Overall, the country has grown more tolerant, says Wayne Schow, whose son Brad came out in 1979.
"Back then, we told almost no one," says Schow, an English professor at Idaho State University. Coming from a Mormon background, Schow says, "There was not any revelation he could have made that would have been more difficult to accept. I was fully persuaded that it was fully a mistaken choice, that all he needed was to have positive heterosexual relationships and that would have straightened him out."
For six years, Schow and his wife, Sandra, kept their secret from almost everyone at church, at work, and in the family. Then Brad came home, diagnosed with AIDS.
"We didn't really come out until Brad died, and then we came out with a vengeance," says Schow, now 70. He wrote two books, and he and his wife became activists for gay rights, speaking in churches and at colleges.
"Being in the closet is not where anyone wants to be," he says. "It's a feeling of absurdity, really... when the circumstances of your life do not fit the paradigm that you're trying to live by. That's the intellectual side. The emotional side is you're cut off, marginalized. You don't think that anyone cares what your truth is."
His religious leaders provided no comfort, he said. "We had always participated in our Mormon community. But when the greatest crisis of our life came along and we really needed support, there was none for us."
Churches such as his that view homosexuality as deviant behavior often have little to offer parents of gays and lesbians. "It would be a little like a defendant going to his prosecuting attorney for sympathy and advice," Schow says. "You don't do it. You just retreat, keep your peace, and try to figure things out on your side."
Looking back, he says, "I did the best I could as quickly as I could. We didn't disown him. We tried to maintain our relationship as well as we could. But I wish I had been stronger, more courageous, better informed earlier on. Then he would have sensed that my acceptance of him was more unqualified."