I’m a Mormon. I’m a Mom. I Have a Gay Son.

My Journey.

By Becky Mackintosh

Becky Mackintosh found her beliefs about homosexuality being challenged when her son, Sean, told her he was gay. Her ensuing journey is based in love—love for the Savior and his gospel, love for her son, and even love for the bumps and bruises that make life what it is. Becky aims to enlighten minds, strengthen families, and heal wounded hearts. She and her husband, Scott, have seven children.

Growing up I looked forward to becoming a mother. In fact, I wanted 10 kids! How hard could raising 10 children be? I was certain that if I married a return missionary in the temple and we had regular family prayers and weekly family home evening, attended church, read our scriptures, and served faithfully in our church callings, raising our 10 children would go without a hitch.

A Close-knit Family



Everything started out as planned. I married Scott Mackintosh, a return missionary, in the Salt Lake Temple on September 22, 1983. Yep, Scott passed the test. He had all the qualities on my long “must-have” list, which included integrity, work ethic, and, above all, love for the Lord. We began welcoming those 10 children, one by one, into our home. But when child number seven was born I told Scott that it felt like 10 and I was calling it good. Our family felt complete. So we named him Skye because “the sky’s the limit.”

We had our first five children in six-and-a-half years. That alone accounted for a lot of craziness in our home. Five children in elementary school together, and five teenagers at the same time. It didn’t take long before I discovered Heavenly Father was sending me all the perfect kids: perfectly stubborn, perfectly unique, perfectly unpredictable, and perfectly mine. Being a parent was harder than I anticipated. What worked for one child did not work for another. So much our children growing up without a hitch; this was more like a roller-coaster!

As a mother I learned that Heavenly Father is aware of our lives. I am grateful for the seven unique personalities that were sent to our home to help us learn and grow. Our children range in age from 18 to 30, three boys and four girls. Four of our children are married—and yes, we are grandparents!

We are a close-knit family and my kids are my pride and joy. I am proud of each of my children, especially for the life lessons they have taught and continue to teach me. They are the reason I color my hair and have bags under my eyes and callouses on my knees from the long hours of praying and oftentimes pleading with Heavenly Father for them. I bear testimony that God hears and answers our prayers, not always in the way we like but always in the way that is best. I often remind myself that my children are his children, and he loves them and knows them better than I do. This reminds me to lean on him and trust him.

The Unexpected



Our story—this story—revolves around our middle son, Sean. He was an easy child to raise, a happy and healthy boy who played soccer, wrestled, and loved animals. He has raised every animal, reptile, and creepy-crawly creature you can imagine. He served a mission in Detroit, graduated from BYU-Hawaii with honors, and is currently in the master’s program in social work at the University of Hawaii.

It was January 9, 2012, when 24-year-old Sean told me and his father, Scott, that he was gay in the best way he knew how. Precisely at 11:11 p.m. he sent us a private message saying:

“Hey so I’m not gonna beat around the bush too much, I’m just going to tell you something that I’m sure you already know or it has at least crossed your mind plenty of times. I’m gay. I’m sure this isn’t the best news a parent could hear, but I feel like it’s not right for me to not talk to you about something very real to me. I want you to know I’m very much the same weird Sean. Ha! I love you and dad so much and you’re the best parents a kid could ask for. This is why it’s taken me so long to tell you, I’m fine with the pain it can bring me at times but, I just didn’t want to hurt you cause you don’t deserve it. Once again I love you very much, but I want to keep this brief cause I am sure you’d rather talk in person and I am 100 percent fine with that. I haven’t told anyone ever, I wanted you and dad to be the first to know.”

The sting of reading the words “I’m gay,” was masked by the last sentence: “I haven’t told anyone ever, I wanted you and dad to be the first to know.” To me that validated how awesome, amazing, and considerate my son is, for it’s not uncommon to hear, “The parents were the last to know.” It also shed light on the fact that my son had closeted his most conflicted and torn feelings with lock and key—alone. That I was not proud of.

