Cover image for Friends & family : true stories of gay America's straight allies
Friends & family : true stories of gay America's straight allies
Woog, Dan, 1953-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Los Angeles, Calif. : Alyson Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvii, 324 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Reading Level:
980 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ76.8.U5 W66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



'These stories are wonderful examples of unconditional love, and I applaud them all. I am glad to say hurray for all of the straight family members and friends who support and love their children and friends who are gay.' - Betty Degeneres A collection of true and inspiring stories of people who are doing remarkable things within and for the gay rights movement though straight themselves.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Woog's third book for the gay rights cause is, like Jocks (1998), a set of journalistic profiles of particular persons. As Jocks countered assumptions that athletes are all heterosexual, this book counters the presumption that gay rights advocates are just gays themselves and politicians who want their votes. Two of the first few subjects, the 12-year-old daughter of lesbian parents and the 96-year-old grandmother of a man who died of AIDS, establish the age parameters for the rest and indicate what is the crucial motivator for most of these nongays' activism--a member of the family is gay. If the family member stories are striking, others, such as that of the Baptist minister, with no gay relatives he knows of, who became a gay advocate after accepting board membership in a gay and lesbian organization in Alaska, are virtually flabbergasting. Woog could be faulted for letting such statements as a subject's characterization of Henry James as gay go unanalyzed, but he is writing heartening propaganda, not history. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

With this collection of personal interviews, Woog (Jocks: True Stories of America's Gay Male Athletes) highlights the contributions of the many devoted heterosexual activists who give their time and energy to gay rights, but who are often overlooked in the lesbian and gay community's struggle for equality and acceptance. The book features outspoken, touchingly honest stories of families and individuals, from a self-proclaimed "former redneck" whose life changed when his son died of AIDS to the 12-year-old daughter of two lesbians who testified before her state legislature during a debate over same-sex marriage, to a Mormon couple who took on their church when two of their six children came out as gay. Looking beyond these activists' impressive victories, such as reversing harassment laws or starting groups that affected numerous families in their area, the book also provides valuable insight into the culture and the prevalence of homophobia today. Most of the battles that these individuals face are with school boards or church groups, showing that disputes over gay rights are frequently fought at the local level and often involve straight people who have friends or family members who are gay. By presenting activists from different religious and cultural backgrounds, and exploring their motivation for becoming involved in gay issues, Woog uncovers not only a strong political force, but also an array of ordinary people who deserve recognition. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

For many gays and lesbians, coming out can be a traumatic, life-altering decison. This process may also have similarly profound effects on their families and friends as well. The author here collects stories from around the country of straight friends and family members of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people whose lives were changed by their simple act of acceptance. A Midwestern farmer and his wife choose the love of their son over the respect of their friends and church. A big-city police chief marches in a gay pride parade in open support of his daughter. A woman whose gay teenage son commits suicide rather than face further humiliation at school decides to fight the school district's undisguised homophobia. The stories are touching, sometimes heart-wrenching, but they seem to beg the question: should sons and daughters expect anything less? Recommended? It's a toss-up.ÄJeffery Ingram, Newport P.L., OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Robbie's Smile Leslie Sadasivan "I may be gone, but I hope I'm not forgotten. Remember me." --Robbie Kirkland Whenever Leslie Sadasivan talks about her son, Robbie, she mentions his smile.     "He had a smile that could light up everyone and everything," she says softly. "Even in the bad times, his smile touched my heart."     Leslie talks about Robbie often these days. Unfortunately, she can no longer talk to him. On January 2, 1997, Robbie Kirkland took his life. He shot himself in the head with his father's service revolver. He was 14 years old.     Robbie's smile faded in the last year of his life, and though Leslie and her entire family did all they could to restore it, it never returned. Now a fear consumes her--that somewhere in America, another mother's gay son's smile has also disappeared.     