A daughter comes out in college and starts her mother and father on a path of understanding.

Twelve years ago my daughter Gretchen invited me to come to Purdue University for dinner to celebrate my birthday. She was taking summer classes and working at Whirlpool so she remained on campus. The next semester she would begin her senior year.

Following dinner she gave me my gift, a book titled Straight Parents; Gay Children. I couldn’t believe my eyes. After an uncomfortable period of silence, I asked her if she were trying to tell me something. As she nodded, I asked her if she were sure to which she responded, “Mom, are you sure you’re heterosexual?” Since I had never questioned my sexuality, I was certain she had and now understood what had been puzzling her for some time.

I hugged her, told her that I loved her and it didn’t change my feelings for her. The only thing different was I had more information about her now. She asked me to prepare her dad because she wanted to talk to him soon. She wanted to talk to her brothers individually.

When our children “come out of the closet,” we as parents go in. For several years I remained silent on the subject but did read a number of books to try to understand and accept. I was dealing with the death of a dream I had of my daughter marrying some day.

Late in October seven years ago, my husband and I traveled to Boulder Creek, California to have an early Christmas visit with our daughter, since she would not have enough vacation days at her place of employment to be able to come home. I selected a simple cross with Chanel set diamonds on a gold chain for Gretchen’s gift. She said she really appreciated the thought and the gift but that she could not accept the cross because it was not about who she was any more. My eyes filled with tears; I could hardly speak. I could see the disappointment in my husband’s eyes. Feeling rejected by our church, Gretchen felt her only recourse was to leave the church.

This was the beginning of a journey by my husband and me to learn as much as we could about homosexuality. My husband saw an announcement in the newspaper of a meeting being held where clergy from local churches were invited to speak on their particular denomination’s vision of gays in their church. During the Q&A period of the meeting, my husband asked, “When you don’t use the pulpit to preach against homophobia, aren’t you contributing to it?”

Those attending immediately applauded bringing my husband to tears. The panel of clergy agreed that they were remiss and, yes maybe they were part of the problem! Once the meeting adjourned, a number of people gathered around my husband and invited us to join PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). On the Sunday we attended the meeting, we met a gay couple who invited us to join them that same evening in the celebration of Mass hosted by a local chapter of DignityUSA.

Over the next seven years, we joined Dignity/Indianapolis, Call to Action, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry, Catholic Parents’ Network By Grace, and Indiana Equality. My husband and I were co-presidents of our local chapter of PFLAG for one term and I am currently serving on the National Board of Directors of DignityUSA.

Like many other conscientious and concerned Catholics, we feel called to be voices that question and challenge.

When members of faith communities gather and sing the song, “All Are Welcome,” do we really mean that? Does the church not understand the need to have a ministry that includes all people regardless of their sexual orientation? My husband and I pray and work towards the day when all are welcomed as full and equal members in the sacramental, spiritual and social life of our Church and local communities.

Rita Wagner