It’s weird that I thought about Bobby Griffiths recently, but probably not that weird. Over the past few months, I have been posting blogs about my support for gay rights and my opposition to Proposition 8. In those blogs, I held Bobby, whom I knew casually in middle school in Walnut Creek, as a symbol for why hatred and discrimination against gays and lesbians is not just wrong, but evil.
In 1983, Bobby threw himself off a freeway overpass in Portland, Oregon. For most of his life as a boy, teenager and young adult, he was tortured by his guilt and shame about being gay. His self-hatred was fed by his religious beliefs and family pressure.
He and his family attended Walnut Creek’s Presbyterian Church, where his mother, Mary Griffiths later said, the ministers and congregation were clear that homosexuals were sick, perverted, and condemned to eternal damnation. Bobby tried to cure himself of being gay. When that didn’t work, he chose to kill himself. His death prompted his mother to not only rethink her religious values but to become a tireless gay rights advocate and member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
His death also inspired a 1995 book, Prayers for Bobby, by Leroy Aarons and based on Bobby’s detailed diaries. That book has been adapted into a Lifetime network movie, also called Prayers for Bobby, which will air Saturday and stars Sigourney Weaver as a “1970s religious suburban housewife and mother who struggles to accept her young son is gay.”
As I said, I knew Bobby casually in middle school. We went to different Walnut Creek high schools, him to Las Lomas. I didn’t hear about him again until my mid-20s, after I had finished college, returned to the Bay Area, and was working as a daily newspaper reporter. By that time, Bobby was dead, and his mother, Mary Griffiths, had become a vocal gay rights advocates who gave interviews about how she realized the harm she did to her son by, for example, playing taped Bible verses around the house to remind her son that he has to make a different “choice.”