Samuel Taylor was raised in a religious family. When he came out to his mother, Connie Casey, she sent him to a series of conversion therapy ministries affiliated with Exodus International, the Christian organization that folded this month and apologized to the gay community for trying to “correct” same-sex attraction.
Samuel, now 22, was in therapy from the age of 15 to 18. “You feel like being gay is like a virus,” he told Connie during a visit to StoryCorps. “It’s like, you have to get rid of this because this is what you’re doomed for. And I remember, I thought, ‘Well, I can of course behave like a straight man.’ “
When Samuel came out, Connie says, she blamed herself. “It’s because I’m a single-parent mom, and I don’t know how to raise a son and there needs to be a man around here,” she thought at the time. “Somehow I did this to you. And now you were going to be relegated to a life of horror.”
Those years were very difficult for both mother and son, Samuel says. But then Samuel went away to school, and things began to change.
“Your first year of college, when you went away to school and came back, and we had this conversation again, [that] was the first time that I really felt in my heart that it was time to take a look at everything that I’d ever been taught to believe,” Connie says.
“I can just be completely honest; I didn’t care at that point whether you accepted me or not,” Samuel tells her. “But it ended up being more important than I thought it would.”
When Samuel came home again after his sophomore year, he noticed a magnet on the fridge. “And on the magnet was a rainbow heart that says, ‘Love is spoken here.’ And so, what kind of advice could you give to a parent who has not come to that same conclusion?”
“I guess the overriding feeling is that, no matter how strongly you think you believe something, at the end of the day, you just always have to love and accept your kid,” Connie says. “It’s nonnegotiable as far as I’m concerned.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever told you that I completely and 100 percent forgive you,” Samuel tells his mother. “It’s part of what we had to go through to get to where we are today. And for that, I’m not only forgiving. I am grateful.”
“If this were to be the last five minutes of conversation that I ever got to have with you — and I think you already know these things but it doesn’t hurt to say it again — I’m so sorry, and I could not be more proud of the human being that you are,” Connie responds. “You’re just an amazing, awesome human being.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jasmyn Belcher.