Roby Sapp and Dotti Berry weren’t going to let Dr. Dobson’s closed doors stop them from having the opportunity to share their stories and take some love inside Focus on the Family. On Tuesday, May 2, after having participated in the weekend-long Soulforce vigil and direct action, Dotti and Roby deliberately missed their 11 a.m. flight out of Denver to spend the morning at Focus on the Family.
Roby said, “Having been influenced by Dr. Dobson’s teachings, and having believed his anti-gay rhetoric for so many years, which nearly cost me my life, I am not going to be here in Colorado Springs and miss out on an opportunity to tour FOTF.” For Roby, it was like facing her abuser, in an effort to heal, forgive and to extend love and kindness. Dotti and Roby walked into the front doors of the Administration building on that Tuesday morning, and were warmly greeted by the woman at the welcome desk. We were encouraged to sign in and put on a nametag indicating we were ” guests.” The woman at the front desk acknowledged the beauty of our cross necklaces, and we thanked her for her recognition.
As we entered the meeting room where the tour began, Betty was up front introducing herself to the other three ladies on our tour. We were welcomed as we walked in and took our seats. Betty asked, “What brings you here today?” Roby broke out into a sweat and looked right at Dotti, which was her cue to say something! Dotti said, “We were in town, and came over to tour yesterday, but you all were closed, so we wanted to come back today for a tour.” We thought it best to ease into why we were really there, just in case, due to their fear, we might be asked to leave.
About 10 minutes into the tour, Betty asked again, “So what brings you two to Colorado Springs?” Roby took a deep breath, and explained, “Well, to be honest, we came into town to stand with Soulforce, and we’re here today to tell Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family that the lies he’s telling about us are not true, and they must stop.” Dotti reached over to hold Roby’s hand, and said, “You see, we’re married, and we are people of faith, and we want Focus on the Family to know the truth about us, that we are a healthy, monogamous, happily married couple.” Betty looked as though she had just seen a ghost, but not missing a beat, she responded with a brief, “Okay” and proceeded with the tour.
Our next stop was in the little theater where guests could watch the taping of Dobson’s radio program. Betty instructed us all to go on in and take a seat in the second row. While we were waiting for Betty to make her way down to the front, the 27-year old, sitting next to Roby, said, “So tell me more about why you’re here.” Roby said, “Well, having listened to Dr. Dobson since the birth of Focus on the Family in 1977, I believed what he said about gay people, and it nearly cost me my life. We came here to tour the facility and to help them to see that what Dr. Dobson is saying is untrue, and to show them that we are people of faith who honor and respect the family… but they closed down and wouldn’t let us in.” The young woman reached over and put her hand on Roby’s leg and said, “They won’t even listen to you, will they?” Being overcome with emotion, Roby broke down in sobs. Dotti reached over and put her arm around Roby to comfort her. The three ladies sitting next to us extended their looks and touches of empathy. Betty stood at the front of the room watching all of this unfold. Once Roby regained her composure, Dotti looked up at Betty and nodded as an indication that she may now proceed.
After Betty’s spiel about the radio broadcast, we all filed out of the little theater and into the hallway where the literature and tapes were. Roby went around the corner for a drink of water, while Dotti stood talking with the three ladies accompanying us on the tour. They were all related – a 27-year old young lady from Michigan, pregnant with her first child, her Aunt from Minnesota, and her grandmother from Ohio. They graciously asked questions and showed interest and compassion. The grandmother exclaimed at one point, “Jesus never judged anyone!”
Dotti asked the pregnant lady when her baby was due and she replied “July.” Dotti then asked, “Is this your first?” to which the lady replied, “Yes.” Dotti then said “Congratulations! I am so excited for you. No matter what Dr. Dobson says, we truly do honor family and are not out to destroy that which gave us life.”
When we finished our encounter with the three ladies, they all said they would be praying for us, and that they honored us for what we were doing. Three seeds were thus planted into three people, who live in three different states around the country. How and where those sprout, we will never know; we are simply committed to planting seeds of hope, gratitude, compassion and love. Betty asked if we would like to speak with someone while we are on campus. We said, “Why yes, we would like to speak with Melissa.” (Melissa Fryear is the Director of the ex-gay ministry and listed as their gender issues specialist) Betty left and came back to say that Melissa and her team were in Seattle preparing for “Love Won Out,” but Melissa’s administrative assistant would be right out to speak with us.
Cindy came out (no pun intended) with her “Love Won Out” brochures in hand. It was obvious that Cindy did not want to or maybe was just unprepared to speak with us at length, because she introduced herself, handed us the brochures, and said, “Melissa isn’t here, but here is the information on Love Won Out.” Dotti said, “Cindy, would you have a few minutes to talk with us?” Cindy nervously looked around and said, “Well, uh, well, ok, sure.” We proceeded back into the little theater, where we started telling her why we were there. Not a minute later, a security guard came to the doorway where we stood, and said, “Cindy, are you ok in here? Do you need anything?’ Cindy nervously said, “No, I’m ok.” Roby then piped in and said, “Would you like to join us? We’d love to talk with you, too.” He agreed.
