One Story. Two Perspectives.

by gay lynn costa and kyle mcelwain

NOTE: We collected the following two stories in Salt Lake City on the 50-state Story Tour. Gay Lynn Costa and her son, Kyle McElwain, hosted us while we were in SLC and were quick to become our friends whom we’re in regular contact with now. We filmed Kyle’s Video Story in front of the Mormon Temple and a few days later, Gay Lynn submitted her written story. Neither knew what the other’s story was going to be about, but they both ended up sharing the same story from their own perspective. After you watch Kyle’s Video Story, be sure to Continue Reading to read Gay Lynn’s empowering story. It will give you goosebumps.

***

I’M FROM SALT LAKE CITY, UT.
By Kyle McElwain

I’M FROM CHOCTAW, OK.
By Gay Lynn Costa

When my son, Kyle, was fourteen years old, I asked him point-blank if he was gay. He admitted to me tearfully that he was. We hugged and cried together, and I let him know in no uncertain terms that it made no difference to me whatsoever.  We began an adventure together that day, mother and son, that has been wonderful and heartbreaking, joyful and painful. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

From that day forward Kyle never saw any reason to hide from the rest of the world. Admittedly, I worried from time to time that he may have come a bit too far out of that safe closet, but I didn’t ever want to make him feel ashamed of who he was by asking him to “be more discrete.” I didn’t want to shove even one of his toes back into the darkness.

In the small, predominately Mormon town of Kaysville, Utah, Kyle confidently made his way through junior high and into high school. His outgoing personality and sense of humor won him a lot of friends, and all seemed to be going well. So when the principal called me one afternoon to tell me Kyle had been “mobbed” by a group of guys after school, the world as I knew it was turned upside down.

I raced to the school with tears streaming down my face. The flood of emotions that was surging through me is difficult to describe. I wanted to find the little mother fucker who had instigated this and beat the shit out of him myself.

I burst through the doors of the school and into the principal’s office to find Kyle physically okay – a couple of scratches, but nothing major. The real damage came to light as the principal explained to me what had happened.

As Kyle was leaving school that day, a group of the football players followed him and began verbally assaulting him regarding his being gay. The terms they used were horrific, and the humiliation was beyond what anyone should have to endure. There was a physical scuffle as they surrounded him, but before they could throw many punches someone broke the crowd up.

The ring leader, I was told, was waiting in another room, and his mother was on her way.

I was in a fog of outrage and pain. Kyle sat next to me, quiet and sad. I was seething. It’s a good thing I didn’t know what room that kid was in.

The principal had called the police, and they showed up to investigate. They were calling this a “hate crime”, a term I’d hardly heard in 1996, and they were promising to prosecute. Good, I thought. Good for the principal and the police officers who took this as seriously as they should have.

Then the door opened and this kid’s mom walked in. Oh, my god. I knew her.

I had been an active member of the LDS church for many years, but because of my differing liberal opinions (regarding issues such as homosexuality) I had long been inactive. Julie Smith (not her real name) was the president of the Relief Society – the LDS women’s group for the ward. She had been to my house a couple of times, urging me to reconsider and come back to church. Each time I explained to her that I just didn’t believe the way they did, and would never be back.

Wow. Here she now stood, as stunned to see me as I was to see her. She sat in a chair near me and tearfully begged me not to press charges. “My son,” she said, “is not this kind of boy. Please don’t let this ruin his life”.

Her tears aroused sympathy in me, and for just a few seconds, I thought of how she must have felt, and considered her wishes. But I looked back at Kyle, and all the anger roared back into my heart and I looked her straight in the eye.

“Your son IS this kind of boy. He did do this.”

We sat there, the six of us in silence for the next couple of minutes. Two policemen, the principal, Julie, Kyle, and me. Then one of the officers asked me if there was anything else I’d like to say. All I could think of was that I wanted to talk to this kid. I wanted to see him. I wanted to try and understand.

