Bobby at Las Lomas

Bobby Griffith dropped out of high school just before graduation.  Two years later he committed suicide.  He was 20 years old.

Griffith was gay, and in his short life, he faced tremendous pressure from his mother, Mary, a devout Presbyterian who believed her son's orientation was sinful.  In the wake of his death, Mary reexamined her religion and her beliefs about homosexuality.  Today she is one of the nation's foremost advocates for gay youths and their families.

The Griffiths are from Walnut Creek, California, a suburb of San Francisco.  I grew up in Walnut Creek, down the street in fact from the Griffiths, and went to the same school Bobby attended. 

In 1995, as a junior at Las Lomas High School, I wrote a cover story for the school paper about the Griffiths: Bobby's death and Mary's extraordinary transformation.  The article included interviews with current students who were gay and speaking publicly for the first time.

I remember how meaningful that article was to Mary and her family.  Though it had been 12 years since her son's suicide, the school had done nothing to commemorate him.  Now the halls were buzzing with his name and talk of tolerance.  I had broken the silence.

The piece proved to be very meaningful for me as well.  It was the first article I'd ever written that actually made a difference, that shaped the world for the better.  Before that article, I had wanted to be a novelist.  After it ran, I realized that writing about real people, you could make a real impact.

Two months after my article, author Leroy Aarons released "Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son." 

And this year, 14 years after my article, 26 years after Bobby's death, director Russell Mulcahy brought the Griffiths' story to the screen in "Prayers for Bobby," an Emmy-nominated film starring Sigourney Weaver.



 

 



Prayers for Bobby

As Leroy Aarons explains in the opening pages of "Prayers for Bobby," he learned of Bobby's suicide in 1989, after reading an article about him in the San Francisco Examiner.  Aarons, an acclaimed reporter who had worked for the Washington Post and Oakland Tribune, contacted Mary Griffith and began the work of telling her son's story.

"Prayers" paints a beautiful portrait of Bobby as a shy, talented writer struggling with his sexuality.  The book contains extensive passages from Bobby's diary, where he beared his fears and hopes, joy and self-loathing, convictions and confusion.

The book also provides an intimate look at Mary Griffith.  Following her son's death, Griffith makes a renewed effort to understand her son.  Aarons follows her on that journey, tracing her transformation from gay opponent to gay activist.

"Prayers" was a passion project for Aarons, a gay reporter who went on to found the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.  It was the only book he ever wrote before dying of cancer in October 2004 at the age of 70.






Bobby on Screen

Following Aarons' death, his life partner, Joshua Boneh, worked to bring the Griffiths' story to the screen.  His effort came to fruition in January 2009, when Lifetime television broadcast "Prayers for Bobby."

"Prayers," directed by Russell Mulcahy, is a faithful adaptation of Aarons' book and features powerful performances from Sigourney Weaver as Mary Griffith and Ryan Kelley as Bobby.  The film takes us inside the Griffith home, exploring the love, angst and self-doubt of mother and son.

The movie was nominated for two Emmy Awards: Best Television Movie and Best Leading Actress for Weaver's performance.  In its opening weekend, it was viewed by 6.1 million people.








 

     



 
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