Robbie--blond, green-eyed, handsome, and loving--did not commit suicide because his parents rejected him. On the contrary, they embraced him and made it clear his homosexuality made no difference to them. They celebrated him for his goodness, his gifts, and his grace. But their support could not protect Robbie from the words and deeds of those who despised him.     Little in Robbie's early life foretold how short or hard it would be. He grew up in Strongsville, Ohio, a pleasant and affluent Cleveland suburb. His sisters Danielle and Claudia were five and three years older, respectively; another sister, Alexandria, was born much later. When Robbie was young his parents' marriage was annulled. Two years later his mother, Leslie, a nurse, married Dr. Peter Sadasivan. His father, John Kirkland, also remarried. Despite their breakup, Leslie and John worked together to raise their children.     As a young child Robbie was creative, gentle, humorous, sensitive, intelligent, and shy. He was an avid reader, a good writer, and a poet. Throughout elementary school children teased him for his speech impediment, for not fitting in, for not liking sports. In seventh grade he tried basketball and soccer. In a letter to a friend from camp, Jenine, he wrote, "I wish I loved sports. Then I could be one of the normal assholes at my school."     Seventh grade was also when Leslie sensed a change in Robbie. One day after a basketball game, he sobbed hysterically in his room. Someone had pushed him in the snow. Although Leslie does not know the details of the incident, she sees it as a turning point. For the first time, Robbie saw himself as different. Only later did she find out he was constantly called "faggot" and "queer."     Camp Christopher--a camp run by the Diocese of Cleveland that Robbie attended each summer--was a safe haven. "I love camp," Robbie wrote Jenine. "There I can be popular and happy. There I know I can be myself and not be made fun of for it."     But camp lasted only two weeks; year by year, the other 50 grew more miserable. In eighth grade he confided to Jenine in another letter, "I'll tell you why people make fun of me. I haven't told anyone else this, and it's a secret. You see, I talk different. You know I have a slight lisp. And I'm kind of, well, sucky at sports. So people (they don't do it often or haven't tried it recently) sometimes (only like a few people) have called me gay. They don't mean it, cuz if they did I'd be beat-up by now. You see everyone in our school is like homophobic (including me)."     That winter, two days after his 14th birthday, Robbie swallowed 30 Tylenol capsules. His mother did not realize it was a suicide attempt until a month later, when she found a note that said, "Whatever you find, I'm not gay.... You probably want to know why I killed myself. Cuz of all the shit I've had to go through recently. That's why! Sincerely and with a lot of love, Robbie Kirkland, the boy who told himself to put on a smile, shut up, and pretend you're happy: It didn't work."     Eighth grade was also when Robbie started using America Online. One day when his stepfather was at the computer, pictures of naked men flashed on the screen. Robbie told his mother an elaborate story involving blackmail. For the first time, Leslie entertained the notion her son might be gay.     On March 29, 1996, Robbie took a Greyhound bus to Chicago to visit a man he had met online. The phone number he was given did not work. When Robbie asked a homeless person at the bus station to help him find a teen shelter, the man hailed a police car instead. Robbie's father--a law enforcement agent--flew to Chicago to bring him home.     It was a scary incident, and Robbie entered therapy. He told the therapist he had known he was gay since age ten but could not discuss the matter with his parents. When he told his father, "You know I'm not gay," his father replied, "I don't care, Robbie. You do drugs, you'll have a big problem with me. But if you're gay, I don't care. I still love you."     His mother let the therapist know that if Robbie was gay, she did not want him to try to change. She wanted her son to be as God meant him to be. She also sought advice from two gay friends she knew from work. They gave her articles about gay and lesbian issues, which she passed to Robbie. They offered to talk with Robbie, but he did not want that. In retrospect, she says, "I missed the boat. I did not realize his pain, that he was not OK with it. I thought, `Well, you're born this way, so you accept it and get on with your life.' But I missed the point. I truly missed the point." The last months of his life, she believes, represented a superhuman effort to live--an effort he ultimately could not sustain.     In those final months Leslie held her son as he cried, and told him everything would be OK. Someday he would find love, she said; he and his partner could raise children if they wanted, and he could have any job or future he envisioned. Robbie did not believe her.     He continued to use the Internet, though his parents had canceled his account. Leslie found a gay pornography video in his room. He could not, however, bring himself to attend a support program for gay youth that met just a few blocks from his school. He was too shy and feared he might be spotted by someone he knew.     