Prayers for Bobby

Story a must-see for parents

Published February 07, 2009

"Are you a lesbian?" my mom asked me one day on the way home from high school.

It was a simple question. I can't imagine how hard it was for my mom to ask.

But what I heard was accusatory — "You're a lesbian, aren't you?" I heard anger. I heard resentment.

I was 15. I was shy.

My sister, who was 12 at the time, was boy-crazy. I wasn't. The contrast was stark.

Without even thinking, I replied, "No, of course not."

I didn't come out to my parents for several years after that, when I was 19. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

I worried: Am I disappointing them? Will they hate me? Will they tell their friends? Wouldn't it be easier just to kill myself?

But I think I was lucky. I survived coming out, and my parents eventually accepted who I was.

Luckily, I didn't have to balance acceptance of my orientation with religious doctrine.

New film

Bobby Griffith wasn't so lucky.

I watched his story late last month on Lifetime. The movie, "Prayers for Bobby," based on a 1995 Leroy Aarons book "Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son," still can be viewed on the network's Web site and was released this week on iTunes.

It is well worth watching.

"'Prayers for Bobby' is a groundbreaking film that should be considered a must-see for all parents, and especially those who may be struggling to accept their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning children or family members," said Charles Robbins, executive director and CEO of The Trevor Project.

Established in 1998, The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization that promotes acceptance and helps prevent suicide through a 24-hour hot line that fields about 18,000 calls from queer youths.

"It is disheartening to note that LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and those who come from a rejecting family (one who does not accept their sexual orientation) are up to nine times more likely to do so. 'Prayers for Bobby' helps audiences to understand the importance of celebrating diversity and life, and practicing unconditional love and acceptance," Robbins said.


The film was disparaged by the Colorado-based evangelical group Focus on the Family.

CitizenLink, a Focus on the Family newsletter, described the film as the story, "Conservative Christian parents shoulder the blame after their gay-identified son commits suicide."

The article cited Focus on the Family gender-issues analyst Jeff Johnston, who said the film ran contrary to the Bible's view of homosexuality.

"It seems like the only options presented (in the film) are trying to change the person or totally embracing their homosexuality," Johnston told me.

What's intriguing about Johnston, who said he identified with "Prayers for Bobby," is that he has been in Bobby Griffith's shoes. He said he used to be gay.

"For a while, I pursued gay relationships and was miserable because I was in conflict with my beliefs," Johnston said.

He was raised in an fiercely Evangelical household, and his identity was at odds with his beliefs. He said he found healing through the church.

"In my mid-20s, I found out that there were people who struggled with these things, and I found healing through Christianity."

I'm skeptical. Can someone with same-sex attractions truly be happy ignoring and burying those feelings?

"Every once in a while, I have a temptation," Johnston said of his struggle to overcome same-sex attractions. But, he added, "Every once in a while, I have temptations to lie or steal. But I don't act on those temptations. ... Sometimes I get envious. I bring those things into my relationship with Christ and have those things transform me."

While I only had a brief conversation with Johnston, I get the feeling he is quite satisfied with where he is in his life. He is genuinely trying to help others who struggle with reconciling religion and homosexuality.

Johnston has been married for almost 14 years and has three young sons.

Nevertheless, conversion therapy has not worked for many.

That is clear from watching Bobby Griffith struggle in "Prayers for Bobby."

"It is saddening that religion is often used as an instrument for discrimination and inequity. One of the most poignant messages 'Prayers for Bobby' conveys is that religion should be an inclusive source of love, compassion and faith," said Robbins, of The Trevor Project.


But there was another message in the film.

Mary Griffith, Bobby's mother, learned from the tragic death of her son.

She discovered that not all interpretations of the Bible are the same. Homosexuality is not viewed as an abomination by all churches; many are very inclusive.

Mary Griffith became an activist, fighting for gay rights and equality.

She is active in Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

The organization's mission "provides an opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity," according to the PFLAG-Olympia Web site.

"It's a safe place to say, 'I've got a gay kid and I don't know what to do,'" said Mike Walsh, former chairman of the Olympia PFLAG group. "Nobody's going to ridicule you."

His daughter came out more than a decade ago, and Walsh found support, understanding and guidance through PFLAG.

"It's people who have been there who are either sharing what or have been through that and can be helpful on what is going to maintain relationships," Walsh said.

Olympia author Gilbert Rossing and his wife, Beth, also found understanding in PFLAG when they began attending in 1989, shortly after one of their sons came out of the closet.

And those experiences made it easier when a second son later came out.

"When our son came out, he said, 'I don't want to lose you,'" said Beth Rossing. "We knew from the beginning, we had to become educated."

Gilbert Rossing, a retired Lutheran minister and author of "Dignity, Dogmatism, and Same-Sex Relationships," said he was familiar with Bobby Griffith's story, but he wondered why the movie took so long to be released. But he was happy to see it.

"We were glad to see it because it portrayed a problem for many families," he said. "It's a good story. It still happens."

Since 1989, the Rossings have met several people who tried reparative or conversion therapy to repress same-sex attractions. They are skeptical of the process.

"I don't know how many I've met that went through reparative therapy and it did not work," Beth Rossing said. "We heard that story over and over."

Finding balance between religious beliefs and acceptance of one's sexual orientation is a tedious path.

And although I'm very skeptical of ex-gays and conversion therapy, Johnston seemed happy in his choices.

There are many others who can't say the same.

Bobby Griffith is one of them.

Watch the movie

Online: Under the video tab is a link for "Prayers for Bobby."

On iTunes: The film was added this week. It costs $3.99.

Attend a meeting

PFLAG Olympia meets at 2 p.m. the second Sunday of each month in the Gathering Place room at First United Methodist Church, 1224 Legion Way S.E. in Olympia. Sunday's meeting includes "Trans Stories" which features the tales of two FTM transgenders. Learn more at www.pflag-olympia.

Other resources

The Trevor Project: A 24/7 hot line for GLBTQ youths, 866-488-7386 or www.thetrevor

Love Won Out: Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference on homosexuality,

Further reading

"Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son" by Leroy Aarons, $14.95

"Dignity, Dogmatism, and Same-Sex Relationships: What Science and Scripture Teach Us" by Gilbert Rossing, $28

Ruth Schneider does not cry in movies, but got a little teary on this one. Contact her at or 360-704-6873.