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A Vermont mother roars.

One of the reasons that Vermont became the first state to approve civil unions for gays and lesbians must surely be the presence of splendid citizens like Sharon Underwood of White River Junction. As the single mother of a gay son and two other children, Underwood had kept silent for years in the face of the "standard gay bashing" she heard whenever she went out with friends.

Even her coworkers at the housing manufacturing company where she works didn't know she had a gay child. But in April the anger that had been building up for more than two decades finally burst out of her when she wrote a brilliant 1,000-word polemic for her local paper, Valley News, in West Lebanon, N.H. The 50-year-old computer programmer had never written anything professionally before, but she suddenly discovered the amazing power of her own words.

"As the mother of a gay son," her article began, "I've seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be. Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont.... I've taken enough from you good people. I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the `homosexual agenda' and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny. My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade."

Point by point Underwood disposed of every homophobic myth--beginning with the idea that sexual orientation is chosen--and she struck a gigantic chord. Two other New England papers immediately reprinted her article. Then someone E-mailed it to author and Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias, and he posted it on his Web site. The headline read: "The Best Thing I've Read All Year." Gay activist Larry Kramer E-mailed it to dozens of friends, including playwright Arthur Laurents, and each of them E-mailed it to dozens more. Tobias also listed an E-mail address for Underwood, and within three weeks she had received 1,000 E-mails--every one of them favorable.

"I get home, and every night my answering machine is jammed," Underwood said. "It's wonderful, but it's exhausting. A Hawaii paper is reprinting it, the Anchorage [Alaska] paper is reprinting it, and I just got an E-mail from an Episcopalian minister in South Africa!" She wrote her piece for "every parent who supports a gay child. It's time this nonsense stops. These religious-right people are like the emperor who has no clothes. Who are they that we have to be afraid of them?"

Her letter describes the suicide note her son wrote when he was 17, but the story has a happy ending: Her son, Ian LaRose, is now 28 and living happily in Boston with a boyfriend. "He has found happiness," she said. He told her that the only thing he regretted was that her letter left the impression that "being homosexual is a regrettable thing--and it isn't. What's regrettable is what you have to go through to find the peace that you should have been able to have from the beginning."

Today, her son doesn't even remember the traumas of his childhood.

"But," his mother said, "Mom remembers."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:mother of gay child speaks out against homophobia
Author:Kaiser, Charles
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1NH
Date:Jun 20, 2000
Previous Article:The high price of "don't ask, don't tell".
Next Article:Cyber-compulsive.

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