He was brought into the room and my jaw was clenched. He was big – close to six feet tall, and quite husky. He was wearing a letter jacket and a sheepish look. I couldn’t tell if that look represented shame, or merely frustration at having been caught.

It took me a minute to collect my thoughts, but I finally spoke to him.

“You’re a good-looking kid. I’ll bet you are quite popular.” It came out as more of a question. He shook his head yes. “Lots of friends?” Again the head shook yes. “Good for you.”

“Let me tell you something. My son might be gay, but you’ll never be half the man he is.”

This caught his attention and he looked up at me, slightly startled that I would say such a thing. I continued.

“You are a coward. Kyle is not ashamed of who he is. I can only hope that you’re ashamed of who you are.”

It was one of my finer moments.

I mention the fact that this kid’s mother was heavily involved in the LDS church – not to disparage the church or its teachings. I mention it because, sadly, religion is often inexplicably a conduit for judgment and hatred. I have no doubt that “Julie Smith” would never have outwardly encouraged her son to do what he did. However, if you, as a religious, spiritual person, ever say, “we don’t believe in that” to your child (or congregation) without adding, “but we should never judge or criticize those who do”, then you are sending the wrong message.

It’s time to change that message.

Kyle survived the incident amazingly. I’m sure it left some scars, but he has continued these last several years without changing who he is. He inspires me.

The football player was charged with a hate crime. It was his senior year in high school and he wasn’t allowed to participate in any more sports, and spent six months on house arrest. I hope he learned something. I wonder.

***

Kyle’s Video Story Transcript:

My name is Kyle McElwain and I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah. When I was fourteen is when I came out to my mom. Well, she asked me about it and I told her I was gay and the details of that story vary depending on who you ask. She insists that I cried and I don’t think that I, I don’t remember crying at all. But she’ll tell you I did every time.

So, the first thing she said to me, she looked at me and was like “Well cool, now we can check out guys together.” She really wanted to make sure that I was comfortable and wanted to make sure that I knew that it wasn’t, there was nothing wrong with it and I didn’t, and that’s, so I kind of had this view that the whole world was like that. I didn’t realize that, I hadn’t really been exposed to anything that would have told me otherwise. So after my mom knew, and my family knew, it just seemed like it didn’t matter who knew so here I am like in 8th grade and all my friends in school knew, everyone in the junior high that I knew, knew. It wasn’t until high school that things started to get, my sophomore year in high school, that things started to get a little bit, like I started to realize that maybe it’s not, maybe I shouldn’t have done this.

I don’t know how many times my lunch was thrown on the floor and I was told I couldn’t eat in the lunch room, because I’m a faggot and blah, blah, blah. But I just didn’t really ever, I was just like whatever, not a big deal, I’ll just blow it off, it’s not a big deal. Then one day after, one day during school I heard, everyone was talking about this big fight that was going on after class. Everyone’s going to go meet in the commons to watch this fight and little did I know, I was part of this fight. Like so we’re leaving and I start hearing things like “butt pirate” and all these other ridiculous gay slanders and finally somebody said my last name and it kind of caught me off guard and I turned around and right as I turned around I got blind sided and socked in the face, twice. And I think that’s like the breaking point where I realized that people don’t really, a lot of people don’t view it the same as the home that I grew up in, obviously. My mom kept putting forth the same message – “You can’t be scared of this, you can’t hide from it. Like I know it’s bad, and I know it makes you nervous, but its not one of those things you can run from. You still have to hold true to who you are and not let anybody change that or alter that.” My mom has become one of my heroes because of the fact that, she’s taught me to be accepting, and no matter who you are, or what you do, people always deserve that respect and I wish there was, I wish there were more moms around there like her.

30 Comments:

  1. Señora Costa, es usted maravillosa.

  2. You sound like an amazing mom and Kyle is so lucky to have you. I’ve lived in SLC most of my life which makes yours and Kyle’s stories all that more relatable.

