Mary Griffith, who lost her gay son, Bobby, to suicide and subsequently became an advocate for LGBTQ rights, has died at the age of 85.
The story of Griffith and her son was told in Leroy Aarons’s 1989 book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms With the Suicide of Her Gay Son. The book was adapted into a Lifetime movie in 2009, starring Sigourney Weaver as Mary Griffith and Ryan Kelley as Bobby. It won a GLAAD Media Award in 2010 and was nominated for numerous other honors.
Mary Griffith was a devout Christian who initially believed that homosexuality was a mortal sin and that Bobby could be “healed” by prayer. But her beliefs changed after Bobby took his own life by jumping from a freeway bridge in 1983, two years after he came out. She said she came to believe in a different kind of God, one of unconditional love, and she became a passionate crusader for LGBTQ equality.
In a commentary for The Advocate for National Coming Out Day in 2019, she discussed her opposition to conversion therapy and how she would address families who believe their LGBTQ children are “broken” and need to be “fixed.”
“I imagine what I would say to those families,” she wrote. “What could I say to convince them that their faith needs to be bigger, grow larger, to change? If they believe that God truly created everyone and everything, that must include their own perfect children. I know it includes my own perfect Bobby; this is how my faith expanded, and changed. It is not too late for these parents to be the trusted and loving adult their LGBTQ+ kids need them to be; their very lives depend on it.”
Activists mourned her passing. “The PFLAG family is deeply saddened by the loss of Mary Griffith, who led by heroic example on changing hearts and minds by sharing her personal story,” said Brian K. Bond, executive director of PFLAG National. “After the devastating loss of her son to suicide, Mary found PFLAG and learned that one can love both their child and their faith and not have to choose between them. Mary used this personal journey to help countless other parents, so that they would not have to face the same loss that she did.
“Mary Griffith was a force to be reckoned with, and her story — told both in the original book by Leroy Aarons and the beautiful award-winning film Prayers for Bobby — continues to change lives around the world. We’re grateful to the Griffith family for their generosity and support of PFLAG National, which will ensure that Mary’s story continues to change the lives of LGBTQ+ people and their families. The hearts of PFLAGers everywhere are with the Griffith family.”
“Mary’s life story has been embraced by millions of people globally, Prayers for Bobby executive producer Daniel Sladek added in the release. “On behalf of myself and my producing partners Chris Taaffe and David Permut, we are heartbroken to learn of our dear friend Mary’s passing. While soft-spoken and endlessly kind, Mary’s dedication was absolute. The thousands of emails and letters we received on Mary’s behalf are validation of the impact she has made on people’s lives. She was a fierce advocate on behalf of LGBTQ equality and she will be deeply missed.”
Griffith died last Friday at her home in Walnut Creek, Calif., after a long illness. She is survived by her husband, Robert, as well as two daughters, a son, several grandchildren, and a brother. Memorial donations may be made to PFLAG here.