In September Robbie entered St. Ignatius, an all-male Jesuit high school in Cleveland known for its academic excellence and champion football team. He scored 99% on the admissions test, and his two best friends were going. His sisters felt it was not the right place--the atmosphere was hypermasculine and extremely homophobic, and Robbie had always had more girl friends than guy friends--but the choice was his. At St. Ignatius, he thought, he would be just another face in the crowd.     His first semester was as difficult as Danielle and Claudia feared. One day he told Claudia he didn't like being gay but could not control it. And he admitted he liked a football player at school, but he could not tell anyone else about it. Outside of his family only three friends knew the cause of his pain. He told them he was bisexual.     In the late fall Robbie asked if he could stop going to mass. "The Catholic Church does not accept me," he told his devoutly religious mother. By then she realized how anguished Robbie was, how hard he was struggling. Inside his geometry book in small letters, Robbie had written, "God made me this way."     The last months of Robbie's life were particularly unhappy. He stayed home from school, ate very little, and slept a lot. In December, two weeks before he died, a psychiatrist prescribed Zoloft, an antidepressant that helps relieve suicidal thoughts. The drug takes two to six weeks to show effect.     The family had a pleasant Christmas. Then, on New Year's Day, the mother of a St. Ignatius student phoned to ask why Caller ID showed someone had dialed their house at 3 A.M. Robbie told his mother it had been a prank. The call was to the boy he had a crush on. He stayed in his room the entire day, then left to spend the night at his father's house.     The next morning Robbie took a key from his father's chain, unlocked his father's service revolver--which, as part of his job, he is required to keep at all times--and climbed to the attic. He lay down on a mattress and fired a bullet into his head. His sister Danielle found him two hours later.     The suicide note Robbie left at his mother's home said, "I am sorry for the pain I have put everyone through.... I hope I can find the peace I couldn't find in life." He left messages for friends and acquaintances, too. To the classmate he had a crush on, he wrote, "You caused me a lot of pain but hell, love hurts. I hope you have a great life."     As accepting as Robbie's family was, they could not counter the negative messages he received from his classmates and church. Robbie ended his life because he could no longer endure what he thought would be a lifetime of teasing and torment. He could not bear to grow up in a homophobic society. For too long, too many people and institutions had told him he was no good. That is the world Leslie Sadasivan has set out to change.     She began her crusade almost immediately. At the funeral home she told a priest from St. Ignatius that Robbie was gay. "You know you have other Robbies at your school--you must help these boys," she said. "Please tell those who are not nice to gay people to change, to learn to be kind and sensitive. Tell those who are already being nice that they are doing God's work." The priest replied that the school teaches kindness to all people.     She also asked the associate pastor at St. John Neumann Church to state in his eulogy that Robbie was gay and to speak of the importance of accepting gays and lesbians. Her request was denied.     A few days after Robbie died, Leslie met with two administrators at St. Ignatius. She told them the same thing she had said at the funeral home: There were other Robbies at their school. She offered to talk about her son's life and his being gay; she also said his therapist would speak. She hoped to generate discussion about teasing and harassment--not just of gay youth, but of anyone who is different from others. She thought the message particularly appropriate for a Christian school. The principal repeated that the school teaches kindness and tolerance; he and his colleague declined the offers from Leslie and the therapist to speak. They did agree to offer a mass focusing on suicide.     Around the same time, Leslie called Eleanor Mallet, a women's columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer . They did not know each other, but Leslie admired her writing and respected her sensitivity. Nothing had appeared in print about Robbie's death, but Leslie and John felt the need to publicize the silent suffering of gay youth. Eleanor believed the topic was too big for her column, but asked her editors if she could address the topic in a feature article. It took them four months to agree.     After extensive research and interviews, her piece--headlined "Robbie's Story," accompanied by a large photo of Robbie and his family at Christmas--ran at the top of page one on Sunday, April 6. Neither Eleanor nor Leslie had any idea the piece would be displayed so prominently. But it was beautifully written, incorporating many of Robbie's own words, and the impact was immediate and overpowering. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans saw the piece. Many wept.     At St. Ignatius the reaction was different. The principal, Leslie says, "was quite cruel. He told me people asked what kind of woman I was. His answer was, `She's lost her son. She can do what she wants.' He told me I needed to go on a retreat." The school felt placing the story on page one was wrong; they worried about copycat suicides. Administrators argued that because so much harassment happens beyond the view of teachers, it is impossible to stop. Once again, school spokesmen reiterated their philosophy of teaching kindness and tolerance of all people.     