a short autobiography
1999 Speech at the Indiana State Capitol
A friend's witness
Nov. 1996 letter for the Chrysler Campaign
Murray gave the following address, on September 18, 1999 at the Prayer
For Justice Gathering, held on the steps of Indiana Capitol State Building.
The Answer is Love
I lived all my life in a rural community in southern Indiana, where I was born. I never ventured far from its city limits nor my June Cleaver perspective. At the center of my small world was the church. The church was the very core of my life. It was the foundation for my family structure as well.
When my thirteen-year-old son tearfully shared with me that he was gay, I instantly felt so alone. The only thing more painful that day was looking into my son's pleading eyes and seeing how alone my child had felt for such a long time. I could never imagine any circumstance, when I was seeking compassion and understanding, that I could not go to my church family to find them, until my son spoke those words, "Mom, I'm gay." Instinctively, I knew that if I ran to my church family as I had done many times in the past, I would not experience their love this time, but only their fear. For I heard disparaging remarks about gays spoken from the pulpit and gay jokes told during choir practice. I felt their contempt for gays. Please understand they were/are good and caring people. But fear can bring out the very worst, even in the very best of people. Perhaps, this is why the most repeatedly given commandment in Scriptures is "Fear not." For love and fear cannot co-habit within the same heart. When one enters, the other must leave.
But I cannot judge them. For the same fear resided in my heart. And it clutched my heart that day when my son spoke those words, "Mom, I'm gay." What would ultimately live in my heart? Fear? My homophobia. Or Love? The love I had for my son whom I had just learned was gay --- the love I first felt for him when he was a thought not yet formed in my womb. I was in such turmoil; my heart was becoming a house divided. A house at war. But then miraculously I heard God's answer - - - an answer that brought such perfect peace. Love! The only answer to every question. After my son had the courage to share the truth of his being with me, I spent many days crying and many nights screaming into my pillow. One day I stared hard into the mirror at the woman made haggard with her daily wailing caused by her own ignorance and fear. And I began to wince at the unsightliness of her spiritual warts . . . her prejudice. Then I heard God whisper to me, "You are in so much pain, my child, because you are going about this backwards. Instead of putting the hateful, negative images you have about gays on your son. You should put the face of your beloved son on the gay community. Let your experience of your son speak to you." And my experience of my son spoke Love. And Love cleaned house that day. Love kicked fear right out the door. I never shed another tear because my son is gay.
But I have shed many tears because of how my son has been treated by a fearful society because he is gay. Proving my instincts to be true, my minister outed my son when he was 14. As a result, our church and community ostracized us. Since we had placed all of our social eggs, as well as our spiritual eggs into one basket, our church, we felt completely abandoned, when the basket was knocked out of our hands. I had to take my son Bruce out of school because of daily verbal and physical attacks. He was spat upon, punched, kicked, jabbed with pencils, ridiculed in the classroom by both students and teachers and received death threats. There was no intervention by the school's administration because they were paralyzed with fear, when it came to addressing abuse directed toward their gay students. [Bruce Murray tells about school.]
Through my involvement with PFLAG, Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, I slowly became painfully aware that my son's dehumanizing treatment because of his sexual orientation was a reality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders everywhere. I witnessed gay youth abandoned by their families and turned out into the streets, gay youth who attempted suicide because they could not deal with the ongoing hostility in a world that didn't seem to care, people losing their jobs and even their homes simply because of their sexual orientation. Sometimes, their very lives were threatened or taken because they were irrationally feared. It was easy to see that fear was hatred's seed and the havoc that bitter seed created in their daily lives.