  3. Is true what you said about religion and people with closed mind. I feel really bad when I heard about these kind of things (violence, discrimination), cause it makes me think that people have lost their humanity. Hopefully there are some people that cares about things like love and equality. I’m sure that any guy in the world would be lucky to have a mother like you.

  4. Also agree about what you said about religion and people with closed minds.
    My parents were much involved in church and religious work in general. My father stood up for me from the minute he realized I was gay, My mother followed his lead over time.
    Years after they died a handwritten document was handed over to me, where my father had written our family history. Here it came to my knowledge how they had limited their religious work and cut off their financial support to a certain religious group, because it didn’t agree with them accepting my life style.

    Kyle’s story has yet another person who deserves credit: The principal.

    I had a tough time in school, but never have I ever heard about a principal who even cared.
    Even today teachers look the other way, not to mention the fact that you have to spell hate crime to the police.

    Good luck to Gay Lynn and Kyle. Absolutely love you story.
    Mogens

  5. Sadly, I doubt the instigator learned anything, except maybe to blame the wreck of his senior year on ‘faggots’. He learned this behavior from his parents and his mom was making excuses for him from the minute she walked in the door. Not a good omen.

    You’re lucky Kyle, you have a fabulous mom, but you’re pretty fabulous too.

  6. Thank you both for sharing your moving stories. You may very well save some lives. What could be more “Pro-Life” than that!

    Paul Harris
    Author, “Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina”

  7. Gay Lynn and Kyle’s story are great messages. I had a “you tell em” moment when she said to the bully that he will never be half the man her son is, and she was right. I am blessed to live in a community where gay people are accepting but not without those that oppose the lifestyle. Thankfully my mother is such an understanding woman. If the time comes when I tell her about my sexuality I know she would not think of me any differently…

  8. Pingback: I’m From Driftwood: In A Mormon Town, 1 Family, 2 Stories, Lots of Love | The New Civil Rights Movement

  9. So this woman ruined a boy’s life for one stupid action? Do you really think destroying a silly kid’s future over one act is going to make the boy reflect on the wrongness of his actions? Instead it will do nothing but instill a llifelong hatred of homosexuality in the boy, his family and all their immediate friends/church congregation etc.

    Far better would have been to forgiven the boy with stipulations that as a condition of not pressing charges he would learn to appreciate or tolerate homosexuality through therapy, getting to know Scott & his mother any number of ways, but the act of forgiveness would have been far more productive and beneficial to both the boy, & Scott.

    I’m not excusing the attack, not by any means, but by trumping the stupidity with an act of far reaching cruelty to a kid, and let’s not forget the attacker was a boy who was doing nothing but act on the values taught him by his parents, the longterm effects of homophobia are perpetuated down generations.

    I sympathise with Lynn wanting justice for her son, but this isn’t justice it’s vindictiveness.

  10. Sorry *Kyle for all the above mentions of “Scott”. Freudian slip.

  11. You’re wrong Simon, just plain wrong. It’s time for kids to quit getting a free pass on their misdeeds because ‘it might screw up their lives’. Too bad, too damn bad. They did it to themselves. So many kids now count on that free pass and do things they know damn well are wrong because they figure it will fall off their records when they turn 18. Do the evil things they freely choose to do fall off the shoulders and memories of their victims? Of course not. Since their victims have to live forever with what these kids have done, so should they. And incidentally, I have little doubt this was dropped from that sniveling, little coward’s record when he turned 18 as well. Turning the other cheek just gives vicious, little bigots the chance to strike again and more the fool you if you think some sort of epiphany would have struck him or his family had Ms Costa declined to press charges. No more free passes. People of all ages need to start taking responsibility for their own actions and people like YOU need to quit giving them excuses .