Sean was correct in his assumption that this had at least crossed my mind. I had often wondered about my strikingly good-looking son who only dated when the girls took the initiative and asked him out. It was a thought I kept quiet, hardly daring to think it to myself. It was something I hoped was not true! But here it was in black and white—my son announcing that he was gay. Scott was completely blindsided by the news. It shook him to his core. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Sean; he simply hadn’t seen this coming.

Immediately I called Sean asking him to hurry home so we could talk face-to-face. This was Sean’s final night before heading back to school in Hawaii, so he was out visiting friends and saying goodbyes for another year.

Scott waited up for Sean as long as he could stay awake, then dozed off. I waited and waited. About 1:30 a.m. in strolled my 6’3” tall and lanky Sean. He looked scared and distraught. He immediately apologized for his late entrance. His phone had died, he ran out of gas, and then ran a couple miles to his married sister’s house. He refueled and was back on the road, all the while knowing “the talk” that he had been dreading for 24 years was about to unfold. Sean was about to face his biggest fear, hoping we would respond with love but fearing the worst: rejection.

Sean and I stayed up until 4 a.m. talking, crying, and hugging before calling it a night and heading to the airport only a few hours later. It was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done, giving him one last hug at the airport that would have to suffice for an entire year.

Daggers in Each Other’s Heart



As I look back on that first conversation I have to admit that I am not proud of everything I said. I said some things completely out of ignorance. I had never researched the subject, naively thinking this was something other families had to deal with, not mine.

First, I told Sean I loved him and my love would never change. I felt strongly that he needed to know of my unconditional love for him. Then I said some ignorant stuff as if this were his first day trying to sort this out in his heart and mind. I said things like, “What are you going to do about it?” and “You are a fighter, Sean—you can fight this.” and “Hang in there; this is your test, your challenge, and in the next life your feelings will match your body and all will be well.”

As these phrases spilled off my lips I thought I was giving words of comfort, not knowing each phrase was a dagger in my son’s heart. The phrases weren’t new. He had grown up hearing them everywhere, and he had spent a lifetime trying to digest and understand why he felt the way he felt and what kind of life that meant for him.

What broke my heart that evening was looking at my 24-year-old son and thinking my adorable little boy with the big smile had grown up dealing with this secret all alone—no one to trust and talk to about what he was feeling. I cried then, and I cry still when I think of him dealing with this alone. Tears come at the thought of hundreds of kids and teens with same-gender attraction dealing with this alone, afraid to talk about their true feelings and contemplating suicide as the answer.

I’ve listened to my son talk about what it was like growing up fighting an inward battle, trying to “fit in” in a world that frowns upon gays, belonging to a religion that is family-centered and strongly believes in traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and living in a family that teaches the same. My heart breaks at the thought of my own flesh and blood growing up feeling like a misfit right in our home, in school, in society, and within the walls of our Church.

Growing up he never let on to the sadness and confusion going on inside. He was a happy, active, fun-loving little boy and teenager. We just didn’t know. Even his friends didn’t know. If an Oscar could be awarded, Sean would have won. He hid his feelings well.

The dagger in my heart are Sean’s piercing words telling me of the years he contemplated ending his life so no one would ever know he was gay. It is my prayer and quest that no one feels that way—ever! I am so thankful Sean never acted upon those dark feelings and is happy with the person he is, trying to live the best life he can, just like everyone else.

I have studied, fasted, and prayed to become more educated. One startling fact that I learned in my quest to gain knowledge and understanding is that teens and young adults with same-gender attraction have among the highest rates of attempted suicide. That is unacceptable! No one should go to bed at night thinking they are better off dead—ever.

Only eight hours after Sean revealed his deepest-kept secret he returned to Hawaii, leaving us with only modern technology to communicate—no more face-to-face visits for another year. The hardest part was not being able to hug him each day to physically let him know how much I loved him.