As my awareness grew of the plight that my gay brothers and sisters endure, I realized that this was a justice issue, the scope of which extends beyond my family's personal and painful experience. They were being demonized, robbed of their humanity and blocked from achieving their potential, which denies us their incredible talents and gifts that they are so eager to give to society. I knew that if I truly heard God's answer I could no longer pretend not to see their suffering. Or my heart would become callused and I could no longer respect the woman in the mirror. When God pressed upon my heart to be an advocate, to speak out at every opportunity, I felt fear. I began to plead, "God, you know public speaking is my number one phobia. You know if I speak out for them, I will be painted with the same dehumanizing brush as my gay brothers and sisters. I will be marginalized and hated. And besides what can one woman do?"
And then I heard God's answer to my question . . . "love."
I've tried to the best of my ability to reflect that answer. And I have been amazed how love can pry open hearts and doors that formerly had been closed to my son and me. Love is allowed into places where rage could never go.
But it is impossible not to become angry, when you see so many injustices around you. It is impossible not to become angry, when you see so many people hurting and so many families torn apart. It is impossible not to become angry when our gay children are slaughtered and the church stands curiously silent, and yet the church is so loudly indignant when we ask them to compassionately consider our children.
What about this anger that justice-minded people cannot avoid? I got my answer one night sitting at my computer desk. I often do online support. At first I was numb, when I read the e-mail that had come to me from a stranger. Then I was horrified as I began to piece together what was being conveyed to me by this woman. Three weeks prior on Christmas Day, I had received an email from an eighteen year old boy who said he had heard how I had embraced my gay son. He wanted to write me to say how lucky my son was, because his parents had rejected him, when he told them he was gay. He conveyed in his post that he, too, was being cruelly harassed at school. But he reassured me that he was strong and that he would endure, albeit alone. He shared with me his dream of having a good life some day. The woman was his mother, going through his email, trying to piece together the last days of his life, because he had killed himself the night before. They had found my response to his post in his wallet. She said, "It must have meant much to him what you wrote. Because it was apparent it had read it often by the many times it had been folded and refolded. This woman who was so full of regret and grief graciously thanked me for being there for her son. But she was so ashamed that he had to turn to a stranger. My post, after offering to be available to him by email or phone, simply said, "Please remember always that you are a unique and precious breath of God." Words he tried so desperately to hold onto, but could not in a world that denied his preciousness. And I felt the anger. Because I knew the world would still deny his preciousness, even now. Yes, I felt angry, as I thought about the sorrowful mother and her enduring her disenfranchised grief. . . A grief that the community and church would not help her to bear. She grieves for her dead gay son in a dismal vacuum of silence.
"What do I do with this anger?" I asked.
I heard the answer. The only answer to every question . . . Love! Anger channeled through Love is the power to transform. Anger not channeled through love only destroys, with no hope of rebirth and renewal.
Remember to direct that anger at the enemy.
But the people shouting at you, hurling insults at you, seeking to strip you of your dignity and your rights are not the enemy. Fear is the enemy, the fear within their hearts . . . the fear that can be in our own hearts. We are overwhelmed with fear.
I say to you, the answer is to overwhelm them with our love . . . a love so great, so fired by our outrage at injustices, that it drives out all fear. And when they begin to see their gay brothers and sisters without fear, perhaps they won't overwhelm them with love in return, but at least they would lose their fanatical desire to deny them their right to pursue life, love and happiness. But I am an optimist. I believe love fills to overflowing every space that fear vacates.
I so believe in the absoluteness of the answer that I confront my number one phobia and stand before you today. I so believe that love will be the ultimate expression here, not fear nor indifference. I so believe Love is a mightier force than fear.
We came here today to pray for justice. Our prayers rise up like a question? "What can I do to make sure that everyone is recognized as being a unique and precious breath of God, including our gay brothers and sisters?" We have the answer. Love. Let us leave here with that answer so graciously spoken through us that it leaves no room for questioning its Source.
I would like to conclude with a quote. Unfortunately, I do not know who authored it. But it is one that should be remembered as we work for Justice for our gay citizens. "The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you." I say to you that power is God. That power is Love.
Copyright © 1999 Rhea Murray
Rhea Murray can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.