Finding the Best Gay-Themed Films, #2: Prayers for Bobby

Prayers For Bobby is a made-for-TV adaptation of author Leroy Aarons’ 1995 book of the same name. The film originally aired on the Lifetime Network in 2008 and has recently come to DVD. Based on a true story, Prayers For Bobby stars Sigourney Weaver as Mary Griffith, a mother who is forced to come to terms with the death of her gay son after her well-meant but misguided campaign to “cure him of his sickness” drives him to suicide.

The story begins in 1979. Bobby Griffith, nearly sixteen, realizes that he is gay, which sends his world into a tailspin. Having grown up sharing his mother’s faith and beliefs, Bobby knows what the church and the world…and even his own family thinks of gay people. Terrified, and believing that he’s headed straight for the fires of Hell, Bobby tries to resist his feelings, while keeping them a secret from everyone.

Finally, when the struggle becomes to much for him to bear, he decides to commit suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of aspirin, but can’t bring himself to go through with it. When his brother Ed wanders into the room to find the pills scattered all over the floor and Bobby lying motionless on the bed, Bobby finally confides in him, swearing him to complete secrecy. In the end, however, Ed’s concern for Bobby gets the better of him, and he reluctantly breaks his vow of silence.

When Mary hears the news, she does the only thing that she knows to do. She turns to her Bible, and the faith that has always provided the perfect cocoon of safety for her. She convinces herself that if they are faithful, God will heal Bobby. From then on, she wages a relentless Spiritual war against her son’s homosexuality. Leaving Bible verses taped all around the house that warn of the sin of homosexuals, she continuously badgers Bobby to be steadfast in his faith, to pray harder in order to resist being tempted by his “sinful nature.” Together they tried everything imaginable to get Bobby “on the right path again.”

What Mary didn’t know was that Bobby was already dealing with his own guilt and shame, because he shared her beliefs and was repulsed by his own inclinations. He was already trying with everything in his soul to “change,” and was disgusted by his inability to conform. Her badgering only caused his already strong sense of self-loathing to increase exponentially!

Finally, after three years of this, Bobby had come to the end of his rope. He had reached the point where he realized that his “condition,” as he referred to it, wasn’t going to change, so he quit trying. Unable to bear his mother’s tirades any longer, he moves to Oregon to live with a cousin. For a brief time, things seem to improve, but Bobby is still unable to reconcile his sexuality within his own Spirit. And it doesn’t help that Mary’s admonitions keep coming, both by phone and by mail. By mid-summer, he had reached his breaking point. On August 27, 1983, Bobby was walking home alone from a night out, and as he crossed the bridge above the freeway overpass near his home, he climbed over the side, jumped directly into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler, and was killed instantly at the age of twenty.

Following Bobby’s death, a distraught Mary went looking for answers. Limited education and a complete ignorance of anything to do with homosexuality had forced her to rely solely on her religious faith for guidance in Bobby’s situation. For Mary, that faith was what had provided her with security and peace; before these events, it had always provided her with answers when she didn’t understand. But this time, something had gone horribly wrong.

When her own church proved to be no help whatever, Mary began to educate herself. She read everything she could find on homosexuality, and began attending services at the local branch of the MCC, a gay-friendly church. In her time there, she slowly began to learn that The Bible’s words left room for other interpretations than the ones that she was taught. Armed with this new knowledge, she began a very critical scrutiny of The Bible, and came to understand that The Bible states many things that are no longer enforced or put into practice in today’s churches. This was a comfort to Mary, because it allowed her to believe that Bobby could be in Heaven, but at the same time, it also brought her to the terrible realization that her efforts to “change” Bobby had been tragically wrong!

The guilt that she felt at this realization nearly consumed her. Realizing that she had done a grave injustice to her son, she vowed from that point on to spend the rest of her life making it right. She has chosen to take the story of her personal tragedy to the world in the hopes that no other parent should ever have to pay the terrible price of ignorance as she did. Now 76, she travels the country telling her story and working tirelessly to make the world a safer and more loving place for others like her Bobby.

Prayers For Bobby is a wonderful film. The acting is first-rate, and the gravity of the story will keep you riveted. There are some minor changes in the film version, but overall it is a very good adaptation. More importantly than all of that, this film (and its accompanying book) have probably saved countless lives. This is a story that should be read or seen by every parent, and every so-called “Christian” who sits in a church pew crying “Amen” as their fellow human beings are slandered, ridiculed, and persecuted. Stories like this are very common among the gay community, and this illustrates all too clearly the dire consequences that can come from ignorance and blind, unquestioning faith.