In a conservative religious family with three boys, two of the sons were attracted to members of the same sex. From there, their paths diverged greatly. Today, one identifies as gay. The other is the Presbyterian minister who does not identify as gay or bisexual and who this week told NPR his tale of “conscious choices” in fighting “same-sex attraction” and marrying a woman.
Dexter Edwards, the youngest of the three brothers, is the one who identifies as gay. He knew that his oldest sibling, Allan, blogged about his perspective on sexuality, marriage, and religion. But he was taken by surprise this week when he awoke to messages about NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday having picked up the story.
Though he doesn’t talk much about his family, and he was nervous about sharing his story, Dexter Edwards tells The Advocate felt he “had to say something” out of concern that his brother’s story could be harmful to LGBT people struggling with self-acceptance.
“I would never want anyone in my situation to … to think that this is something that works or that is like a viable, healthy option,” says Edwards, 22, who recalled his own coming-out as “a terrible experience.”
He says he was asked to leave his parents’ house at the age of 19, just after finishing his first year of study at a conservative Christian college. (Many LGBT youth experience homelessness due to rejection from their families.)
He ended up staying for about a month with his big brother Allan, with whom he was close in younger days. Looking back, he says, their parents’ rejection of him seemed to coincide with Allan’s decision to fight his own same-sex attractions.
In subsequent years, Dexter Edwards’s life involved some moving around. He left the Pittsburgh area (where his family had lived since he was 8 or 9) for a time to stay in Huntington Beach, Calif., where friends helped him secure a job. When his middle brother had transplant surgery, he moved back east. His parents asked him to come back home and offered to buy him a car, with the caveat that he go to counseling. He lived with them for a while but had the feeling that he was “always in the principal’s office” due to their beliefs. (He’s since landed on his feet and lives independently; he still resides in the Pittsburgh area, not far from his parents’ or his eldest brother’s home.)
Meanwhile, Allan Edwards had continued his “healthy change” and had been out of touch with his youngest brother for as long as a year at one point. When Allan started dating a woman, their mother celebrated the relationship in a way she’d never extend to the relationship that Dexter was in at the time.
Today, Dexter Edwards isn’t completely estranged from his family, but he doesn’t see them often either. It’s not that he isn’t invited to holiday gatherings. But if he goes, there’s an awkward feeling in the air due to their anti-LGBT beliefs. They don’t want to act hateful, he said, but there’s always the feeling that they want to get something out of him, to convert him.
The conflict has caused him tremendous anguish, and he struggled with the decision to attend Allan’s wedding to his now-wife, Leeanne.
“It was really weird,” Dexter Edwards says of being at the wedding. “If that’s what he wants to do, that’s what he wants to do … I wish them happiness.”
But, he says, he worries that they don’t realize how their perspective affects people who hear the anti-LGBT sentiment “wrapped in this pretty package.”
“You’re pushing people into this box and [they’re] feeling terrible about themselves,” he says. He doesn’t want others to go through the mental anguish that he’s experienced, and he’s worried about the high rate of suicide among young LGBT people.
Today, Allan and Dexter Edwards see each other on occasion and remain in touch. They’ve run into each other on the street, and Dexter has helped his brother move a couch. But it’s different from the close bond they had in youth.
Responding to an Advocate email inquiry, Allan Edwards had this to say:
“I think it comes down to this, I believe that people live their lives based on what they believe. My time with Harvest helped me to love and respect Dexter more because he’s living his life based on what he believes and I’m living my life based on what I believe. We disagree about issues of faith and sexuality, but I love him. I haven’t always done a good job showing him love and care, but my goal is to be kind, understanding, and respectful toward him. You can imagine disagreement on such a fundamental issue could cause a lot of strife in a relationship, but Dex is respectful to me and to Leeanne, and I’m thankful for that. While we’re not as close as we were as kids, when we’re together he makes me laugh and I enjoy him.”
Harvest is a ministry that sees homosexuality as sexual sin and that Allan Edwards talked about in a video here. Allan is minister to a western Pennsylvania congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative denomination that is separate from the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is LGBT-affirming.