Keeping Families Together
The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog
September 30, 2011
Another Sad Story With Another Positive Result
By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA
Mary Lou Wallner And Her Daughter Anna
We want to reach back and return to a resource we used before, namely the film for the BIBLE tells me so. There is another sad story there; a sad story that produced a positive result, also something we have done before. This time the cause of sadness is the bible and the positive result is also the bible. The story is about Mary Lou Wallner and her lesbian daughter Anna. Anna committed suicide at age 29. It is also the story how her mother blamed herself for her daughter’s death and began a slow transformation from enemy of LGBT people to ally.
Mary Lou begins her story by telling the camera that she was raised in a strict, fundamental Christian home. She was in church often and twice on Sunday. Her church took the bible literally and, she said: “There were rules everywhere.” What emerges from her story is the portrait of a woman for whom faith and church are an integral part of life. She is steeped in her conservative Christian belief and never questions it.
A Normal Story That Becomes A Different Story
She married and had two daughters. She taught her daughters what she was taught. When Anna was two weeks old, Mary Lou began taking her to the conservative, literalist bible church she attended. At ten months, Anna could hum the melody of “Jesus Loves Me,” she couldn’t talk yet, but she could hum. Mary Lou tells of a normal child who loved to sing and seemed to fit the life her mother had laid out for her. But when she was a freshman in college, Anna came out to her mother in a letter. Mary Lou’s reaction was to become physically ill—“going to the bathroom ill”—and to keep quiet and not tell a soul. The letter she wrote back contained sentiments that were not those of a loving mother. She wrote that: “I will continue to love you, but will always hate [the gay thing in you].” Mary Lou could not accept her daughter’s lesbianism because it was spiritually and morally wrong. Her church taught that not only was homosexuality a sin, it was a sin above all sins. She believed homosexuality a choice and demanded for Anna to get her act together. Looking straight into the camera, Mary Lou says that over the years she had harsh words for her daughter and cited the six or seven biblical passages Christians usually cite as proof that homosexuality is a sin.
A Devastating End
In early 1996, their relationship, already strained, deteriorated even further as Anna became depressed. There was not even a card for Mother’s Day. Mary Lou wrote to ask why and Anna replied that she wanted nothing further to do with her mother because of “the colossal damage your shaming words have done to my soul.” Eight months later Anna committed suicide by wrapping the chain part of a dog leash around her neck, the leather part around a bar in her closet, stepping on a chair and then kicking the chair away. She hung there for 15 hours before she was found.
A Positive Consequence From A Devastating End
After Anna’s suicide, Mary Lou spent two years independently and exhaustively studying the bible to find out what it actually has to say about the homosexuality. She refers to this period as a spiritual crisis, but in the end concluded that the lessons she was taught over a lifetime were wrong. The bible has nothing to say about homosexuality. She and her husband Bob founded the TEACH Ministries (To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia). They travel the country to advocate for the church’s full inclusion of LGBT people.
This is what we find so remarkable: at no time did Mary Lou forsake her bible indeed, she kept it as her guide to live life. She discovered that the bible does not “say” anything. The bible has words that must read and meaning must be wrested from those words written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different context and shaped into meaning for the here and now. Things change.
Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride www.apifamilypride.org