CHEYENNE – Three mothers shared their stories about their relationships with their gay and transgender sons and the power of faith, love and acceptance Saturday.
Judy Shepard, Deb Glenn and Neca Allgood spoke at a luncheon program called “A Mother’s Love” sponsored by Wyoming Equality.
The nonprofit organization is an advocacy group that enhances the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Wyoming through support and education.
The program was a chance for people in Wyoming to hear about the journey of the mothers and their sons. People also could learn about the transformative power of a parent’s love, said Wyoming Equality’s education coordinator, Sara Burlingame.
Melanie Vigil, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, also spoke to the group.
Judy Shepard is the mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who died in 1998 after he was attacked by two men in Laramie.
Shepard and her husband, Dennis, started a foundation in their son’s name and have become strong advocates against discrimination.
“This is a whole different world than it was when Matt was in college,” Shepard said. He “would be very pleased at the progress we have made in acceptance and in the legal avenue of marriage and adoption.
”He was involved in politics, starting at age 7 when he participated in his first campaign at school.
“He didn’t understand the concept of political parties because he thought – as we all should think, that idealistically – it’s what’s good for the country, not what’s good for the party,” she said.
“He never understood why churches would ever shut their doors to someone from the LGBT community,” she said.
He told her he was gay when he was 18, she said. She and Dennis were living in Saudi Arabia, where Dennis was working in the oil industry.
“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you. I’m gay,” Matthew said during a phone call, Shepard recalls.
“And I said, ‘what took you so long to tell me?’” she said.When he said he didn’t understand how she knew, she said she replied ‘They tell me it’s a mom thing.’”
When his father was told, Dennis said ‘He’s not gay; he just hasn’t met the right girl yet,’” she said.
Shepard said she told her husband that “this is not about Matt meeting the right girl. It’s about Matt meeting the right man.”
They supported him when he came out. “We would be with Matt, no matter what. First and foremost, he was our son,” she said.
She fought back tears as she asked the advocates of the community not to be quiet, but to vote and talk about their LGBT loved ones. People need to hear the stories, she said. “You need to make it personal and clear.”
Deb Glenn, mother of Tyler Glenn, a singer with the rock band Neon Trees. She also has a strong faith, and has been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1974.
Her son told her he was gay in October 2013 when he was 29. “I grabbed him and told him I loved him,” she said. She also asked when he knew he was gay; he told her he was 3.
She grew distant from friends and church members for about five months after that. She said she was afraid they wouldn’t understand.
When her son came out publicly in 2014 in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, friends contacted her with support and love, she said.
“My heart has been sad knowing the time it took him (to tell her), but my heart is filled with joy that he is free to be himself,” she said.
Glenn is one of the founders of the Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon women whose sons and daughters are part of the LBGT community.
Mama Dragons are women of faith who provide love and support to their sons and daughters.
Utah’s Neca Allgood and husband David Moore presented a video about the journey they have made with their son, Grayson.
Grayson was not at the luncheon as he is a senior in college now.
He was born a girl but identifies as a boy, and he made the social transition when he was 16.
When talking about his feelings then, Grayson told his mother that he had a boy’s soul.
“When he said that, I knew that was his truth,” she said. “That was a time I was really praying a lot to know what to do to help my kid.”
Grayson said on the video that he had a spiritual experience regarding his path. “The Lord told me, yes I’m a boy and it’s going to be OK.”
He made the social transition in six weeks while attending a charter secondary school in Utah. He did not experience problems with students because of the way the administration handled it.“
Having seen a school do it right, I know other schools can do it, too,” Allgood said. Their LDS bishop was supportive.
“I felt like I had my bright, healthy kid back,” she said.
Grayson spoke on camera about the importance of supportive parents. “If you parents lock you out, where can you go, what can you do?”
Melanie Vigil said she told her family sometime in 2008 or 2009.
It didn’t go well at first. “I had a tough time. My parents had a tough time” with acceptance, she said. But eventually they did accept her.
She is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming. Vigil talked about effective ways to reach state legislators to talk about passing anti-discrimination laws in Wyoming.
“Legislators want to hear from you,” Vigil said.
An anti-discrimination bill that would have extended protection to gay and transgender people at work and other places failed last year in the state Legislature.
“We are a loving people,” Burlingame said of Wyoming residents. “We are a generous people, and our laws do not reflect that.”