Mormon Mom Who Fought for Prop 8, Now Fights for Gay Son

"Families Are Forever": Parents don't have to choose between faith and child.

June 20, 2013, 5:33 PM

June 21, 2013— -- Wendy and Tom Montgomery are devout Mormons from California who pounded on doors in 2008 to support the passage of Proposition 8, the state referendum that overturned the ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry in California, and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

They did so not knowing that their now 14-year-old son, Jordan, was gay and would later contemplate suicide because of the church's steadfast belief that homosexuality is a sin that would cut him off from his family not only here on earth but in the afterlife.

"One of core tenets we believe in as Mormons is that the family is eternal in nature," Wendy Montgomery, 37, told "Our family units are really strong."

Raised in a conservative community in California, the mother of six children said she often heard things like "gay people are disgusting and immoral" and "AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality."

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"To be honest, before my son came out, I didn't know any other families who had gay kids," she said. "It's one of the things that's not talked about in my church, which makes it so much harder to deal with and know who to go to for help."

The Montgomery family's struggle to reconcile its faith with full acceptance of their son's sexual identity is at the heart of the video "Families Are Forever," which premieres at Frameline 37: the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival this weekend.

The 20-minute piece is produced by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, and is part of a planned series of short documentaries that depict the journey of ethnically and religiously diverse families to support their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

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LGBT youth are more likely to engage in at-risk behaviors, according to the Project, which provides discussion guides and materials for parents, educators and communities. These resources have been recognized as a "best practice" by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"We have identified 100 ways parents and caregivers can respond and show how that affects their risk for suicide or substance abuse or HIV, self-esteem and sense of the future," said Caitlin Ryan, director of the Project, which has been studying LGBT youth and their families for 12 years.

"What we found across religious groups in conflict with homosexuality is many parents feel like they have to choose between their child and their faith," she said. "We've seen a lot of LGBT kids out of their homes and on the streets. Research shows high levels of negative reactions to homosexuality and risk for suicidal behavior and a sense of hopelessness. Jordan's greatest fear is that he felt he would be thrown out."

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Ryan said an analysis of adolescent studies shows that gay youth are three times more likely to report a suicide attempt and four times as likely to make a "medically serious" attempt than heterosexual youth.

A 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics suggests that acceptance, and even neutrality, about a child's sexual orientation rather than rejection, can reduce those rates. suggests that acceptance, and even neutrality, about a child's sexual orientation rather than rejection, can reduce those rates.

In the short video, Jordan, a dark-haired boy with guileless eyes, explains that before his parents found out he was gay, he had considered taking "lots pills. ..."

"I was mortified at the idea of being disowned by my parents," Jordan says in "Families Are Forever." "I was like, I do not want to be thrown out of my home. I definitely expected to be excommunicated and restricted from church. But I still wanted to be with the church, like, I'd grown up with it, it was my life … until now."

Until about age 13, Jordan had been the "happiest, most exuberant child," according to his mother, but then he began to withdraw from friends and family. Looking for answers, she found an entry in his journal describing his attraction to other boys, though he had never acted on those urges.

The discovery shook his mother to the core.

"I felt like what I saw his life would be – what I expected his life to be – as a Mormon boy was now gone," she says in the video. "I saw him preparing for a mission for our church – gone. I saw a temple wedding – gone. I saw him being a father – gone."

Suddenly their son's conflict and depression made sense to the Montgomerys. But the church's view on homosexuality confused her: "God views it as a sin," she says in "Families Are Forever." "But I looked at a boy who had never done anything wrong, a pure innocent child, no way sinning or choosing this."

After leaving the family for several days, Montgomery said she and her husband, after saying a prayer, sat closely on their bed, and asked Jordan directly "Are you struggling?"

"I could feel him start to tremble and he nodded," says Montgomery. "We sat that way for two hours, and I hugged him and said, 'Jordan, this changes nothing. … You are perfect in our eyes. ... We will figure this out.'"

With what for her was shocking news about her son, Montgomery said she became a "master researcher."

"There were times when I wasn't eating or sleeping," she said. "I needed to find answers to help him."

She first bought books from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was told that her son's homosexuality was a "choice," a "popular thing to do," and a "phase" he would outgrow. "None of that applied to my son," she said.

Finding nothing that would help her, she turned to the medical community and learned that homosexuality was not a choice but an identity. Eventually, she came across research from the Family Acceptance Project and learned she didn't have to choose between her faith and her son.

"It felt like a ray of sunshine in the middle of the darkest period of my life," said Montgomery. "It gave me hope."

Her husband agreed: "You can't just leave some void for a young child to [think], 'God doesn't have a plan for me anymore,'" Tom Montgomery, 41, says in the documentary. "I need to fill him with purpose. And give him, show him, this is not the end of the world, this is the beginning of your world."

Mitch Mayne, an openly gay active member of the Church of Latter-day Saints who currently holds a priesthood leadership position in his congregation in San Francisco, helped develop the Project's intervention kit – films and research materials – for Mormons like the Montgomerys, who were struggling.

"What we are seeing is very much a cultural change within the Mormon faith," said Mayne, who is in his 40s. "Sadly, Prop 8 branded Mormons as a hateful religion for the LGBT community. … We deserve a black eye for that, because it is one of the most un-Christ like things we have done as a religion. But the beautiful thing in the last few years is that we have seen tremendous change of heart."

But until now, Mayne said, there were few resource materials available to Mormons to educate themselves about homosexuality. Mayne said the Book of Mormon makes no mention of homosexuality.

Wendy Montgomery, too, went back to Scripture and said she felt good about her decision to accept Jordan for who he was: "Christ's most basic commandments were 'love god' and' love your neighbor,'" she said.

Today, Jordan is in the Boy Scouts working toward his Eagle Scout badge. The church has accepted a Boy Scout policy to allow openly gay youth. Because Jordan is not sexually active, he holds an Aaronic priesthood in the church, which means he can pass the sacrament in a ceremony akin to a Catholic communion.

He still faces some "rocky" times at his conservative public school, according to his mother. "I am on a first-name basis with the dean and am constantly fighting for him.

"For him, it's a double-edged sword – being open and at the same time he doesn't have the shame and self-hatred that comes with closeted," said his mother. "But he says, 'Mom, I can trust my friendships now. They know who I really am.'"

Others in Wendy Montgomery's close-knit community have reached out to say they are glad she is telling her story. Some gay teenagers who couldn't talk to their own parents have contacted Jordan and his family privately.

Montgomery said she has hope for Jordan's future, and the family is stronger because of its journey.

"I am a better person for having a gay son," she said. "I love differently, and I love more openly. I didn't realize the judgment I had before I realized that having a gay son was a great blessing and not a burden."

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