It is My Joy to Introduce You to My Uncles


I got to know my uncle in my childhood when he would come to Pittsburgh from his home in California. He would arrive in the Fall with his friend, who my grandmother adored. Telling stories is an art form in my family so many October afternoons, year after year, were given to listening in as the adults swapped stories on my grandmother’s side porch or sitting room. My uncle and his friend would stay for some days before traveling in the East, enjoying the change of season. Nothing was said beyond how much my grandmother appreciated these opportunities to catch up with her oldest son and with his friend.

In college I began to connect the dots, putting together that my uncle was probably gay and his “friend” was his partner. Still, nothing was said, and this idea wasn’t something I could run by my family.

Then, in the mid-1990’s when I was middle aged, I was visiting with my aunt. She told me the story of her brother, my uncle: How his father had ridiculed him for being gay; How the family had twice sent him to a sanitarium in New England to be “cured” to no effect; How his effort to enlist in World War II had failed because he was gay; How a small inheritance allowed him to move to what, for this family, was the edge of the world, Southern California.

It was there that my uncle met his partner, years before I was born. They bought a house in 1955, which his partner still lives in to this day. My parents visited them a few times, but I did not go there until a few years ago. When I did, I came home with a large stack of family photographs, wedding pictures and framed Christmas card family pictures, saved over seven decades. My uncle’s partner still has the best recollection of family history of anyone in our senior generation. I am sure he heard about all these relatives over and over through the years.

My uncle grew up in a Presbyterian Church. He was a devout man but he did not go to church. Though the Crystal Cathedral was nearby, he was certain he would not be welcome and, sadly, he was probably right. So he would watch church on TV instead. His partner would slip in and out of Mass at the Catholic parish church, until he stopped doing that too. The church failed them both.

I confess to them and to the millions of LGBT people like them that we, the church, have sinned against you and against God who made you good.

My uncle suffered from what is common in my family: strokes. For most of the 1990’s he was bedridden. When his partner could no longer care for him at home, my uncle moved to a nursing home where his partner came to care for him and be with him every day. My uncle died at age 89 in 2000. He and his partner had been together 52 years.

I don’t share their names here today because I still am not sure they would associate themselves with being gay. I never talked with them about it. They were a couple committed to one another in a time where they faced severe stigma. And I know that they were for me the single most important thing to open my eyes to God’s full love for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If truth is in order to goodness and the goodness of these men is proven by their fruits then they are good and worthy of full participation in the life of the church.

I am very grateful this perspective on God’s will for us was in place so early in my life.

If you say you do not know of any LGBT people, you can say it no more. It has been my joy to help you know a little about my uncles. And I encourage you to read through the great conversations I have been privileged to have with lovely LGBT Christians over the past two years. When we know LGBT people as Christ does, we will be with them as Christ is. And we will sin no more.


Reverend Janet

14 Responses
  • Abby on March 25, 2011

    Thank you for your wonderful memories. My aunt, too, lived in Southern California with her partner–and I loved them both. Nothing was ever said out loud, but there were certain “code” words which my brother and I understood–and I am still happily in touch with her partner.

  • Virginia Thibeaux on March 26, 2011

    I have and aunt who is a nun–Sisters of Mercy–she and Sister Nick have lived together for most of my life. They have a house with another sister, (to keep up appearances) and I know that they are committed to each other. Sister Nick would go to all of the family gatherings and everyone loves her–she is easy to love. And she also is a great storyteller!

    But no one says the L word; it would be scandalous to think they might not be celibate (they probably are) or that they might be life partners in any sense of that word. Every now and then I get a chance to talk with them. They know and love Anne, and celebrate our love. Every now and then Sister Nick says something that indicates to me what Sister Celeste (my aunt) means to her.

  • Virginia Thibeaux on March 26, 2011

    excuse the spelling errors!

  • Janet Edwards on March 26, 2011

    Dear Abby and Virginia,

    You are completely excused, Virginia! I didn’t even notice any spelling errors. I was caught up in the joy of your description of your aunts as I was in the hints of a significant story in your words, Abby. I thank you both for sharing experience similar to mine.