  12. Sandi, you’re wrong. I never mentioned a free pass? Did I? I would have chosen mandatory counselling and therapy, and hundreds of hours of community service in LGBT related charities and causes.
    Yes, the kid was a coward, ignorant and completely in the wrong, but doing nothing but parotting the awful moral code his parents had given him. Nothing changes with this kind of punishment except what was ignorance turns to full blown hatred.
    I’m not giving the kid an excuse, nor his family, but more advocate a pro active lengthy form of punishment in which the kid and his family are confronted with the reality of LGBT issues see gays as people, and confront their own mindset and morals from a standpoint of mercy. “We could have ruined your life, we chose not to, to extend mercy and now look at how we live”.

    Stop being a martyr, Sandi, I never said he shouldn’t be punished, but rather that his punishment fit the crime.

  13. LOL. Martyr? Drama major are you? Not a martyr at all (or even sure what cause you would think I’m being a martyr for), just tired of people playing victim when they are in fact the guilty party. It’s not 50 years ago and I don’t care what the kid’s parents told him. Do you think his mother actually taught him it was OK to beat up people? Of course not. People are exposed to enough media now that they know that that kind of behavior is totally unacceptable. We as a society may not be able to change what they think, but we can damn well make sure that they know things like physical assault WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. I don’t care it’s due to race, sexuality, ethnic background or because the victim is a geek/goth/emo/skater or whatever. My own experience has taught me that the vast majority of people like that boy only get worse. They see ‘forgiveness’ as weakness and lack of consequences as proof of their entitlement.

  14. No, not a drama major, I assure you. You do however take a catholic approach in making this boy a universal symbol of all homophobes – I do not believe that destroying the boy’s life was the best way forward.
    Gay Lynn Costa strikes me as an entirely vindictive woman, and I’m sick of this strident victim culture we increasingly live in. You don’t know the boy involved nor his parents and you have no way of knowing how he would have turned out, as it is I daresay he’s now a rampant homophobe and far more likely to be prone to violence than if another form of punishment which didn’t involve destroying his young life had been found.
    Also I’m sick of the martyr, yes martyr status affixed to homosexuality we only have Kyle and his mother’s versions of events and because they’re told in the context of this site and story we instantly take his side.
    I think you think I’m some kind of liberal well I’m not, I hate victims much of the time I think they actually ask for it, if you act like a victim don’t be surprised if you’re treated like one. My sympathies are with the boy not with Kyle and his self important, vindictive mother and quite frankly if he was as self pitying and strident as his mother maybe a good beating was what he needed.

  15. Liberal? Hardly. Who said anything about homophobia but you? Certainly not me since I specifically stated that my sentiment applied to any reason one kid would assault another, not just sexual orientation. But your vicious attack declaring your hatred for victims and stating that you think they ‘ask for it’ pretty much shows us precisely where you’re coming from. You Simon, are an utter waste of time. Take your vindictive hatred and homophobia and crawl back into your closet. It won’t change what you are, but you can continue to lie to yourself about it if it’s any comfort. Whent you crawl back out? Seek treatment. You need it badly.

  16. Simon, Had I wished to be vindictive, I certainly could have been. They lived within a couple of blocks from us and believe me, I could think of a number of ways to retaliate. However, as my goal was JUSTICE, I allowed the police to handle the situation LEGALLY, and stayed otherwise out of it.

    FYI Simon, if one of my kids had done something like this, I would have called the police myself. I would have expected him/her to face the consequences of his/her actions to the fullest extent of the law. My heart would have been broken, of course. But not because of their punishment – because of their CRIME.

    But then again, in our house, respect for others was the single most important concept taught.

  17. PS I hardly think 6 months of house arrest “ruined” his life. Just made him very uncomfortable for a while. And, Sandi is right in that we can’t change what he thinks, but we can certainly make sure that assault for any reason will not be tolerated. Period.

  18. Simon, read over what you’ve written. You’re saying Kyle deserved to be beaten up for doing literally nothing, while lamenting that this violent bully who attacked someone without provocation had his life unfairly “ruined” because he had to endure zero jail time?

