Nate Berkus - Designer

I knew I was gay when I was really young, maybe even at two. I truly was conscious of a physical attraction to men, yet an emotional attraction to women, and it made me sense that I was different early on. My deep-rooted fear was that because I was different I’d lose the love of the people close to me—that my family and friends would be disgusted by who I am. That fear stayed with me for years.

Today, I don’t define myself solely by my sexual orientation, just as I don’t define myself by my race or my religion or even by having almost died in the tsunami in Sri Lanka. I live a very open life, even on television. I can hold hands with my boyfriend walking down the street. I can talk about being gay anytime, anywhere.

That wasn’t always the case. From ages thirteen to seventeen, growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the 1980s, I was in crisis mode. I couldn’t think about anything other than being gay and how to deal with it. And since I felt I couldn’t tell anyone, I had no help in figuring it out. It stopped the growth in almost every area of my life.

Mary Lou Wallner - Founder, TEACH Ministries

It started with a phone call late on a Friday night in February 1997. The call was from my ex-husband, informing me that our twenty-nine-yearold daughter, Anna, had committed suicide. She had been found late that afternoon after hanging from the bar in her closet for fifteen hours.

As we drove the 550 miles to the town where Anna had lived and died to plan and attend her funeral, I said to my husband, Bob, that I did not want Anna’s death to be in vain. I had no idea what I could do, however, because there was one major complicating factor: Anna was a Christian and a lesbian. And I was a fundamentalist Christian who had been taught all my life that homosexuality was a sin.

I learned of Anna’s homosexuality in a “coming-out” letter she wrote to us from college in December 1988. Here is an excerpt from the letter I sent her a few weeks later in response: