Susan Cottrell, mother, pastor, and founder of FreedHearts.org, recently released a TED talk where she shared the difficult choice she made when her daughter came out. "One day the phone rang and everything changed," Cottrell said in her speech. Her 20-year-old daughter, Annie, called her from college and said, "Mom, I've got something to tell you. I'm attracted to girls. I think I'm bisexual. I prayed about it, Mom. I resisted, but it won't go away." Cottrell admitted that her total acceptance for Annie didn't come immediately.
After 20 years in an evangelical church, the mother of five "believed that being gay was somehow wrong." In the moment she told her daughter, "Don't give in. We'll support you. How can I help?" But she knew their family would never be the same in the church again. The advice from her Bible study peers was clear: "Homosexuality is a sin and we can't accept it."
So she had a choice to make. And in a tearful moment onstage she said, " I realized I was being asked to choose between the two most important parts of my life: my child and my church. I chose my child." And the audience stood and applauded.
After leaving the church and losing the support of half her family, Cottrell found her heart opened to a new mission. "God was telling me to serve the gay community," she explained. Since that remarkable moment, Susan and her husband, Rob, also a pastor, have created a blossoming community of parents and LGBTQ children, that all started with a simple blog. Their work has helped over 3,000 people choose to love their children and has kept families together by reconciling their faith issues. "As pastors, Rob and I represent the voice of God, and it’s a voice of love," she said in her speech, countering the hateful messages often spewed by those who claim to represent Jesus Christ. The Cottrells have led support groups, officiated same-sex weddings, offered free mom and dad hugs at Pride parades, and connected LGBTQ folks with parents who love them, even when their birth parents won't.
In one touching example, Cottrell shared a story of Ken and Kathy, a couple looking to renew their wedding vows after Ken made a gender-affirming transition to Kendra. Their parents didn't come to the ceremony. "That's where Linda and Janet stepped in," Cottrell explained. The two moms connected with the couple through the FreedHearts community and became the parents who walked the brides down the aisle.
Cottrell is very aware of the lifesaving change that can come from choosing your child. She quoted a report that showed 57 percent of transgender youth without parental support attempt suicide. However, with parental support that number drops to 4 percent. "Fifty-seven percent to 4 percent — that’s the power of a parent’s love!" Cottrell commented,
By the end of the speech, she had shed tears and so had the crowd. The impact was visible on faces in the audience when she said, "LGBTQ people come up to us and melt into our arms. Many have not had parental encouragement in years." She and Rob tell everyone, "You're worthy. You matter. You belong." She affirmed that “real love accepts people as they are with room for who they may become.” And she reminded us that choosing love is always the right choice.
Watch the emotional TED talk below.