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Essays on GLBT topics

A mother's open letter to
President Obama, 2009-JUN-23

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Randi Reitan, a mother and gay rights activist, wrote the following open letter to President Obama in mid-2009. This was shortly after:

bulletThe Justice Department strongly defended the federal Defense of Marriage act (DOMA) in court,
bulletThe Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy was being actively debated, and
bulletPresident Obama signed a memorandum that gave limited benefits to same-sex partners of gay and lesbian federal employees.

Dear President Obama,

I watched you preach on Father's Day and my heart was touched by your words. I listened with a mother's heart. I have been blessed with four dear children. Not a day goes by that I don't thank God for the gift my children are to me.

You told the congregation that the family is the most important foundation. You said we must take responsibility for those we love and we must set an example of excellence for our children. We must give our children dreams without limits and we must teach them the importance of having empathy for others. We must teach them to stand in another's shoes to know another's pain and their challenges so we can lift them up.

You said when you were younger you thought life was all about yourself and now you realize life is about leaving this world a better place for our children.

Your words touched this mother's heart but they also made me wonder if you are truly living your words.

I wonder if you are living those words as you listen to the gay community. There isn't a newspaper across this great nation that has not shared the news of the gay community's fight for equality. You must have heard their pain when your administration affirmed DOMA with their brief. You must have heard their pain as one after another brave and loyal gay soldier has been kicked out of the military because of DADT. You must have heard their pain as Prop 8 snatched marriage away from gay couples.

My youngest child is gay. As parents we were ignorant about homosexuality when Jacob came out to us as a 16 year old young man eleven years ago. We embraced him and we told him we loved him that night, but we were clueless about what it meant to be gay.

We had to educate ourselves. Another part of your message on Sunday addressed the importance of education. I ask you now to educate yourself about homosexuality.

When we visited with the medical community on our journey to understanding we learned that homosexuality was simply the sexual orientation our son was given. We learned it was not a choice that Jacob made. We were told it was a given for him and we as his parents should encourage him to embrace his orientation and live his life with dignity and respect.

This began a new chapter in our lives. We learned to live in the empathy you extolled. We met hundreds of young gay people who have had such difficult lives because of the ignorance of our society. We have listened to pastors condemning gays and teaching others to do the same. We have felt the pain of discrimination as our son has been harassed with words and attacks. We have listened to young people with tears in their eyes share that they have been rejected by their own parents. We have watched as our son tried to enlist as a gay man and was instead led away in hand cuffs.

We also took responsibility as you asked parents to do on Sunday. We have spoken out, marched and led rallies. We have been arrested numerous times doing civil disobedience to try to bring the issues of injustice to light. We have poured our financial resources into programs and agencies that work to educate the people. We have lobbied at the Capitol in our state of Minnesota and in Washington, DC. We have written hundreds of letters to law makers, pastors, teachers and now to you our President.

Our country needs your voice on this issue. I am impatient to see my dear son live his life with full equality. Can you imagine if one of your daughters had equality and the other did not? That is the reality for every family with a gay child. It is heartbreaking and it is wrong.

You may not be able to lift DADT today. You may not be able to end DOMA today. You may not be able to bring marriage back for the gay community in California today. But, as our president, you can move legislation that would right those wrongs. You can sit down with my son and others and listen to their stories so you can stand in their shoes with empathy. You can address this nation about the terrible discrimination the gay community faces in our country. You can live out your campaign promises on some level.

Your final lesson in your sermon was on the gift of faith and hope. You spoke of a hope that insists that something better is waiting for us. You spoke of your faith and your love of Jesus. The Jesus that I know would not make outcasts of God's beloved children. The gay community has been made into outcasts by many in our churches. We need to hear from you that no one is less than another. The greatest commandment that Jesus taught was to love one another as He loves us.

You talked about the importance of fathers teaching their children. If you don't address the issues of equality for the gay community, the discrimination will not end. Your daughters are watching you. They are learning from you and so are all the sons and daughters in this country.

You can be a president who not only embraces equality but who fights to see the day all God's children actually live it. To be able to bring equality to a group of people should be seen as not only a duty of justice but an honor of the highest level. You must be the one to lead our country by setting an example of excellence in treating all Americans with equality in all areas of life.