    I have come to realize how special our families were in a time when the judgment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folk was cruel, crushing gentle people in the name of God. Nothing said, courage to be themselves, love shared freely within the family was a necessary steppingstone to Stonewall and David Sindt with his sign at GA, “Is anyone else out there gay?”

    I am grateful that the witness of our loved ones has helped change the church and the world even as I am aware that there are still gentle LGBT souls that get crushed in the name of God every day. Christ calls me out everyday to spread the change love brings to every corner so that this will not happen any more. Sorry–I got on my soap box.

    Thanks again to you both for your comments. Please do it again. Peace, Janet

  • Donna on March 27, 2011


  • pennyjane hanson on March 29, 2011

    ahhh, janet…such lovely memories. and what an unbridled blessing for you, never knowing a time when you didn’t have “uncles” as well as uncles and aunts.

    when my neice, the only in either of our families who accepts us “as is”, introduced us to her new boyfriend as “my aunts, annie and pj” it made my heart sing with joy.

    when a wonderful presbyterian minister pronouned, at the vow renewal annie and i took on our 30th anniversary, “i now pronounce you wife and wife…you may kiss your brides” it meant more to me than all the state sanction in the world. our love was acknowleged by our congregation in our church even though it was not in compliance with “the letter of the law.”

    ministers who perform such ceremonies are at the cutting edge of christianity itself. they are doing no less than the original disciples..perfoming undreamt of micracles upon the nearly hopeless. God’s big chest must swell with pride over these creations of His.

    one day the word “husband” will fall off the tongue as easily as “partner” does today. a marriage is a marriage when God says it is, for all others it’s just opinion.

    bless your uncles for He has pronounced them “husband and husband.”

    much love and hope. pj

  • Dave on April 1, 2011

    Thank you for the wonderful story of your uncles. Being gay today is still no picnic. I left the Presbyterian Church because of its nonaccepting of gays and because I was told I didn’t give enough money. I am an Episcopalian now but it rankles that our marriage is not acknowledged nor will the church bless it even though we were joined together in a ceremony by an ordained minister of another faith. We are looked down upon by half of the good Christians in our families. When will humans stop playing God? When will they stop judging one another? When will they stop insisting that their own interpretation of scripture is the only one that is true? When will we learn to live and let live and let God take care of things? I long for that day.

  • Janet Edwards on April 1, 2011

    Dear pj and Dave,

    You comments here are intensely poignant for me as they reflect the pregnant quality of this moment in the church. Some things are better but not everything. The fullness of God’s Grace feels both near enough to grasp and infinitely beyond us.

    I hear you both crying out that question of “How long, O God?” Our yearning turned to action by being Christ’s hands and voice in this world will hasten the day. That is my faith. Does that make sense to you?

    Thanks very much for sharing of yourselves!

    Peace, Janet

  • pennyjane on April 1, 2011

    hi janet…well, it is my hope, but i admit that my faith sometimes gets a little shaky.

    those four straight “no” votes, i confess, almost sent me into a clinical depression….then the good people of milwaukee reversed the trend. tomorrow is another day.

    i spent a part of yesterday afternoon watching our departing interum pastor pack up his office. he noted that i am usually so positive and even…he wondered why my mood was so easily controlled by this “pregnant moment”. it just shows that even wonderful, supportive and enlightened people such as he don’t really “get” what this means to some of us. it is life altering…validation so deeply needed.

    i think most just don’t realize the depth of depression so many young people experience because their church won’t validate them…that no matter what they do, what great achievements they may strive for…they will always be “tolerated”, never accepted by their very own church. i am almost desperate to erase even that memory from the presbyterian mind.

    God’s love and light are surely within our grasp…may we not fail Him now!

    much love, hope and faith. pj

  • Janet Edwards on April 1, 2011

    Dear pj,

    Yes, I share that desperation at people simply not comprehending the meaning of church rejection or acceptance because we equate the church with Christ even when we know the fit is not exact.

    With regard to the 10A voting in the PCUSA, I encourage you to watch the comparison of presbytery votes to 2008 rather than the raw Yes/No votes. If all the presbyteries who voted Yes in 2008 vote Yes in the next two months, then 10A will pass.

