When Jane Loflin’s oldest son was 16 years old, he approached her and told her he needed to speak with her privately. He seemed deeply troubled, and she didn’t know what the problem could be. He was, she says, a child who excelled in school and whom she thought was “happy and well-adjusted.”
But what Glenn had to say sent the whole family into a tailspin of shock and denial: He thought he might be gay, and he didn’t know what to do.
The year was 1966. It was a time when the sexual revolution was in its infancy, Loflin says, and “the word gay was not even in common usage.”
When Glenn came and confided in Loflin, she says she suddenly called her own image of homosexuals – “dirty old men who hung around bus stations” – into question.
“Immediately, I knew that [image] wasn’t true,” says Loflin, a red-haired mother of three sons who exudes a quiet calm. “Because here’s my precious, blue-eyed, blonde son who had never given us any trouble.”
That epiphany was probably the first in a nearly three-decade-long learning and healing process that ended with Loflin, a neighborhood resident for nearly 26 years, forming a group called Presbyterian Parents of Gays and Lesbians (PPGL).
PPGL is a support network for parents of homosexual children that focuses on support, education and acceptance. The Dallas chapter was the first to form, but now PPGL groups exist in seven other states. While members here meet in Westminster Presbyterian Church, Loflin says anyone, regardless of religious denomination or belief, can join.
But the group didn’t form until 1994. Almost 30 years passed between Glenn’s announcement and PPGL’s inception. So what happened in all that time?
The Trauma, The Fear / In 1966, Loflin says she “had been kind of a clinging vine. A typical 1950s wife…I didn’t want to do anything but stay home and take care of our children. Ed [her husband] was immobilized. He felt like he couldn’t do anything. And I thought: Well, by damn, I can.”
So she sprang into action. She considered her first two orders of business: protect her family’s “secret” and get Glenn some help.
“He had discovered something about himself that was very disturbing. Of course, we thought this was something we could fix. All we had to do was find the right psychiatrist.”
A distraught Loflin called the pastor of First Presbyterian Church. She had never met him, but she’d seen him on TV three years earlier when Kennedy was assassinated. His calm demeanor had made an impression on her. When she made that first call, she had to leave a message. She left an assumed name.
“The trauma of that call, the fear of it, was so great,” she says now.
When she finally spoke with the pastor, he recommended a psychiatrist who saw Glenn three times before he went off to college in Indiana. The man told Glenn that he just hadn’t experienced enough “macho” behavior or roughhousing as a child and that he shouldn’t worry: Time would take care of his problem.
A year later, when Glenn returned to Dallas on break, he asked to see the psychiatrist again. In that meeting, he got a much more frank assessment.
“I knew you were homosexual when we met before,” the doctor said. “But I was concerned about you. I felt like you couldn’t handle the situation then.”
The doctor’s admission turned out to be a turning point for the Loflin family.
“Without having to ever directly say, ‘Well yeah Glenn, you really are gay, aren’t you?” it just became common knowledge that that was the way it was. More and more, it was an okay thing.”
A Mother’s Coming Out / In the next few years, Glenn finished his music degree at Indiana and traveled to Vienna to continue his studies. Though Loflin says they “didn’t talk about it,” both he and his family came to accept his sexuality.
Loflin was working as an administrator for the Presbyterian Church, and many of her friends knew about Glenn and were accepting. She personally felt an overwhelming acceptance of him.
Then, in 1991, her two passions in life – her son and her faith – collided. At the General Assembly in Baltimore, the presbyteries of the church voted to continue the ban on the ordination of gays and lesbians. Many had thought the outcome of the vote a foregone conclusion, so the assembly’s moderator had given permission to gay and lesbian organizations to hold a silent demonstration afterward.
“I was still in a sense in the closet as a parent,” she says. “But after that, I couldn’t stay there…all those people who want to be able to serve the church. They feel called to positions of leadership within the Presbyterian Church.”
That day, she joined the demonstration against the vote, and more than 10 years later still recalls the moment with tears in her eyes. She notes that many of her church friends joined her in support that day.
When she emerged from the convention center, a television crew and reporter stuck a microphone and camera in her face and asked her to explain what had just gone on.
“And I found myself talking to God knows who about these people who felt excluded from full membership in the Presbyterian church,” she says. “That was my coming out time.”
A Support Group is Born / When she returned to Dallas, an associate pastor at a Dallas church called on her to help a member of the congregation whose daughter was homosexual. The mother was having a difficult time keeping her daughter’s sexuality a secret while listening to her friends at the church discuss the recent assembly vote.
“I’m afraid to tell them because I’m afraid they won’t be my friends anymore,” the woman told Loflin.
“She said those words to me, and I thought: There’s something really wrong with that. It was at that time that I knew I had to do something about this.”
Determined to help other parents, she called up some of her friends in the church. They helped her set up an office in her home, run ads in Presbyterian newspapers and call churches to find a place to meet.
“I was determined we were going to meet in a church,” she says. “This was going to be a message that there are Presbyterians who are accepting.”
They had a surprising turnout at the first meeting: Nine people attended, including seven mothers and two fathers. Now, she says, many couples attend the monthly gatherings together.
“What I have learned is that the most important thing we can do as parents – after we get past those very painful early stages – is to talk about it. The more we talk about it, the better it’s going to be for our whole society,” she says. “A tremendous amount of healing has taken place in families as a result of what we’ve done.”
She reminds parents to keep one thing in mind when they’ve just found out their son or daughter is homosexual: “This is the same child you had the day before yesterday.”
Due to health reasons, Loflin has passed the reigns of PPGL on to other coordinators, but she still has a hand in the group and serves on the board of directors.
And she may never be able to completely let go.
“I’ve come to consider it a call,” she says. “This is what I’ve been prepared for. This is what I’m supposed to do.”
For more information on PPGL, call 214-350-2840.
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