In 1989 Roy Aarons saw a newspaper story about a young man’s suicide. Particularly striking to him was the mother, Mary Griffith, who had tried throughout her son’s adolescence to “pray away” his gay nature. Bobby Griffith suffered enormously from his family’s lack of support and acceptance and the condemnation of his church. Even leaving home couldn’t dispel his sense of worthlessness; at age 20, he jumped to his death from a freeway bridge. Remarkably, Mary was transformed by her loss and eventually renounced the rigid religious beliefs that had kept her from fully accepting Bobby.
The Griffiths’ heartbreaking story came at a personal turning point for Roy. His Oakland Tribune colleagues knew him as an openly gay man, but few others in the world of journalism did—until he outed himself the following year before a convention of his peers. Soon he became an activist, founding the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.
Roy’s personal transformation paralleled Mary’s; after Bobby’s death she had become an iconic activist for PFLAG, the nationwide association of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, urging parents to understand and accept their children’s homosexuality. “This extraordinary conversion touched me as deeply as the tale of Bobby’s tragic death,” Roy wrote. “What enabled her to transcend her background and perform what could only be described as acts of courage?”
Having left daily journalism to follow other interests, Roy began to explore the Griffiths’ stories in depth. Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son—Roy’s first book—was published by HarperCollins in 1995. Prayers for Bobby, with its powerful and potentially life-saving message for parents and youth, is now a Lifetime TV movie starring Sigourney Weaver in her first made-for-TV film.