Dotti said, “Cindy, we would appreciate if you would deliver a message to Melissa for us. We would like you to tell her that we are very happy for her and we honor her and celebrate who she is. In the newspaper, Melissa stated, ‘We love homosexuals, we just want to give them options.'”
Dotti proceeded, “Cindy, we would like for Focus on the Family to know that we are one of those options. Just as Melissa chose what was best for her, let people know that people of faith like us exist and that we have stable, committed relationships. We are one of your options.” At this point, Cindy continued and said that Melissa had to get out of that “lifestyle,” because she hadn’t been able to find a relationship like ours (Dr. Dobson would faint if he knew she had acknowledged our relationship in this way). Dotti continued by telling her that our progressive values of love, compassion and commitment are traditional American values.
We then spoke to her about the term “lifestyle.” Dotti offered the facts that were inaccurate regarding Dr. Dobson’s rhetoric by saying “My parents were married almost 60 years, and Roby’s almost 50 years. There is no sexual abuse in our background. For Dr. Dobson to continue to communicate that bad parenting and sexual abuse is the reason we are gay is inaccurate.”
Dotti also said that she would love to meet Melissa because she didn’t know any people like her, saying that she had never met anyone who had 300-1000 sexual partners (which Dobson claims gay people have), and therefore, she would like to meet Melissa.
Cindy went on to say how Melissa and the guy who presents his “ex-gay” story for FOTF have had to change their address and essentially “hide out” because people had made it so difficult for them with their “choice” of being ex-gay. I apologized to Cindy for those people who might have, in the midst of their distress of having been ostracized by Dr. Dobson’s rhetoric, lashed out against Melissa.
Cindy then said that Melissa was just “telling her own personal story” and that they were not trying to tell others how to be or live. Dotti said “Cindy, then it is time for Focus on the Family to change their marketing message, because that is not what is coming through to people. Roby’s mother believes she is at fault for Roby being gay, because Dr. Dobson says it is true. And Roby almost committed suicide because she believed Dr. Dobson’s teachings about homosexuality. Dr. Dobson says we are perverted and people listen and believe him, and the harm it does to families must stop.” In all, we had a twenty-minute conversation with Cindy before it was all said and done.
Dotti and Roby then proceeded, hand in hand, walking to the Welcome Center, their next stop. Once there, Jill, a young woman, introduced herself and we chatted briefly with her before discovering that Karen, another woman at the welcome center, formerly lived in Bellingham. Roby and Karen exchanged info about people they knew in common, and Karen wanted to know all about how Bellingham had changed in the years since she had lived there. She was quite wistful for the area, her husband having taken a job with Focus on the Family.
Before we had the opportunity to “share our story” with Karen, Betty, our tour guide, walked into the Welcome Center. We immediately asked if she would have our picture made with her. She looked a little uneasy, as if uncertain as to what to do, but probably realized that Karen might wonder if she refused.
After the picture, we decided to check out the bookstore. Roby asked where the information on homosexuality was. (No, Rubyfruit Jungle was not one of the selections!) The booklets and books were all concerned with “how to overcome homosexuality.” We bought two small ones for “reference and research” as one of the most important things you can do is gather information when doing non-violent work, so that you have a clear frame of reference for how your adversary is thinking and framing situations.
These two booklets contained “myths” and “facts.” One of the “myths” listed was that lesbians, like gay men, are not capable of having monogamous relationships. They then developed their “fact” about this situation. When I paid for the booklets, I said to the cashier “I would like you to know that some of the myths and facts in your booklet are not accurate. It lists as a ‘fact’ that lesbians cannot have committed relationships. I want you to know that we are married and we are committed in our love for one another, and are people of faith. We take our vows very seriously.”
After the bookstore, we went downstairs to “Whit’s End” where “Adventures in Odyssey” is recorded. (“Adventures in Odyssey” is Focus on the Family’s children’s radio program). We were like schoolgirls down there, trying on costumes, taking pictures of each other, and playing with the puppets. We’re still wondering if FOTF surveillance cameras caught Roby making two girl puppets kiss for a photo!
People we met were gracious, and we immediately extended respect to each of them. We feel that it is impossible to get a genuine feel for one another if we don’t allow people to know us. It is easy to caricature one another when we aren’t truly authentic in our connecting, and keep people at arm’s distance. When we metaphorically “put one hand straight out as if to push people away, and cover out heart with the other,” we essentially keep anyone from knowing us, and vice versa, and this also causes us to view one another in distorted ways.
One thing we know is that we are prepared to live life in an even bigger way, making a difference with people “one person” at a time through personal connection. Where that path might lead, we aren’t sure, though we have been talking about some ideas for about a year. Perhaps divine providence will reveal itself in our future! Literally, the word “providence” means foresight, though it is often interpreted to mean some control exercised by a divine direction. Foresight is the perception of the significance and nature of events before they have occurred. All we know is that we feel something stirring; what it is, we are not quite certain. What we are certain about is that it will reveal itself to us.
Atlanta native Dotti Berry is a life and relationship coach in Washington state who undertook a road trip with her wife Robynne Sapp and their poodle in 2005 that they nicknamed Gay Into Straight America.