St. Ignatius held its promised memorial mass in April. Again, no official words were spoken about homosexuality. Robbie's sister Danielle participated, however, and raised the issue, asking for friendship for gay youth. Students listened respectfully.     A few days after the Plain Dealer story appeared, several hundred educators gathered in Cleveland for the Midwest conference of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. Robbie's father, John, addressed the hushed crowd, mixing sorrow for the anguish his son endured at school with praise for educators who battle against long odds for the rights of gay youth.     Although Leslie received support from several close friends (not all--one person told her if she had gotten Robbie into "change therapy," he would not be dead), some of her staunchest help came from gay people. A drag-queen organization held a fund-raiser in Robbie's memory. The family felt uncomfortable but attended--and enjoyed themselves thoroughly. The more she realized how many people Robbie's story touched, the stronger her conviction became to keep telling it. And the more she talked, the clearer the need became to reach out to people who might not want to hear such a harrowing tale--especially schools and churches. Public speaking was never easy for Leslie, but she knew she had to do it.     She addressed civic groups and organizations, high schools, and colleges. She went on the radio and was also interviewed for the Public Broadcasting System's award-winning TV program "In the Life." Cleveland's Gay Pride Day that June was a landmark. The event was dedicated to Robbie's memory. Leslie marched with Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and, her hands shaking, addressed the largest crowd she'd seen yet. "I don't want to make Robbie into a saint," she said. "But I do want people to think of all the struggling gay youth. Robbie was not the only one who has suffered." Throughout her speech, she felt Robbie's presence--and God's spirit--hovering above.     On January 2, 1998, the first anniversary of Robbie's suicide, a coalition of groups, including the Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center, GLSEN, and PFLAG announced a new initiative: Safe Schools Are For Everyone. The program teaches administrators, teachers, and counselors in northeast Ohio to provide safe learning environments for gay and lesbian students. The curriculum includes information about risk factors for gay youth, including substance abuse and suicide attempts. Panels of gay students and their parents talk about important issues, while exercises teach skills such as how to intervene when students are harassed and the best ways to answer questions about homosexuality.     When the SSAFE initiative was announced, Robbie's name came up often. Leslie spoke about how important the program would have been to her son. Judy Maruszan, the outreach coordinator, said, "This is something we've been wanting to do. But the extra kick to do it was Robbie's death."     Three months later the Cleveland chapter of GLSEN inaugurated two awards, both honoring Robbie. A $1,000 scholarship is now presented annually to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students or straight allies who actively support gays. And an essay contest offers three prizes: $100 to high school students writing on the theme, "Silent No More: Taking a Stand Against Harassment," $50 to sixth through eighth graders addressing the topic, "A time you wanted or dreamed of standing up to the insensitivity of a peer," and $50 to fourth and fifth graders writing on "A time you did or dreamed about speaking out against a bully at your school."     Robbie's death galvanized PFLAG too. The Cleveland chapter's Robbie Kirkland Project moves beyond PFLAG's traditional area of support for frightened, confused, or angry family members and friends into community activism and helping educators address the threat of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.     Robbie's story also inspired the University of Akron's Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Union to seek ways of reaching emotionally distraught teenagers. The group compiled tapes and literature to help teachers, counselors, and administrators recognize intolerance in their buildings.     Robbie's story reached beyond Ohio as well. After hearing John and Danielle address the GLSEN conference in Cleveland, four faculty members from the Latin School of Chicago distributed copies of the Plain Dealer article. Teachers and students in grades 8 through 12 then discussed it in small groups. A follow-up schoolwide assembly focused on homophobia and intolerance. Afterward a participant told Leslie, "Your son's story has helped our school become a better place. It will never be the same. And if breaking the wall of silence can happen at our school, it can happen at other schools."     The boy who was so closeted in life that it killed him is now openly gay in death. The irony is not lost on his mother. She too is different. "I'm not a public person," Leslie says, "but I would read on a loudspeaker if it would help just one boy or girl."     