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Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sharon Underwood's message

I’ve just come across a post, from early June this year, on the BuckSkin Cafe blog. The letter it’s referring to, from a mother who has a gay son, brought me to tears. And, while I wholeheartedly agree with the belief that Buck (of BuckSkin Cafe) expresses, that “every gay man will benefit from reading it”, I’d go further and say that everyone would benefit, which is why I’m responding to his request:

My good friend Tim and I were talking about the struggle we went through in coming out to family and friends. In our discussion he mentioned this letter. He said it gave him support and encouragement. I think every gay man will benefit from reading it. Please copy and paste the text and e-mail it to your friends. Sharon Underwood's words and story will touch your heart and give you strength in a world that is not always so friendly to gays and lesbians. Please take the time to read this. I think you will be glad you did. Thanks Tim, for sharing this with me.
Peace and Love,
Buck of BuckSkin Cafe

The piece itself was written by Sharon Underwood, White River Junction, Vermont, USA, and published in April 2000 in the Valley News. Her feelings are very well expressed, and were in response to the many letters that had been sent to the Valley News concerning the “homosexual menace” in Vermont.

I am the mother of a gay son and I’ve taken enough from you good people.

I’m tired of your foolish rhetoric about the “homosexual agenda” and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny. My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay. He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or havegestures like the other boys. He was called “fag” incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it’s about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don’t know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you’d best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I’m puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for “true Vermonters.”

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the “homosexual agenda” could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance. How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin. The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about “those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing” asks: “What ever happened to the idea of striving … to be better human beings than we are?”

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

Sharon Underwood.

At the time, Charles Kaiser wrote in the Advocate:

One of the reasons that Vermont became the first state to approve civil unions for gays and lesbians must surely be the presence of splendid citizens like Sharon Underwood of White River Junction. As the single mother of a gay son and two other children, Underwood had kept silent for years in the face of the “standard gay bashing” she heard whenever she went out with friends.

Even her coworkers at the housing manufacturing company where she works didn't know she had a gay child. But in April the anger that had been building up for more than two decades finally burst out of her when she wrote a brilliant 1,000-word polemic for her local paper, Valley News, in West Lebanon, N.H. The 50-year-old computer programmer had never written anything professionally before, but she suddenly discovered the amazing power of her own words.

So, please alert anyone and everyone you can think of to Underwood’s letter and help pass it on.


Charles Kaiser said...

Dean--How wonderful that you have resurrected Sharon Underwood's magnificent letter at the very moment that the Republicans have chosen Sarah Palin to be their vice president: a woman who embodies every religious prejudice Underwood objected to. I was so moved by Ms. Underwood's words,I later recited her letter as part of an off-Broadway review in Manhattan. Let us all forward her letter now to everyone we know, to remind the country of the good sense of so many wonderful American mothers.
--Charles Kaiser

Baal's Bum said...

As long as I can remember my thoughts on the subject, I have been appalled at too many peoples reactions to people coming out.
What does it matter to anyone who you are fucking, apart from the person(s) you are fucking ?
How can any parent reject their child because of how they love ?
This letter is going to the "mother" of a certain young lesbian we know.

Buck said...

Hi, I am Buck of the BuckSkin Cafe (now archive) and our new blog, BuckSkin Buffet. Tim and I are so delighted to see Sharon's letter make your blog. We are also delighted to find your most thought provoking blog as well. It made our hearts feel so good to see that Sharon's letter is getting more and more readers. I totally agree with you. EVERYONE should read her letter. Thank you so much for the work you do here at the Pink Triangle. We are linking to your blog so that our readers can visit from our blog. Take care.

Peace and Love,
Buck of BuckSkin Buffet and BuckSkin Cafe

Dean Braithwaite said...

Buck, thanks for the kind comments. I'm gratified that your pleased that we've republished Sharon Underwood's letter. I came across your site - metaphorically speaking, but ... ;)) - by accident and was very moved by your posting. Please accept our thanks to you both for linking to our blog. I'll make sure we reciprocate and I'll certainly be popping back to the Buffet on a regular basis! Best wishes, Dean.

Dean Braithwaite said...

Charles, thanks for posting your comment and your kind words. I'm really pleased that I found this letter and your piece about it, which I thought summed up everything so well. As well as posting it here on the Pink Triangle blog, I'm forwarding it to anyone and everyone I can think of. How great that you were able to recite the letter on Broadway. I'm going to write a piece about this for our online magazine and I'd like to include this. Is there any other info you can give me to flesh it out a bit? Many thanks and best wishes, Dean.