Though I knew my love for Sean would never change, the fear over what the future held for my son shook me to the very core. And yet, I felt peace. That peace, I believe, comes from having a personal testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, live. This testimony has been the foundation of my life, strength in times of struggle.

My Own Refiner’s Fire



When I was very young I was sexually abused by a man who threatened that if I told anyone he would kill me and whoever I told. I believed him. I feared him. And I told no one—except my Heavenly Father. Each night I knelt next to my bed and poured my heart out to God in simple prayer asking for help, asking if he loved me. Every time I asked, “Do you love me?” I felt a warm, burning feeling flood my body as if my Heavenly Father were wrapping his arms around me. I could hear him whisper, “Yes, I love you.” No one could ever tell me otherwise; no one could ever tell me there was no God. I knew he was real and I knew he loved me.

I learned at an early age to lean on the Lord and trust him. Though the abuse continued for several years, I felt my Heavenly Father’s guiding hand strengthening me throughout the healing process. This was the foundation for my own personal testimony of God’s divinity, a confirmation that he knows and loves his children.

Whenever challenges and hardships venture onto my path I pray, I turn to the scriptures, and I listen for his whispers.

And I really needed him now!

Praying, Fasting, and Seeking Revelation



That first night when Sean revealed his deepest feelings he asked me not to tell anyone, and believe me, I didn’t want to—I was fine with keeping this secret. Sean was in the beginning process of “coming out”—slowly, in fear of what being vulnerable might bring. I asked Sean for permission to tell two people. First, our stake president who was a dear friend and the former bishop of our ward. He had been Sean’s bishop through the latter part of his teenage years (my husband, Scott, was his first councilor), he sent Sean off on his mission, and he was the stake president who released him upon his return. Sean agreed this was a person he could trust and did not fear.

The second person I asked if I could tell was a really good friend of mine who had a son that came out a couple years prior. Sean granted me permission, understanding that I would need someone to talk to other than him. He then asked, “Mom, if you do tell anyone else, I just ask that you tell me, so that I know.” Agreed.

Scott and I met with our stake president that first week. He lovingly listened, counseled us, recommended reading sources, and expressed his love for Sean and our family. Shortly thereafter we went to the temple fasting and praying for much needed guidance in our quest. The temple is and always has been my personal place of solitude from the world. It is where I go to block out the noise and clutter of life. It is where I am reminded of the beautiful plan of happiness and the love our Heavenly Father has for each of his children.

Only on this day, contemplating the new dynamics of our family hurt. I prayed vigorously for understanding of what the future held for Sean and our goal of an eternal family. Over the years I have spent a lot of time sitting inside the celestial room praying and pleading over a child. On these days I meditate, listen, and digest words, thoughts, and impressions. Today would be no different—I prayed, and I listened.

The answer came in a whisper, but it felt loud and clear as if to leave no question of its validity: “Love—love Sean unconditionally.”

It was as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. “Love? That’s easy—I can do that!” I shared with Scott what the Lord had impressed upon me. He said he had received the same distinct feeling. Being on the same page as your spouse makes the journey a whole lot sweeter.

Though loving Sean came easy, giving up hopes and dreams for him—which included marrying a woman in the temple and raising a family in the traditional way—was not so easy. I heard of someone who I understood had chosen that course—Ty Mansfield. I don’t remember how or why I knew of Ty, but I did. I rushed to Deseret Book and bought a copy of In Quiet Desperation, which he co-authored.[1] This book gave great insight and answered many questions. It was nice to know we weren’t the first family to tread this path.

Sean asked his father and me to read No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons, by Carol Lynn Pearson.[2] His father read it while I was reading Ty’s book. It was a turning point for Scott. He began to look at same gender-attraction in a different perspective. Scott was one of the most homophobic people I knew and this was a big step. It was the beginning of a two-year journey of accepting his son without conditions.

