I am a father. I love my daughter unconditionally. I want what’s best for her. I want her to be happy. I want her to be successful. I never want to see her hurt, and I would vigorously defend her against anyone who set out to cause her harm.
I would guess that’s not all that surprising. I believe most parents would hold those same feelings. But apparently not all parents. I know there are incidents of child abuse across this country every day. But two stories in particular have come to light in last few weeks that, honestly, have me utterly perplexed.
At the age of 12, Samuel Brinton, a young man from Kansas, and a group of his friends found a pornographic magazine. When Samuel’s father overheard him confess that he wasn’t really interested in the naked women pictured, but instead had special feelings for another boy, his father decked him. Mr. Brinton, a Southern Baptist minister, hit his son so hard that the boy was knocked unconscious and needed medical attention. The abuse didn’t stop there. Repeated beatings would land Samuel in the hospital six times. He was then subjected to crude attempts at aversion therapy that included Samuel’s hands being bound, burned, and frozen while he was forced to look at men embracing.
Oh, there was psychological torment too. Samuel was told by his parents that the government had implemented a program to round up and execute gays. They warned their son, then 13, that he, too, would be taken away and killed. Samuel was also told that because he was gay, he had AIDS. The truth of the disease was not explained to the terrorized boy.
Then, Samuel was sent way for “reparative therapy”, a prominent feature of which was something called, “Month of Hell”. Justly named. Samuel says, “The Month of Hell consisted of tiny needles being stuck into my fingers and then pictures of explicit acts between men would be shown and I’d be electrocuted.” Naturally, Samuel sinks further into depression and isolation. As is too often the case, thoughts of suicide enter the teen’s mind. In fact, Samuel stood on a rooftop three stories up, contemplating his next move. His mom arrives on the scene and pleads with her son not to kill himself. But not in a manner of unconditional, motherly love. No, instead Mrs. Brinton reportedly told her son, “I’ll love you again if you just change.”
My heart breaks every time I think of hearing a mother say something like that to her own son.
If that’s not gut-wrenching enough, let’s leave Kansas now and head east to Gibson County, Tennessee. On September 28th, Jerry Pittman Jr. drove to the Grace Fellowship Church near Humboldt, TN to attend Wednesday night services. With him is his boyfriend, Dustin Lee. Though they knew the church folk didn’t really approve of their relationship, Jerry and Dustin had attended services together before without any problems. Dustin had even been invited to sing in the choir. But this night would be different.
As the two young men got out of their car, they heard a voice cry out, “Sic ‘em!” Three men rushed the car and assaulted the couple, hurling anti-gay epithets throughout the attack. Now the attackers did not come out some alley or from behind a parked car. No, the attack originated from the church! The three men who rushed the gay couple are deacons of Grace Fellowship Church; one of whom is Jerry’s uncle. And the man who issued the order? The one who screamed, “Sic ‘em”? None other than the pastor of the church, the Reverend Jerry Pitman Sr. The boy’s own father orders the attack!
In both cases, the fathers of these two boys were so averse to the idea that their sons were gay that they sanctioned or participated in the physical assault of their own child. And I have no doubt that these types of events occur much more frequently than what is eventually reported. I cannot imagine the pain and anguish these children feel when the very people who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors turn out to be their tormentors.
The revelation that a child is gay can be one of shock, uncertainty, anguish, and even fear for a parent. For some, instead of choosing violence – instead of throwing their child out into the street- the parents seek out understanding, education, guidance and support. Thankfully, there are other moms and dads all across this country who can share their personal stories, can relate to the experience, and most importantly talk about the journey they took to overcome fear, doubt and prejudice and love their child just as they are. There is a powerful truth that cannot be argued with when you hear a PFLAG mom or dad proudly state, “I love my child. Period.”
If in some small way, I can lead one family to find the help and support they need, then maybe I can prevent one gay kid from being told they’re not loved by their own mother, or being hospitalized at the hands of their own father.
And THAT is why I volunteer with PFLAG.
Yours in service,
Larry Rockwell, Board Member and Communications Committee Chair
PFLAG – Metro DC Chapter