Gay dad Rob Watson on his message to the parents of an assaulted Georgia teen.
Over the last week, a video of gay teen Daniel Pierce’s experience with his intolerant family has gone viral. In it, the Georgia native defends himself from verbal and even physical assault in an “intervention” staged by his Bible-thumping parents and grandmother. The widely circulated clip sparked tears, outrage — and eventually donations. Friends set up a fundraiser for Daniel that garnered over $90,000 in just days; the now-disowned teen plans to donate much of it to an Atlanta-based organization that works with LGBTQ homeless youth.
The responses to the video have been overwhelming. But few have garnered the same attention as an open letter written by gay dad blogger Rob Watson. Posted on his website evoL = and directed to Daniel’s parents, the letter is an impassioned indictment of their treatment of their son. He refutes their arguments and turns ends by turning their predilection for fire and brimstone on its head: “You will not need to preach to us about hell, however. We will see it in your eyes.” The letter, like the video that inspired it, has gone viral. And it is the latest in a string of open letter-style posts that earned Rob a growing readership through his own site, Huffington Post, Gay Star News, and more. He is even a co-host of a Santa Cruz, California radio show.
“I’ve found that when certain things happen, there’s a reaction from a lot of LGBT people that they wish they could say something directly to the people involved,” explains Rob. “They want to say, “Stop. That’s not okay. We’re not going to stand for it anymore.’ We want that person called out directly to their face.”
As a result, the direct address has become one of the writer’s most predominant structures since he launched evoL = two years ago, alongside a few other gay dads and allies. (Today, Rob is the site’s primary author.) He has written to a Mormon grandmother who thought Disney’s “Frozen” was pimping a “gay agenda.” He has written to real fathers who left notes disowning their gay children. He has written to real bishops. He has written on many other topics, not all of them in this format. But it has become something of a signature, in part because it indulges the readers’ vicarious need to say something pointed and direct in the face of the hatred we hear about too often.
Rob admits that the video of Daniel’s altercation with his family moved him to write, in part, because he understands how painful the coming-out process can be. (Daniel’s video was initially widely reported as a coming-out, though the teen has since clarified that it was a “pray the gay away” intervention that his parents staged.) Rob has written about his own coming-out in a post titled, “The Nine Worst Things to Do When Coming Out of the Closet.”
“I didn’t handle it in the most graceful way,” says Rob, whose then-alcohol dependency became an unhealthy coping mechanism. (Today, he’s 30 years sober.) Drinking made him “sloppy, defensive and belligerent,” he says, which resulted in a coming-out conversation with his mother that was, “very unpleasant,” says Rob. “It didn’t rise to the level of what Daniel faced. There was no violence. But there were some contentious things said, a lot of elements were very similar to what Daniel went through.”
And though it’s easy to assume that today’s youth have it easier, Rob says that Daniel’s video has resonated because it underscores how much work there is left to do. He has seen that even in his own backyard of Santa Cruz, a city known for its social liberalism. He recalls a recent instance when one of his two sons, who had just entered middle school, seemed somber before bed. With a little digging, he discovered that a few kids were teasing his sons. “They were telling the other kids, ‘Stay away from the Watson boys. They’re gay,’” says Rob. It was their first experience with being treated as though their family was less than. A supportive school counselor nipped the issue in the bud, but it reminded Rob of what can exist in even the most progressive places.
Rob knows that the culture is changing, if slowly, just as people do. Today, he has a strong relationship with his parents, who are in their late 80s. Rob is their primary caregiver, and they dote on his sons. Though he hasn’t heard from Daniel or Daniel’s parents about the open letter that he wrote, he imagines the advice he would give if they read it, if it changed them, and if they wrote back asking: How can we make this better?
“I would direct them to PFLAG, and talk to other families who have been through this,” says Rob. “I would tell them to further their education about these issues in a way that is separate from the Bible, and to talk to other denominations that have different understandings and interpretations. I don’t want to disregard that people feel strongly about their religious beliefs. I come from that place myself,” says Rob, who identifies as a Methodist. But, he says, with a bit more thought and a lot more soul searching, reconciling faith and family can become a reality. He’s living proof.
Here’s hoping Daniel’s parents get the message. Sincerely.