After completing In Quiet Desperation I started to read No More Goodbyes but found it emotionally too difficult to finish—my heart ached for the many people sharing their inner conflict between feelings they did not choose and their strong religious convictions. I cried and cried. My heart couldn’t take it. I tucked the book away; perhaps I would read it another time. There were too many family rejections, too many suicides, too many individuals and families leaving the Church not knowing what else to do. This was disturbing and heartbreaking to me. I wanted to fix it but didn’t know how.

Telling the Siblings



A few months later Sean felt it was time to tell his siblings his secret. He texted me one day and asked “Mom, do you think today is a good day to tell the family?” I said, “No, not today—it’s April Fool’s Day, no one will believe you.” He laughed and said, “Oh, I didn’t even think of that.”

Sean waited a few more days and then sent his six siblings a group text confiding his secret that he was gay. He reminded them that he was still the same weird brother they had always known and encouraged them to call him if they wanted to talk. All six siblings called and expressed their love to him.

Scott and I held a family meeting with all our children, minus Sean in Hawaii and our daughter, Kelsey, who lives far away with her husband. We were all on the same page of loving Sean unconditionally—well, for the most part. A couple of family members—me included—had conditions like “no boyfriends in the home if Sean decides that’s the direction he wants to go.” The family had a respectful discussion about this and we agreed to disagree. I thought, “We will deal with this scenario if it comes.” I trusted the Lord would guide us and I tucked the thought away.

Coming Out Publicly



It was almost two years before I picked up No More Goodbyes again. I was in a rush to read before Sean returned home for Christmas, certain he would ask me if I had finished reading it.

I didn’t anticipate the role this book would play in my life. Story after story, page after page I cried before closing the book and saying, “Enough is enough!” I couldn’t sit back any longer hoping things would get better. I needed to follow the popular maxim, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I wanted to see a more loving and less judgmental society. I wanted not only my son to feel safe, loved, and appreciated, but all people. I wanted families everywhere to embrace and love their children—no more booting them out onto the street.

I felt a strong impression that it was time to “come out” as an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a mother who has a gay son whom I love and adore. I am proud to be his mother. I felt a strong desire to tell parents and families that you don’t have to choose between your church and your gay children. You can embrace both! I can’t imagine life without the other. Trials and tribulation, courage and strength bring understanding. Love without conditions or judgment brings people to Christ.

Sean was in Thailand finishing up an internship in social work and was only a few weeks away from coming home for Christmas. While communicating on Skype I mustered the courage to tell him I felt impressed that we needed to do a video sharing his story. We needed to talk about his feelings of same-gender attraction and the years of contemplating suicide and what it was like to finally get the courage to tell his parents and his siblings etc. I was pleasantly surprised when Sean said he, too, felt it was time. He could see the potential this video had in helping others.

With the help of Kelsey, my daughter and a film graduate, we shot the video without rehearsing or discussing what we were going to say. Posting the video along with the accompanying blog post was gut-wrenching in spite of the strong feeling that it was the right thing to do. I worried about how the public would react to my son’s vulnerability and my motherly plea for kindness.

The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Hundreds of gay young men and women reached out to me and Sean. Many emails indicated stories that mirrored my son’s: people receiving an outpouring of love and support when they decided to come out. Unfortunately, others experienced rejection, and still others expressed fear of telling their parents or sharing their secret with anyone. Many were seeking guidance, not knowing who else to turn to. I cried as I read email after email from young men and young women confessing they had contemplated taking their life or had actually tried, but luckily failed.

I received emails from LDS parents of gay children expressing relief to know they were not alone. This is the very reason I speak openly. This is why I am more inspired and encouraged than ever before in my quest to help others reunite, to strengthen families, and to assist in healing the hearts of hundreds of our gay brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters who have been rejected or shamed by others.

