Coping with a gay daughter: Nashville Tennessean goes retro

The Tennessean's feature on a mother's relationship with her gay daughter is a timely, up-to-the-minute feature. Or it would be, if this were the 1980s.

Seriously, how do you run 1,500-plus words on something like this in 2014? A sympathy piece on a devout woman who learns that her daughter is gay, then supports her against the prejudices of her church? A topic that was strip-mined years ago?

All of this story is reported from the viewpoint of the mother. Not a word from the father or the son, or the daughter herself. And no one from church -- either the church that the mother attends or the one she left.

Purely from a writing standpoint, I can see why the story would interest an editor. Its terse, taut style would have made Hemingway proud:

Dawn Bennett thought she knew herself.

Wife. Mother of three. Devout Christian.

She thought she knew her daughter.

Guitarist. Softball player. Girl of unfaltering faith.

She didn't really know either.

Raising a gay child has taught her that.

In the six years since 19-year-old Erica Duclos looked into her mother's eyes and spoke openly about her sexuality, Bennett has fought fear, endured questions about God and grace, and struggled toward acceptance.

She loves her daughter, and she loves her God. Every day, her family and her faith collide. But the path forward is less about conflict than fortitude.

A promising lede, to be sure. But it doesn't deliver. Nor, as I've suggested, does it attempt anything like a balance.

Then follows a familiar track on how Erica decided she was gay. She dates boys but finds herself liking girls more. She hides it at first, pretending that her "girl-crush" is just a friend.

A friend outs Erica to the school, and her older brother outs her to Mom. In an awkward but sincere talk, Mom reaffirms her love and support.

Church, of course, is another matter. Although Erica was in the youth group, and her dad was a church usher, and the mother led classes, Erica is called "possessed" and banned from the church band. And a church woman says she must give up her girlfriend before she can return.

Eventually, mother Dawn leaves the church, too, and her husband as well, although that's mentioned just as an aside:

She lost her marriage, and even though she is not gay, she became an outcast in her church. At times, she felt forced to choose between her daughter and her faith, but she hasn't abandoned religion. Instead, she has searched for a more accepting community.

"I can't not be active (in the church)," she said. "It's something in me."

Erica has moved to Massachusetts, but the two still keep in touch online. And Dawn has written a book "more about a mother's courage and beliefs than sexuality, and about her movement over time."

See what I mean? There is very little here that you couldn't have read 20 or even 30 years ago. And there's a lot missing that the older stories did have.

Which church did the Bennetts attend? Did it formally reject them, or was it a few individuals? It's entirely plausible that some members reacted with bigotry. But what does the pastor say? And the "female mentor" who called Erica possessed -- why wasn’t she interviewed?

If Mr. Bennett -- whose first name is never given -- was an usher at the church, what does he think about what happened? And did the divorce have anything to do with Erica's homosexuality?

How about her brother -- who, again, isn't named here? The article says he "called her during band practice, flipping out." Why didn't he get to give his side?

For that matter, how does Erica herself look back on her experiences? Shouldn't the newspaper have asked her?

If Dawn is searching for a new church, has she settled somewhere? A photo has her reading a Bible at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville. Is that where she's attending now? From its website -- with catchwords like "Inclusive" and "Affirming" -- it appears to be a gay-friendly church. Wouldn't its pastor have some valuable perspective on all this?

Finally, what about those struggles with her faith? The article is dotted with hints about her "courage and beliefs," and how "her family and her faith collide." Like how?

You won't be surprised to know the article links to three websites on youth and homosexuality, including PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. If this feature were any more commercial, it would include a link to the Kickstarter campaign to publish Dawn Bennett's book. Actually, it does have one.

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