Gay teens are killing themselves — two 13-year-olds due to bullying (see this terrific blog post by Sue Katz), and a college student whose tryst was videoed and put online. It sickens me that young people just discovering their sexuality feel so vulnerable that it’s easier to die than to live. Those of us who have lived long enough to know ourselves, accept ourselves (including our sexuality — whatever its stripes or colors), and find or create a community that lets us live fully and honestly have a responsibility to pass this along to young people.
That’s how Leroy Aarons felt at age 61, and that’s why I’m repeating the following post from January 2009. I don’t know if you can find the Lifetime movie now, but the book is as valuable now as the day it was written. Please read it, then pass it along to someone who needs it. A life may depend on it.
Here’s what I wrote in January 2009:
At age 61, prizewinning journalist Leroy Aarons discovered the true story of Bobby Griffith, a story so gripping that he devoted himself to retelling this story in novel form.
His book, Prayers for Bobby, has inspired a movie premiering on Lifetime TV, Saturday, January 24, 2009. It is the riveting true story of teenager Bobby Griffith, who back-flipped off a freeway overpass into the path of a tractor trailer at age 20 because he could not accept his homosexuality. Prayers for Bobby chronicles Bobby’s angst at growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian family and an anti-homosexual social and school environment. Aarons gently and lovingly pieces together Bobby’s life, fears, hopes and, finally, hopelessness, with the help of the five year diary he left, his legacy.
Prayers for Bobby (subtitle: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son) is also the story of Mary Griffith, Bobby’s mother, played by Sigourney Weaver in the Lifetime movie. A staunch, one-tracked fundamentalist, Mary was convinced that if she and Bobby just prayed enough, and if Bobby tried hard enough, God would cure him of his homosexuality. She prayed, she nagged Bobby relentlessly, she shamed him, she put Bible quotes on the mirror for him to see when he wakened. Too late, Mary finally realized with a thunderbolt of insight that the reason God had refused to cure Bobby was that there was nothing wrong with him.
What does this have to do with our age group? Plenty. Think about how we had to discover our own sexual and sensual natures despite the mores of our restrictive society in an era that condemned what seemed our most natural feelings and desires. Imagine being trapped in a world that didn’t understand you at a time you couldn’t even understand yourself. And reach out.
If you think you don’t know any closeted gay teenagers, it’s only because they are closeted. Maybe your “Bobby” is your grandson, or your granddaughter’s best friend, or the neighbor kid, or the quiet boy at church. We’ve learned a lot about life and about sexuality in the decades we’ve been living on this earth, and part of it is to accept ourselves and open ourselves to younger folks who might need a role model, a listening ear, and a warm “so good to see you today.”
I am proud that I knew Leroy Aarons until his death four years ago, called him my friend Roy, and still enjoy a close friendship with Joshua Boneh, his surviving spouse. Please check out the website that Joshua and Roy’s friends have constructed in Roy’s memory and to celebrate the movie that he always hoped would be made about his book.
(photo of Leroy Aarons and Joshua Boneh)