In 1989 Roy Aarons saw a newspaper story about a young manâ€™s suicide. Particularly striking to him was the mother, Mary Griffith, who had tried throughout her sonâ€™s adolescence to â€œpray awayâ€ his gay nature. Bobby Griffith suffered enormously from his familyâ€™s lack of support and acceptance and the condemnation of his church. Even leaving home couldnâ€™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 Griffithsâ€™ 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 didâ€”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.
Royâ€™s personal transformation paralleled Maryâ€™s; after Bobbyâ€™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 childrenâ€™s homosexuality. â€œThis extraordinary conversion touched me as deeply as the tale of Bobbyâ€™s tragic death,â€ Roy wrote. â€œWhat enabled her to transcend her background and perform what could only be described as acts of courage?â€
Having left daily journalism to follow other interests, Roy began to explore the Griffithsâ€™ stories in depth. Prayers for Bobby: A Motherâ€™s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Sonâ€”Royâ€™s first bookâ€”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.