One thing that many supporters of anti-gay legislation have in common is gay or lesbian children. Eagle Forum founder and Equal Rights Amendment opponent Phyllis Schlafly has an openly gay son. Former presidential candidate and anti-gay pundit Alan Keyes’ daughter Maya came out as lesbian in 2005. And the late Sen. William “Pete” Knight also has a gay son, David, who made headlines when he publicly opposed Proposition 8, the controversial measure that re-banned gay marriage in California last month. In 2000, his father championed California’s Proposition 22, the original legislation banning gay marriage that the state supreme court overturned this May.
Now, Gary Lawrence can be added to that number. As State LDS Grassroots Director, Lawrence was a linchpin in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ much-publicized (and much-criticized) campaign to pass Proposition 8, despite the fact that his only son, 28-year-old Matt Lawrence, is gay. The story the younger Lawrence tells is a familiar one: his family, like those of many Mormons, has now been torn apart by the legislation.
“My dad knew that this would upset me, but he still thought it was worth it to go ahead and ruin our relationship over this,” said Lawrence in a telephone interview from his home in Riverside, Calif. “Yeah he has his convictions, and yeah he believes gay marriage is wrong, but is it really worth it, estranging your son?”
Now, the younger Lawrence says he is resigning from the church in which he has raised (he has not attended services since age 16). Although he says the LDS Church ultimately has a “pretty good” record when it comes to issues such as raising children, being kind to others, and serving those in need, he says he will no longer defend anything the church does.
“When people would say, ‘Oh yeah, you guys believe in polygamy,” I would always correct them. … [But] now it’s like, no more. If people have misconceptions about the Mormon Church, by all means run with it, think what you want, “ he says. “They made an enemy out of me, flat out.”
Stunned and angered over his family’s support of the measure, he adds that he is no longer speaking to his parents or his three sisters. While he still loves his family, he just feels too hurt and betrayed.
“I haven’t talked to them,” he says. “On Thanksgiving, my mom sent an email saying we want you to come out, and I basically told them to go away. I told them before the election, ‘If this passes, do not expect me around. Christmas, nothing.’”
This is not the first time Lawrence and his family — and in particular his father — have clashed over the issue of homosexuality. As a teenager, Lawrence says his parents sent him to several therapists and then to live with relatives in Utah when they discovered he was gay.
“They thought I was hanging around with gay people and that’s what made me gay,” Lawrence explains. “So if they removed me from that and moved me to Utah with all the good, upstanding Mormons, I wouldn’t be gay anymore, it makes no sense at all.”
“I admit I was a rebellious little brat. I was trying to figure myself out and sneaking out at night, and my parents were just being driven insane,” Lawrence confesses. “I guess they couldn’t handle it anymore.”
Nonetheless, he describes the experience as “quite a blow.” In a previous interview with Andrew Callahan, a former Mormon who founded the anti-Prop. 8 Web site, Lawrence said his cousins were “homophobic” and often called him epithets such as “faggot” in public, while Lawrence’s aunt and uncle “did nothing to discourage his behavior.”
“I was really unsure about my feelings,” he says of that time. “I felt guilty like, why do I have these feelings, and I want to a good Mormon, but I’m just not attracted to girls. It’s really rough being a gay Mormon fifteen-year-old. I feel sorry for anybody in that situation.”
Still, upon returning home to California, Lawrence said his relationship with his family improved as he entered adulthood. Although he is a staunch Democrat and his father a dedicated Republican, he says the two regularly teased each other about politics. But then one day in 2000, Lawrence went to his father’s garage and discovered two palates of Yes on Proposition 22 signs. In tears, Lawrence said he tried to drag the signs to the trash can while his father attempted to intervene.
Almost the same thing happened this year, when Lawrence discovered canvassing information in his father’s office. The elder Lawrence, he says, tried to dismiss the issue quickly.
“He got all serious and said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m working on the [Yes on] Prop. 8 [campaign], and let’s just agree to disagree.’”
“It felt like someone punched me in the stomach,” Lawrence remembers. “My dad’s a smart guy, and he can come up with his own opinions, but it’s not like I can just ignore this or we can just get back to normal after this.”
His father’s political involvement hit him particularly hard this time, Lawrence says, because the state Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage had filled him with “so much hope,” even though he currently has no plans to marry.
“I was happy,” he says. “[It meant] I can be monogamous and happy and have a white picket fence and live with somebody someday. It just seems like there was some hope for the future and when that got taken away, I took it very personally.”
Lawrence took it so personally, in fact, that he said he spent most of Election Day by himself, drinking to numb the sinking feeling that Proposition 8 would pass, a fact he blames in part on gay people who didn’t vote, assuming that a “blue” state like California would never enact such legislation.
He says he hopes that Proposition 8’s success will serve as a “kick in the ass” for gay people everywhere to become more politically aware.
Indeed, it would seem that it has. Since Nov. 4, Proposition 8 foes in all 50 states have staged demonstrations, some amassing thousands of participants, demanding marriage equality. While Lawrence approves of these protests and hopes to join one some day, he says the pain is too great for him to do so now.
“I’d love to get move involved, but almost going to these things, I just get so thoroughly pissed off,” he explains.
When asked if he thinks his own sexuality influenced his father’s support of Prop. 8, Lawrence says yes.
“I know he’s ashamed. I’m a disappointment to him,” he says. “The last couple years he looks at me with sadness in his eyes, like, ‘It’s never too late to change.’ I’ve always been a disappointment to my dad.”
Asked if he thinks he and his family will ever reconcile, Lawrence says he hopes so.
“As pissed off as I am at my family, they’re still my family and I love them. I’m not trying to bag on my family,” he says.
“I love my mom. … I got [an email from her] last night saying my father had been threatened. I sent an email back and said, you pissed in you bed, now sleep in it. It hurt me to have to write that, but all [his] information is public. I hope nothing happens, I hope they don’t get hurt. But if you piss off all these people you’re not going to get any sympathy for me.”
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