    The other way to track the vote is to watch the approach to the necessary 87 majority. Right now the Yes’s need 12 more presbyteries to Yes. There is likely to be a string of No votes coming but as long as the Yes’s continue to steadily come in the Yes’s will stay ahead of the No’s and reach 87 first.

    Of course, there is an immense task of education and outreach ahead for us all regardless of the outcome of 10A. The great thing is that the 10A revision of G-6.0106b encourages the dialogue we have needed for forty years. I thank God for the opportunity this amendment places before us.

    Stay strong, pj. Thanks again for your sharing of yourself here.

    Peace, Janet

  • pennyjane hanson on April 2, 2011

    hi janet. i’ve heard it said that if you put five presbyterians in a room, you aren’t likely to come up with more than a dozen opinions on any given subject. i’m just trying to remind myself of how excrusiating this yes/no vote must be for the actual voters.

    in compiling the remaining votes, i found that of the 41 remaining presbyteries to vote, 15 went “yes” on 08b. so, even if we get no more switches from no to yes, we would still have to lose four yes to no’s..which would be 400 precent of what we’ve lost so far.

    but, who’s counting? i once found a link to a site that listed the dates of the coming votes…but i lost it and can’t find it…do you know of such a list? if so, i think many of us would appreciate it if you’d post it here on this most wonderful site…one i’m am just tick’led to death that i found!

    much love and hope. pj

  • Janet Edwards on April 4, 2011

    Dear pj,

    What sweet compassion you have for the presbyters who are required to vote Yes, No or Abstain on Amendment 10A! We Presbyterians do have a tendency to think hard about everything and to be so cautious with what is seen as change. Some matters are complicated.

    For example, Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians says of this moment that we are hopeful and there is still a steep hill to climb. Very true. Every heart yearning for 10A to bring fresh air to the PCUSA is important. Every person in the presbyteries yet to vote is an angel who is making sure all ministers and voting elders are present, as well as ready to speak from their hearts on why 10A will bless the church and the world.

    The More Light Presbyterians Facebook page is the best place I know to get swift information on presbytery votes but I need to investigate some on how to know when presbyteries are voting. I will let you know what I discover.

    Thanks for your kind words, pj. Stay strong as we make our way to Holy Week, Eastertide and the conclusion to this presbytery voting season.

    Peace, Janet

  • Helene Loper on April 13, 2011

    I too have a gay family member and it was many years before I connected the dots. I knew he was not married and lived in New York. When my mother, his first cousin, returned from a trip to see NYC at Christmas time with her “girl grandchildren,” she was telling me some of things they had done. And she mentioned visiting her cousin and his “friend.”. I then discovered he was his friend of over 30 years and the code words were broken. It is so easy to grow up in complete ignorance of important people in our own families. Silence and hidden truth – the friend had never visited us in Alabama – can leave the next generation feeling alone and without mentors from families and faith communities. This is a loss of love, truth and encouragement in faith and relationships. It is not that my parents are as prejudiced against gays as many in the church and society, they simply colluded with it by their own silence. Ignorance did not protect me and silence did not help me find my own way through the spiritual minefields of coming out in the South. We serve neither God nor one another with silence – as Palm Sunday nears I think even the stones would shout out but we are not accustomed to listening to such witnesses either. So I speak and encourage others to tell their stories. Thank you for this venue for telling them.

  • Janet Edwards on April 13, 2011

    Dear Helene,

    You are very welcome and back at you with thanks for adding your thoughts and experience here!

    I have tended to appreciate the way my family was basically appreciative of my uncles, following my grandmother’s lead of joy at visits each Fall. When I became aware of the judgment of my uncles on the part of the church, I realized that my elders could have treated my uncles much more hurtfully because of what they learned from the church.

    You help me to see that the silence, while perhaps better than other more judgmental possibilities, had its own difficulties. One of them was a depression requiring hospitalization suffered by my aunt after my uncle’s death related to her never telling her brother how much she admired his marriage.

    Being ourselves, sharing our relationships and our loves, families being loving families–all of these are what I hear you calling us to. Exactly!

    Peace, Janet

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