Standing with the Church



Did you know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an official website about gay Mormons? It’s been my experience that a low percentage of LDS members, including priesthood leaders, know about this website, mormonsandgays.org. I was elated when Sean told me about the website, which went online in December 2012. We watched and read everything on the website. After watching each video I called Sean. We talked about the videos and often cried together. It felt good to hear Church leaders speak about same-gender attraction. One of my favorite videos is from Elder Quentin L. Cook. I don’t know how anyone could watch his heartfelt story and not be touched by his sincerity and love.

As I have traveled the world speaking and coaching in places as far away as India I have yet to meet anyone who does not desire to feel loved, safe, trusted, respected, appreciated, and valued for who they are and the diversity they bring. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.”[3] God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, just to continue to move forward.

What Now?



That boyfriend scenario I talked about earlier—it happened. It came in a text message.

Sean: “Mom can I bring _______ to family dinner on Sunday?”

Me: “Is ______ a boy or a girl?” (I didn’t know if he was teasing or being serious).

Sean: “A boy mom, someone I’m dating and want him to meet the family.”

I was silent for several minutes while scenarios raced through my mind. I offered a prayer. And then I replied, “Yes.”

A person’s ability to love unconditionally can have powerful effects. What I have experienced and seen is that when we love unconditionally hearts are healed, families are strengthened, and lives are saved. It’s what Christ would do. It’s what He did do and continues to do. “Love one another as I have loved you” he said (John 13:34).

Meetings Sean’s boyfriend was, I felt, the real test of parental love without conditions. Our first meeting went well. It was more comfortable than I anticipated and it was the beginning of many family get-togethers over the next several months before Sean went back to school in Hawaii. A year ago I would have struggled with this, but the Lord has a way of softening our hearts to see others as he sees them. Seeing another person in an eternal perspective and knowing that he is of infinite worth helps us to look beyond any weaknesses.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we face as Latter-day Saint parents is when our children choose to do things that are against Church teachings. We may feel like forcing our children to do what we feel is right, but Heavenly Father does not force us to obey his commandments. He lovingly guides and directs us with patience and love unfeigned.

Life is a journey, a journey for the whole family—one that only a few years ago I thought only other people had to deal with. Today, I am grateful it is “my” problem, only I do not see it as a problem, a struggle, or a trial; I see it as one of my greatest blessings for all that it has taught me.

I don’t know all the answers. Heavenly Father has not given us all the answers. Perhaps we are not ready for all the answers. Life would be too easy if we had all the answers. Elder Richard G. Scott said, “We exercise faith and remember that there are some things that must be left to the Lord. He invites us to set our burdens down at His feet.”[4]

I thank my Heavenly Father for blessing me to live in such a time as this. I love my family and I love the gospel of Jesus Christ—they are the core of who I am. I am thankful for a living prophet and modern-day revelation. I am grateful for the gift of the Atonement and eternal life, which blesses us with the opportunity to be with our families not only in this life, but forever.

May God comfort you in your time of need, guide you when you don’t know which way to turn, and lead you to a place of peace, love, and happiness. This is my prayer.

 
 
 

[1] Fred Matis, Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield, In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004).

[2] Carol Lynn Pearson, No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones (Brigham City, UT: Brigham Distributing, 2007).

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign, May 1996.

[4] Richard G. Scott, “For Peace at Home,” Ensign, May 2013, 31.





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Jane
10 Nov, 2014

Thanks for sharing Becky. You are courageous and full of faith.


Brent Woodcock
23 Nov, 2014

That is/was a great story Coach!


Jennifer
2 Jan, 2015

Thank you so very much for sharing your beautiful story. It's so so sweet and immensely helpful.


Cody
14 Jan, 2015

You are such a loving and caring person; you took the time to read and study to better understand your son and I think you are such a strong woman. You fully love and accept your son for who he is, and I am so happy to read this story. Please, continue to "be the change you wish to see in the world."



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