Melissa Ingraham, a mental health professional in New York, attributed her same-sex attraction to the disgust of her father and brother’s actions and men in general. “In my mind, men used and abused women. I came to the conclusion that my femininity was a liability,” she said.
Her disappointment led to curiosity and eventually the desire to date women. “When I told my sister and my mother who are Christians that I was a lesbian, I was convinced they were going to tell me that I was going to hell.” Ingraham said. “Instead of telling me that I was going to hell, they told me ‘we don’t believe that this is God’s best for you but we love you anyway.’”
Those words triggered a pivotal turning point in her life. Ingraham exited the homosexual lifestyle after years of prayers, support and unconditional love from family members and friends. She’s now happily married to a man, the mother of two children and eager to share her testimony.
Ingraham represents one of many stories highlighted by Parents & Friends of Ex-gays & Gays (PFOX). Founded in 1998, PFOX serves as a resource that emphasizes the belief that every person seeking positive life change needs and deserves the love and support of friends, family, the community and the church. PFOX strives to offer a place for help and for ex-gays to participate openly in conversations about same-sex attractions and teaches
parents that it’s ok to love their children without conditions.
“Most parents love their children regardless of the decisions they make,” said Regina Griggs, PFOX’s executive director. “Children and parents hold a different opinion about a lot of things but that doesn’t mean you don’t love your child. Homosexuality should not be used to divide the family.”
Griggs’ involvement with the organization comes from personal experience. Initially looking for support as the mother of a homosexual son, Griggs became a PFOX mom to connect with other families who had gay children. Griggs started as a volunteer in 1998, became vice president that same year and has served as executive director since 1999. Many parents feel ashamed and ask what they may have done wrong that contributed to their child’s choice, she said. The PFOX support group helps parents, friends, gays and ex-gays have an open forum.
PFOX also educates the public on sexual orientation and the ex-gay community. PFOX supports an inclusive environment for the ex-gay community and works to eliminate negative perceptions and discrimination against former homosexuals by conducting public education and outreach to further individual self-determination and respect for all Ameri- cans, regardless of sexual orientation.
“I don’t affirm homosexuality but many people don’t have an open discussion and educa- tion about it,” said Griggs. “Many people are afraid to have a discussion. The question is how can we have a discussion where we can have a different opinion but still love each other? We are being forced into silence and not letting the gay community know that it’s okay to have a different opinion and for us as parents and friends see better for them.
Silence about this issue is dangerous.”
Like Griggs, Marisol Rodriguez shares her emotional story about the frustration, anger and disappointment she experienced when she learned about her son’s sexuality. “I felt like I knew who he was better than he knew who he was. That created a lot of conflict between us. I was devastated,” she said. “This journey has taught me lessons. It’s my journey into
evolving and to love my son unconditionally. I was consumed by pride, selfishness and a lack of love. We need to take the laser focus off of our children’s homosexuality when we need to put it on our relationship with Christ and their relationship with Christ. All that really matters is their salvation.”
Griggs describes her relationship with her homosexual son as normal. “I see my child a couple of times of month. We spend weekends together. I take care of his dogs because his house is being renovated. We do not treat each other differently because we do not hold the same opinion. We celebrate the holidays, we vacation together and we are an intact family and that’s important,” she says.
While Griggs has maintained a healthy relationship with her son, she and PFOX deny
the belief that homosexuality is innate. She cites a number of studies by the American Psychological Association and other reputable research, which she says indicate there are no replicated scientific studies to support that people can be born “gay.” But she says in- dividuals need to better understand the reasons that people turn towards homosexuality.
“If you look at the majority of video stories on our site, most of them were molested or experimenting with homosexuality because they were curious,” Griggs said.
Just as parents and friends can provide better support of homosexuals, prayer is a part of the healing process but those struggling with their sexuality need more support from the church as a whole. PFOX operates the “Safe Exit” program, which trains pastors and churches on how to be a safe exit for those who struggle to with same sex attraction and need to share their struggles without shame, rejection or fear. In many cases, homo- sexuals don’t feel comfortable sharing or are asked to leave the congregation because the church does not know how to address this issue, says Griggs.
Earlier this month, PFOX held its second annual Ex-Gay Awareness Month Conference in Washington, D.C. The event featured interaction with lawmakers for those interested in visiting their legislators in support of ex-gays and individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions. The conference also shared the lives of individuals who have left the homo- sexual lifestyle and included a panel discussion with parents and friends of ex-gays
“It’s so important to see people, including ministers, therapists, family members and friends, talk about how homosexuality has changed their lives,” said Griggs. “We need
to feel comfortable interacting and providing support and help to loved ones. Through sharing stories and information, people can see that change is possible.”