Where Robbie saw only hopelessness and despair, Leslie sees progress and hope. She does not always know who her speeches and interviews reach, or whether they touch anyone. But the occasional positive feedback keeps her going. Young people tell her how important it is to see gay stories in the newspaper; she has seen teachers crying after her talks.     Even the Diocese of Cleveland asked how they could do more in the schools. The request followed a groundbreaking pastoral letter from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the fall of 1997, which advised parents to put the love and support of their gay children before church doctrine condemning homosexuality. When Leslie heard the news, she cried.     "If only that came out when Robbie was alive," she laments. "Wouldn't it have been nice if Robbie could have had a gay priest to speak to? I know they're there--everyone does. Why should we have to leave the church to find compassion and understanding?     "All this is hard," Leslie admits. "I'm open, but I'm not a public person. I'm a nurse, but my primary role has been as a mom, teaching about God and love. I never intended to be a career woman, but this has become like a career to me. It's a commitment for my whole life. As long as people want me to speak, I will. Sometimes I feel like a fish swimming upstream, but whatever I can do, I'll do."     She is inspired by the efforts of her daughters, who speak openly about Robbie's life and death at their college campuses, and by John, her former husband. "I drive home and cry and get angry at Robbie that he's not there," she says. "John breaks down more during speeches, but he does a better job of conveying who Robbie was than I do. He has to be very careful because he does undercover work, so for him to do this is amazing."     Leslie knows her life will never be the same. She will always feel empty, but never alone. "To me, Robbie stays alive. I never dreamed I'd be talking about him on TV or see his life in the paper or on the Internet. I had to betray his privacy, but now, whenever I think of someone gay, I think how hearing about Robbie might help."     That is how Leslie gets through each day without her son: She thinks of him and the millions of youngsters like him. "I see Robbie every day," she says. "I go in his room. I remind myself of all the kids out there like Robbie. I pray a lot. I see the road God put before me. It's a hard road, but I have to travel it. Robbie can't anymore, but I can."     The end of that road may never come for Leslie Sadasivan. For Robbie Kirkland, closure came in September 1997, several months after he ended his tortured life. On that late summer day, joined by his close friend and confidante Jenine, Robbie's family tossed wisps of his hair--light baby hair and darker locks clipped by an undertaker--into the wind by the side of a lake. Finally Robbie was back in the waters of his beloved Camp Christopher, the only place on earth he ever felt safe.     I'm Dying and No One Cares I try to stand and walk I fall to the hard, cold ground It feels as if to life I'm no longer bound The others look and laugh at my plight Blood pours from my nose. I am not a pretty sight I try to stand again but fall To the others I call But they don't care The pain is unbearable The world is not fair I'm lost and cold I wish one would lend a hand to hold My tears mix with my blood The End of My Life It nears I'm Dying and no one cares The pain the pain THE PAIN! I scream in pain! My body shakes in violent spasms I cry out in pain again! I scream My blood pours like a stream I'm Dying and no one cares I scream in pain one last time And then it's over I am Dead and no one cares Note: a lot of stuff in here is weird like this I'm not really like that     -- A poem by Robbie Kirkland, written two years before his death Copyright © 1999 DAN WOOG. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Robbie's Smile Leslie Sadasivanp. 1
A Little Bit of Sol Sol Kelley-Jonesp. 13
Frannie Frannie Peabodyp. 26
The Man from Redneckville Doyle Criswellp. 35
Every Day the Rabbi Helps Gays David Horowitzp. 43
Off She Goes, into the Wild Rainbow Yonder Carolyn Golojuchp. 51
Breaching Black/White Barriers Karl Debrop. 62
A Colage of Children Stefan Lynchp. 72
Moving the Immutable Mormon Church Gary and Millie Wattsp. 82
Top Cop Tom Potterp. 92
Common Bonds in Cyberspace Barb Solomonp. 102
Walking with the Lord on a Rocky Road Don Bergmanp. 111
The Care and Feeding of Squeamish Parents Mary Boenkep. 122
Helping Many Make the Transition Karen and Bob Grossp. 131
Scout's Honor Steven Cozzap. 140
You Can't Keep 'Em Down on the Farm Jean and George Huffeyp. 148
""""I Do"""" Dan Foleyp. 156
The Mother of All Moms Carolyn Wagnerp. 165
Affirmation in Madison Paul Kittlausp. 175
Straightening Out Spouses Amity Pierce Buxtonp. 183
Don't Mess with Mom Debbiep. 190
Focus on the Family Tom Myersp. 197
A Baptist Minister Fights for """"Shalom"""" Howard Bessp. 206
Setting the Record a Little Less Straight Bonney Leckiep. 216
The Killing Power of Denigration Al and Jane Nakatanip. 224
Two Grandmas Make Majic Patsy Clarke and Eloise Vaughnp. 235
Taking Time Out for Youth Mitch Kingp. 244
A Mother's Journey Stephanie Reedp. 252
The Little Old Lady from Orange County Gene Littlefieldp. 260
The Bermuda Triangle Mireya Scottp. 266
Walt Whitman Lives Pamala St1p. 275
His Idaho Home Carol Blakleyp. 285
The Holocaust Still Haunts Her Roxanne Pappenheimerp. 291
The Truth-Teller and the Lesbian Minister Jim Spahrp. 297
""""Bill's Story"""" Gabi Claytonp. 306