Amber Catorna

(Courtesy Amber Catorna)

Amber Cantorna never thought she'd become an LGBT advocate, and admits that 10 years ago if someone had suggested it she would have thought they were crazy. At that time, she says, she was ensconced in what she calls her "Christian bubble" — her father is an executive with Focus on the Family, the conservative, Colorado Springs-based Christian group dedicated to "helping families thrive," and "to healthy marriages that reflect God's design."

That design, according to the group, is marriage between a man and a woman, which left Cantorna at odds with a lifetime of beliefs when she realized she was gay. That acknowledgment carried a sizable impact on her life. Cantorna spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about her new book, "Refocusing My Family ... Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering The True Love of God."

Read an excerpt:

It was three weeks before my parents contacted me again, telling me they were finally ready to talk. Although it made me uncomfortable, I agreed to meet them at their house, rather than in public, so we could talk more privately. Settling into the family room in the basement that held so many fond memories for me, it was clear that this conversation wouldn’t be pleasant.

My mom and dad sat side by side, presenting a strong, cohesive force. They prefaced the conversation with, “Before we say anything, Amber, you need to know that we love you. But . . .” and so it began. I’m not sure why Christians always feel the need to preface their harsh words with, “I love you” before telling you that you’re wrong about something. The theory of tough love is a common one among Christians, and I’m sure (Focus on the Family founder James) Dobson’s support of that theory influenced my parents a great deal. When it comes to the gay community specifically, Dobson said, “We are obligated as Christians to treat homosexuals respectfully and with dignity, but we are also to oppose, with all vigor, the radical changes they hope to impose on the nation. It is vitally important that we do so.”

In the same article Dobson also denies having ever done or said anything that would be harmful to the gay community. But encouragement from evangelical leaders to implement a tough love approach has been severely detrimental to many LGBTQ people, causing them to feel like they have to change an innate part of themselves in order to be acceptable to God. As a result, it has driven many away not only from the church, but from a relationship with God.

That’s what my parents were about to do: “speak the truth to me in love.”

“I feel like you’ve died, Amber — like I’ve lost you,” my dad began with a grievous look on his face. My mom agreed.

“I feel the same way. You’ve turned your back on God and everything we’ve ever taught you,” she stated with resolve. Everything I’d told them three weeks ago about how much time I spent seeking God and searching the Bible, everything I’d said about how this whole process actually brought me closer to God, not further away, had been disregarded. They only heard what they wanted to hear.

“We’re hurt that you didn’t come to us with this sooner,” my dad continued. “We would have loved to help you by sending you to a Love Won Out conference. We would have loved to walk through this with you. Even if you still arrived at the same decision, at least we would have known that we did everything we could to persuade you. But because you didn’t include us in your journey, it’s too late. You’ve already made up your mind. “But you’re deeply deceived, Amber. Like Eve, you’ve eaten the fruit from Satan. You’ve gotten in with the wrong crowd and they’ve brainwashed you. You’re putting your soul in jeopardy. I’m afraid that you’re damning yourself to hell.” My dad went on to compare me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality.

“If I want to just go and marry a donkey, is that okay? Or if I see a little kid and want to have sex with them, can I just go ahead and do that and act on whatever I feel? You could even get a bunch of murderers together to form their own church and just make that all okay!”

Their words shattered me. I was devastated by their attacks on me, their own daughter, and felt gravely misunderstood. I didn’t know what to say. I was tongue-tied and ill-equipped to handle such accusations. I never imagined I’d hear such horrible and harsh words from my own parents.

Reprinted from "Refocusing My Family ... Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering The True Love of God." by Amber Cantorna. With permission from the author.