice,” he said.
Brian Mahieu’s family disowned him when he was 18. They subsequently accepted him again when he entered a fundamentalist Christian group that taught the only way to please God was to reject homosexuality.
After spending 19 years in reparative therapy, 15 years in marriage and participating in a transformational ministry movement, Mahieu realized that he had not changed. Two years ago, at the age of 40, he came out for the second time.
“At this point I was utterly rejected and shunned by my family again,” he said.
“They said some horrible and cruel things to me.” He lost his business and his friends, too.
Coming out is not easy. During the holidays when families traditionally gather for celebration, conflict can intensify.
People like Boston have a difficult choice: They can spend their holidays with family — often an uncomfortable situation — or spend it alone.
“Some families may have certain expectations or values, whether it is a religious belief or just a held moral, which may lead them to having difficulty accepting that their sons or daughters are not heterosexual,” said Anne Meyer, a psychologist at the MU Counseling Center.
The impact of stereotypes can be another reason. “For example, a father may feel that if his son identifies as gay, then that must be a sign that his son isn’t a ‘real man,’” she said.
Boston’s parents rejected him because of their religious beliefs. They are conservative Baptists. Not every Baptist church, however, holds the same beliefs about the issue. “There are many different beliefs among Baptist churches and members,” said the Rev. Philip Dooley, the pastor of the Open Door Baptist Church in Columbia. He said that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is contrary to the Bible, but he added: “The Bible teaches that it is important for us to separate between behavior and the person. A parent has to distinguish the person and the behavior.”
Some religions are making an effort to reinterpret the Bible and be more open to gays and lesbians. There are also associations that are trying to change the interpretations of the Bible about gays and lesbians. Missouri United Methodist Church, which has open-door ministries where they talk about the values and meaning of the Scriptures, is one of them.
“Homosexuality is not a choice,” said the Rev. Dick Blount, a minister at Missouri United Methodist. “We show them that they are loved by God,” he said. “The matter of homosexuality is not mentioned in the Scriptures.”
The Rev. Maureen Dickmann serves as the pastor at Rock Bridge Christian Church. She is also a lesbian. Dickmann said that God does not reject homosexuals. “I get upset with people who use Scripture as a weapon,” she said. “The Bible was written in Hebrew, but people read translations. A translation is an active interpretation.”
In extreme cases of rejection, individuals can experience depression. Meyer said that it depends on the extent of the conflict, the level of rejection or acceptance in the family and the individual’s own resources. “Say for example that a son is really close to his family and values their relationship and opinions. If those family members reject him based on his sexual orientation, he might feel isolated and become depressed,” she said.
Even in families where homosexuality is not taboo, coming out presents an emotional challenge. Linda Hayes and her husband tried to understand when their gay son told them about his sexuality. Previous experience with a friend made her approach the conversation with caution and understanding. “When my son came out, I knew that what we told him would affect him the rest of his life,” she said.
It took Hayes five years to turn to the advocacy group PFLAG, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, for support. The local chapter offers monthly meetings, support groups and the opportunity for people to voice their concerns and to look for solutions.
At first, Hayes didn’t think she needed help. She realized later that her experience could help other people. She could show others how important it was to make her son know how much she loved him. “Most families have to go through a process,” she said. Now, Hayes and her husband are members of PFLAG and try to help other families.
Not everyone is as fortunate. Tension filled the house during the two years Boston lived at home with his parents after coming out.
“They (his parents) kept saying I was wrong. It really upset me,” he said. “They couldn’t understand, and I don’t know why.”
When he moved to Columbia, things changed. “It is a good experience for me,” he said. “I am meeting people who are opening my views of things.”
In Columbia, gays and lesbians generally enjoy an open environment. “Columbia is a much more open community,” Hayes said. “There are a couple of gay bars and several organizations.” The MU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, in 216 Brady Commons, aims to provide a welcoming and educational environment for students, staff and faculty, and to promote community service.
Gay men and women who don’t have a good relationship with their families can find help and assistance this time of year or any other through various organizations. Friends, too, can offer support. “You cannot choose your family, but you can choose your friends,” said Hayes. Counseling is available through the Counseling Center at MU. PFLAG also offers programs and works directly with families to solve conflicts.
“It would be the first holiday without my family,” Boston said. “It would be hard, but a lot harder to go there and be attacked over my lifestyle.”
Mahieu lost all contact with his family. Boston now avoids conflict by avoiding his family completely.
“Hopefully, family members who are struggling to understand their sons and daughters can come to realize that even if they don’t understand or approve of their child’s sexual orientation, their child is still the same person that they have always known,” Meyer said.