Mary Griffith:
Everyday Hero 

Mary Griffith:
            Everyday Hero 

You don’t
see a lot of statues commemorating reformed homophobes, but
Mary Griffith arguably merits one. An ex-evangelical
Christian who, by her own admission, helped shame her
gay son, Bobby, into suicide in 1983, she’s
spent the rest of her life trying to save other kids from
the hurtful lunacy she inflicted on him in the name of
God. Her story, known to millions who’ve read
Prayers for Bobby -- journalist Leroy
Aaron’s unflinching 1995 account -- has inspired a
Middle-America-friendly film starring Sigourney Weaver that
airs on Lifetime Television January 24.

“I think
the movie comes very close to what happened,” says
Griffith, now 74, a disarmingly straightforward woman
who’s still atoning for the years she spent
“trapped” in robotic bigotry, briskly
insisting that Bobby resist Satan the way other moms
urge their kids to brush their teeth, while willfully
ignoring his collapsing self-esteem. “Sigourney
really expresses how assured I was that God would heal
Bobby,” she says, “as if it were a slam
dunk, how afraid I was…and how I felt when I realized
that nothing was wrong with Bobby [after his
death].”

Born into a large
family of holy rollers in 1934, Griffith was an
insecure, supposedly slow child whose own mother nicknamed
her “Lamebrain.” The imminent threat of
damnation was a popular dinner-table topic, and
Griffith once dreamt that the Almighty’s gargantuan,
grasping hand was chasing her. After some pretty
average teenage “sinning” led to a
run-in with the law, Griffith grew convinced she was
Godless, and fully succumbed to the fundamentalist
extremism that would contribute to her own
son’s death.

“I
don’t particularly like to look back. I don’t
like who I was,” says Griffith, who still lives
in the Walnut Creek, California home in which she
raised her three surviving children. “It’s
humiliating just to go through the Bible and see the
fairy tales I believed, like that business about
mixing fabrics.” (The Tim-Gunnish dictate from Deut.
22:11 -- “Thou shalt not wear a garment of
divers sorts, as of woolen and linen together”
-- that restricted her sewing projects).

Bobby tried to
open her mind by giving her books about homosexuality,
Griffith says: “But anything that would uplift Bobby
and made me see him as a decent person…was
viewed as evil [by her church].” It took his
suicide, she says, to make her realize that she’d
been using religion to avoid thinking through
life’s complexities for herself. “I felt like
I was born again,” she says. “I was free
to read again. I was free to think again.”

In a remarkable
conversion, this shy and unworldly woman renounced her
faith and went on to become the president of an East San
Francisco Bay PFLAG chapter, and a nationally known
gay activist and speaker, urging other parents to
listen to their children, not the Christian Right’s
theatrical scare tactics: “Satan is a convenient way
to keep the troops in line,” she says,
“like the bogeyman. Fear works pretty good.”
Luckily, for the many parents who’ve benefited
from Griffith’s cautionary tale, brutal honesty
works even better.  

Tags: World, World

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