When Linda Robertson’s son, Ryan, came out to her over instant messenger when he was 12, she was “completely shocked.”
It was November 2001. Linda was on the computer in her home office when she received an instant message from Ryan, who was on the computer in his bedroom.
“Can I tell you something?” he asked.
“Yes, I am listening,” Linda replied.
“I am gay,” Ryan said.
At first, Linda wasn’t sure how to respond.
“[My] only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy,” Robertson writes on her blog justbecausehebreathes.com. “We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.”
Linda and her husband, Rob, gave Ryan an ultimatum: “Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality.”
For the next several years, Ryan was forced to attend weekly “reparative therapy meetings” with the family’s pastor. He grew depressed, even suicidal. Finally, after six years, he hit his breaking point. Just before his 18th birthday, Ryan ran away from home.
“He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted — peace — another way,” his mother says. “And the way he chose to try first was drugs.”
He started with marijuana and alcohol, but within six months was also doing cocaine, crack, and heroin.
After 18 months, Ryan moved back home. Things between his parents improved slightly. But within 10 months, he was back into drugs. In the spring of 2009, he overdosed. He slipped into a coma, and 17 days later, he was dead.
He was 20 years old.
“What we had wished for … prayed for … hoped for … that we would NOT have a gay son, came true,” Linda writes. “But not at all in the way we used to envision. Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death.”
She continues: “When I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR.”
Now, Linda has made it her mission to share her story with other Christian parents, in hopes of dissuading them from making the same mistakes she did. Both she and Rob have spent the past few years traveling around the county, speaking on behalf of the gay community and hoping to convince Evangelicals to support their gay children.
“Whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner,” Linda writes. “But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone.”
“We celebrate anniversaries,” she continues. “The would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange — his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy.”
“That is all we have left,” she says, “and there will be no new memories.”