Emily Rizzo

March 1999

Rhea Murray, My Heroine

I don't know how many of you have heard of Rhea Murray; she's a legend in PFLAG circles and I hope by now her fame is growing.

Her story is a simple one: she lived all her life in a small town in southern Indiana where she was active in her conservative church. The mother of two children, she had suspicions that her son Bruce might be gay. When he was 13 she happened to see a newspaper article about a gay teen group in Indianapolis; she clipped it out and handed it to him just in case he "might know someone who could use this information." That clipping saved Bruce's life since he had been contemplating suicide on the theory that it would be kinder to his parents to have a dead son rather than a gay one. Instead he came out to his parents and, in spite of their backgrounds, they did the right thing: they told him they loved him and it didn't matter because he was still their baby.

The story might have ended there if they lived in New York City or Chicago, but a small town in southern Indiana isn't the most tolerant place. Their pastor at church began to openly speculate that Bruce was gay, causing a firestorm of gossip which spilled over to the whole town. Bruce's troubles at school mounted to the point where he was being physically harassed on a daily basis. For his safety, Rhea and her husband Butch decided to educate Bruce at home with a correspondence course.

Rhea had always been a deeply religious person and the coldness she felt emanating from her pastor and other members of the congregation hurt her deeply, after all, this was her second family. She felt she was being asked, like Abraham, to offer up her son as a sacrifice for her faith. Then one day she felt God speaking to her, "Child, you must not put on your son the hateful stereotypes you have of gays, but rather put the face of your beloved son on the gay community. After all, you know what a gay person is like; you have lived with one for 13 years. He is the same child in whom you have always delighted." That was the sign that Rhea needed to follow her heart and do what she knew was right: to love and support her son.

Rhea became involved in two PFLAG chapters, each over 50 miles away, and began to tell her story. She'd always been afraid of public speaking but somehow the words came. She gained strength from the reception she received, especially from gay and lesbian people who had been rejected by their parents. Finally in December 1995, as the guest of PFLAG and the Human Rights Campaign she came to Washington, D.C. to tell her story at a press conference before the Lou Sheldon hearings.

For more of Rhea's story, I strongly urge you to read her book, published last year, A Journey to Moriah. It's only $9.95 and it's a great gift for mom and dad, especially if they are the religious types. For more information on Rhea, check out her web site at http://www.critpath.org/rhea/

All questions will be answered confidentially; write to emily.rizzo@nyu.edu.

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