    You’re telling Sandi she’s being unfair making judgments on the bully because she doesn’t know him, yet you’re confident enough to predict how he ultimately reflected on the incident? And I assume you must know Gay Lynn pretty well if you’re able to judge her as a “self-important, vindictive” woman? Surely after writing post after post about not rushing to judgment, you wouldn’t be doing the same thing to her?

    I’m sick of people getting light sentences and wrist slaps for aggravated assault and murder just because the victim was gay. This asshole was a senior in high school. If he was old enough to make this mistake, he was old enough to pay for it. It didn’t ruin his life, it ruined a semester.

    Your “blame the victim” mentality is worse than merely stupid, or disturbing, or backward. It’s dangerous and pretty goddamn disgusting.

    And don’t get angry because everyone is calling you out on that. If you act like an arrogant shit-eating prick, don’t be surprised if you’re treated like one.

  19. Gay Lynn — You’re the kind of mother that millions of kids, gay or not, wish they had. Thanks for your compassion and in this case, unwavering conviction.

  20. Thanks, Rafi. I appreciate your support.

    I keep wondering why I even tried to explain myself to this guy. He knows the tip of the iceberg of the story, but knows so much more about it than any of us who were there. He must be one really smart dude. I bow to his omnipotence!

  21. He was trolling, pure and simple. Looking for an incident where a straight person’s life was ‘sacrificed to the queer agenda’ so he could climb up on his rant rock and spew. With his obvious vendetta against gays, there’s no reason other than trolling for him to have been here in the first place.

  22. Was there backlash towards Kyle after the jock wasn’t allowed to participate in sports? So glad he is gay and proud and esp to know that he has the love and support of his mother.

  23. No, Vivian, there was no backlash. The Principal took a stand and made a point that any verbal or physical assault on any student for any reason would not be tolerated. It was awesome.

  24. I did some checking and found out the names of the officer and the Vice Principal* involved in this story are. I’m ashamed of myself for not having thanked them before now.

    Thank you, Officer Brian Berry and Vice Principal Clyde Jackson. You were ahead of your time in taking a stand against bullying. Kyle and I will be forever grateful for your help in this matter.

    *Corrections:
    I thought originally it was the Principal who had been there.
    Also, the year was 1999.

  25. I am from Uruguay. I found this story heartbreaking. Thank life there are people like this wonderful mom who make our lives easier. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories. They help gay people to feel better and more loved. My family is totally homophobic and they look down on me for being who I am. I developed a strong personality and learned to defend myself. But people in this whereabouts are still immature when it comes to sexuality. I was also a member of the mormon church and sexuality is a topic they don´t know how to handle. The doctrine just teaches that you should stay chaste all your life or see a shrink for ever. Hugs

  26. It is absolutely amazing that some school principals have these kind of attitudes towards these situations. In my country nobody cares. Even teachers are sometimes disrespectful. This is a great example. I am sending this to my friends. Let´s spread the good!

  27. Gay Lynn, As a mother of 3 children, I am so so proud of you for taking a stand the way you did. I would be beside myself to go through what you and your son went through.

    You are the epitome of what a mother (and a spiritual person) should be …unconditionally loving, fearless and compassionate..

    Perhaps, if the other boys had mothers like you, they wouldn’t have done what they did…

    Thank you both for sharing your story..xoxo

  28. Gay Lynn, I was just moved to hard, difficult tears in reading your perspective of this story. I wish my mom were supportive in the way that you are. You will inspire mothers around the world who hear your story!

  29. GMB – I’ll be your mom! Thank you for your kind words. I never dreamed that this story would cause people to say such kind things about me – and it’s a little overwhelming. Then again I have a difficult time understanding why every mother on the planet wouldn’t react exactly the same way if one of her children was threatened! This is not heroism, it’s MOTHERHOOD!!! I think any mother who doesn’t get that is truly missing the most important part of life. So sad.

    Anyway, thank you!

    Gay Lynn

  30. I love we do heve same story glad to meet you spend time together it’s great love you Kyle :p besos papy

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