NOTE: We collected the following two stories in Salt Lake City on the 50-state Story Tour. Gay Lynn Costa and her son, Kyle McElwain, hosted us while we were in SLC and were quick to become our friends whom we’re in regular contact with now. We filmed Kyle’s Video Story in front of the Mormon Temple and a few days later, Gay Lynn submitted her written story. Neither knew what the other’s story was going to be about, but they both ended up sharing the same story from their own perspective. After you watch Kyle’s Video Story, be sure to Continue Reading to read Gay Lynn’s empowering story. It will give you goosebumps.
I’M FROM SALT LAKE CITY, UT.
By Kyle McElwain
I’M FROM CHOCTAW, OK.
By Gay Lynn Costa
When my son, Kyle, was fourteen years old, I asked him point-blank if he was gay. He admitted to me tearfully that he was. We hugged and cried together, and I let him know in no uncertain terms that it made no difference to me whatsoever. We began an adventure together that day, mother and son, that has been wonderful and heartbreaking, joyful and painful. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
From that day forward Kyle never saw any reason to hide from the rest of the world. Admittedly, I worried from time to time that he may have come a bit too far out of that safe closet, but I didn’t ever want to make him feel ashamed of who he was by asking him to “be more discrete.” I didn’t want to shove even one of his toes back into the darkness.
In the small, predominately Mormon town of Kaysville, Utah, Kyle confidently made his way through junior high and into high school. His outgoing personality and sense of humor won him a lot of friends, and all seemed to be going well. So when the principal called me one afternoon to tell me Kyle had been “mobbed” by a group of guys after school, the world as I knew it was turned upside down.
I raced to the school with tears streaming down my face. The flood of emotions that was surging through me is difficult to describe. I wanted to find the little mother fucker who had instigated this and beat the shit out of him myself.
I burst through the doors of the school and into the principal’s office to find Kyle physically okay – a couple of scratches, but nothing major. The real damage came to light as the principal explained to me what had happened.
As Kyle was leaving school that day, a group of the football players followed him and began verbally assaulting him regarding his being gay. The terms they used were horrific, and the humiliation was beyond what anyone should have to endure. There was a physical scuffle as they surrounded him, but before they could throw many punches someone broke the crowd up.
The ring leader, I was told, was waiting in another room, and his mother was on her way.
I was in a fog of outrage and pain. Kyle sat next to me, quiet and sad. I was seething. It’s a good thing I didn’t know what room that kid was in.
The principal had called the police, and they showed up to investigate. They were calling this a “hate crime”, a term I’d hardly heard in 1996, and they were promising to prosecute. Good, I thought. Good for the principal and the police officers who took this as seriously as they should have.
Then the door opened and this kid’s mom walked in. Oh, my god. I knew her.
I had been an active member of the LDS church for many years, but because of my differing liberal opinions (regarding issues such as homosexuality) I had long been inactive. Julie Smith (not her real name) was the president of the Relief Society – the LDS women’s group for the ward. She had been to my house a couple of times, urging me to reconsider and come back to church. Each time I explained to her that I just didn’t believe the way they did, and would never be back.
Wow. Here she now stood, as stunned to see me as I was to see her. She sat in a chair near me and tearfully begged me not to press charges. “My son,” she said, “is not this kind of boy. Please don’t let this ruin his life”.
Her tears aroused sympathy in me, and for just a few seconds, I thought of how she must have felt, and considered her wishes. But I looked back at Kyle, and all the anger roared back into my heart and I looked her straight in the eye.
“Your son IS this kind of boy. He did do this.”
We sat there, the six of us in silence for the next couple of minutes. Two policemen, the principal, Julie, Kyle, and me. Then one of the officers asked me if there was anything else I’d like to say. All I could think of was that I wanted to talk to this kid. I wanted to see him. I wanted to try and understand.
He was brought into the room and my jaw was clenched. He was big – close to six feet tall, and quite husky. He was wearing a letter jacket and a sheepish look. I couldn’t tell if that look represented shame, or merely frustration at having been caught.
It took me a minute to collect my thoughts, but I finally spoke to him.
“You’re a good-looking kid. I’ll bet you are quite popular.” It came out as more of a question. He shook his head yes. “Lots of friends?” Again the head shook yes. “Good for you.”
“Let me tell you something. My son might be gay, but you’ll never be half the man he is.”
This caught his attention and he looked up at me, slightly startled that I would say such a thing. I continued.
“You are a coward. Kyle is not ashamed of who he is. I can only hope that you’re ashamed of who you are.”
It was one of my finer moments.
I mention the fact that this kid’s mother was heavily involved in the LDS church – not to disparage the church or its teachings. I mention it because, sadly, religion is often inexplicably a conduit for judgment and hatred. I have no doubt that “Julie Smith” would never have outwardly encouraged her son to do what he did. However, if you, as a religious, spiritual person, ever say, “we don’t believe in that” to your child (or congregation) without adding, “but we should never judge or criticize those who do”, then you are sending the wrong message.
It’s time to change that message.
Kyle survived the incident amazingly. I’m sure it left some scars, but he has continued these last several years without changing who he is. He inspires me.
The football player was charged with a hate crime. It was his senior year in high school and he wasn’t allowed to participate in any more sports, and spent six months on house arrest. I hope he learned something. I wonder.
Kyle’s Video Story Transcript:
My name is Kyle McElwain and I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah. When I was fourteen is when I came out to my mom. Well, she asked me about it and I told her I was gay and the details of that story vary depending on who you ask. She insists that I cried and I don’t think that I, I don’t remember crying at all. But she’ll tell you I did every time.
So, the first thing she said to me, she looked at me and was like “Well cool, now we can check out guys together.” She really wanted to make sure that I was comfortable and wanted to make sure that I knew that it wasn’t, there was nothing wrong with it and I didn’t, and that’s, so I kind of had this view that the whole world was like that. I didn’t realize that, I hadn’t really been exposed to anything that would have told me otherwise. So after my mom knew, and my family knew, it just seemed like it didn’t matter who knew so here I am like in 8th grade and all my friends in school knew, everyone in the junior high that I knew, knew. It wasn’t until high school that things started to get, my sophomore year in high school, that things started to get a little bit, like I started to realize that maybe it’s not, maybe I shouldn’t have done this.
I don’t know how many times my lunch was thrown on the floor and I was told I couldn’t eat in the lunch room, because I’m a faggot and blah, blah, blah. But I just didn’t really ever, I was just like whatever, not a big deal, I’ll just blow it off, it’s not a big deal. Then one day after, one day during school I heard, everyone was talking about this big fight that was going on after class. Everyone’s going to go meet in the commons to watch this fight and little did I know, I was part of this fight. Like so we’re leaving and I start hearing things like “butt pirate” and all these other ridiculous gay slanders and finally somebody said my last name and it kind of caught me off guard and I turned around and right as I turned around I got blind sided and socked in the face, twice. And I think that’s like the breaking point where I realized that people don’t really, a lot of people don’t view it the same as the home that I grew up in, obviously. My mom kept putting forth the same message – “You can’t be scared of this, you can’t hide from it. Like I know it’s bad, and I know it makes you nervous, but its not one of those things you can run from. You still have to hold true to who you are and not let anybody change that or alter that.” My mom has become one of my heroes because of the fact that, she’s taught me to be accepting, and no matter who you are, or what you do, people always deserve that respect and I wish there was, I wish there were more moms around there like her.