I sat on the lawn in front of our nation's Capitol on that cold day in January when you took the oath of office. My heart filled with hope that day because I believed the words you spoke as you campaigned. Those words seem hollow to me now.

I ask you with tears in my eyes, with pain in my heart and with a mother's enduring love for her dear children..... please bring equality ... true full equality to my son and to all in the gay community.

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A few responses by readers of Ms. Reitan's letter:

bullet"yakaloot:" "Your letter is so sincere and heartfelt. Thank you for sharing it with all of us. Thank you for sending it to the President. Mr Obama seems like a genuine and honest man, so I have no doubt that he will get rid of these homophobic policies that hold so many back from living a life of equality. Millions of us, straight and gay, are waiting for the day he fulfills his promises to the gay community. It cannot come soon enough. Putting it off longer just doesn't make sense. What is more 'pressing' than equality for everyone? Thank you for writing."
 
bullet"We-are-the ones:" "What a beautiful letter. Please send a copy to Congress as well, both the House and the Senate as only Congress can pass legislation to repeal DADT and they can so quickly and completely."
 
bullet"Purcy:" "What a beautiful letter! Thank you for sharing. Your pain, your pride, and your perseverance are very touching. Your family is lucky to have you! I am anxious for the day when equality for everyone is a reality. I've never understood how it could make anyone feel better to know that anyone else was denied something they took for granted. Yes, we need to continue to hold President Obama accountable. Yes we can, and yes he can."
 
bullet"ahuymbleopinion:" "Beautifully said. Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of your son and all our sons and daughters for acceptance, love, respect, and equality."
 
bullet"oafishead:" "This post actually got me to think about gay rights in a new light. Even though I have always supported gay rights, it made me think of President Obama as a father and his own personal take on the issue. He talks the good talk, and he certainly seems to be a good father. I wonder how this good father will feel if, in a few years, one of his daughters tells him she's gay? Will he feel he worked as he should for gay rights? Look at Cheney, a sourpuss if there ever was one. He loves his daughter. Obama is working, in my opinion, as slowly as he can get away with to help gay citizens to achieve equality. Will he think his efforts were/are enough if his own daughter(s) happen to be gay? That to me is the problem. Gays are still "them" to President Obama. He'd feel completely different if gays were "us". I hope he never has to feel the rage I felt when my youngest brother died of AIDS during the Reagan administration, which completely ignored the disease for 8 years. After all, it was just "them". Not real people, not real citizens. Gay rights is family values. Gays are us."
 
bullet"IraqVet4Truth:" "Randi, thank you for your words. I'm deeply saddened that we live in a society that pays so much lip service to liberty, justice, and freedom, yet we still fall victim to prejudice and hatred that have been engrained into our culture (thank you very much, dogma.) Stay strong, dear friend -- there will come a day when the hate-mongers and bigots are silenced by a united majority -- those Americans who are willing to not only say, but to shout proudly that we are all created equal. Just as with the civil rights movement and women's suffrage -- the fight is not with our government, but with ourselves. Bravo to you and your family...you are on the right side of things and humanity will thank you someday."
 
bullet"RJVegas": "How I wish my mother had had your wisdom. Although I had a GREAT and loving mother, she could never get beyond what the Bible says about homosexuality. However, the word homosexual didn't exist back in biblical times. Translations and the intent of the writings were never taken into consideration during the compilation of what we now know as THE Bible. I applaud your love for your son and your willingness to tell it from your heart. Thank you for a wonderful posting!"

The Huffington Post, where Reitan's open letter was published, is a liberal information source. Thus there was only one out of 100 responses that was gay-negative:

bulletWhinger:" "Biblically speaking, "Thou shalt not sleep in a bed with a man as a woman" accordingly it's sinful in the eyes of God, but, no more sinful than adultery or any other sin you care to name, and in the eyes on non-believers no sin at all. In any event we all have the God given right of free will to do as our conscience guides, it is not for anyone to sit in judgment or condemn someone for daring to be different."

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Randi Reitan, "I Ask President Obama for Full Equality for my Gay Son," Huffington Post, 2009-JUN-24, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

Originally posted: 2009-JUN-24
Latest update: 2009-JUN-24
Author: Randi Reitan

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