Unlikely Couple Forms Gay, Lesbian Support Group


Ray and Linda Wiebe seem like an unlikely couple to start Payson's chapter of PFLAG -- Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

The Wiebes' tidy log cabin on the east side of Payson represents the quintessential image of the American grandparent. Side by side in matching La-Z-Boys, they finish each other's sentences.


Ray and Linda Wiebe started a Payson chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in August. The group meets on the third Wednesday of the month.

Ray shows his patriotism with Old Glory pinned to blue suspenders, while Linda wears a sweatshirt that reads, "Tender loving grandma."

The couple just celebrated 50 years of marriage with a family gathering at Lake Powell.

And as far as they know, none of their four children, 13 grandchildren or close friends are gay or lesbian. And just as they'd want tolerance and affirmation for loved ones, the couple believes everybody is entitled to acceptance.

"What is the first thing you think of when somebody says, ‘Gay'?" Ray asked. "Sex. But it's not about sex."

The couple ended up walking down this unlikely path after witnessing the mistreatment of one person -- someone they loved and respected.

He was a Lutheran pastor -- their pastor.

"At the time, the congregation didn't know he was gay," Ray said.

"The day he came out, he did it in front of the congregation," Linda said. "He was crying and everybody seemed to be so supportive."

And though the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) ruled that gays and lesbians -- as long as they remain chaste and single -- could serve as ordained pastors, not everyone wanted a gay man leading the local synod.

Parishioners refused to receive Communion while others threatened to leave. The pastor eventually resigned after the bishop learned of his admission.

"We saw the harm that was being done and it wasn't right," Ray added.

The Wiebes and about 40 members of the church defected and established a new group rooted in the Lutheran tradition. For six years, they met, worshiped and took Communion from the pastor in their Southern California home. They accepted everyone and encouraged tolerance.

PFLAG is a nationwide group that promotes the support, education and advocacy of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, including their families, friends and allies.

The Wiebes and other gay-rights supporters believe that a person's sexuality is innate.

"I've heard many parents ask, ‘What did I do wrong?' We say, ‘You did nothing wrong,'" Ray said.

"We believe people are born gay or lesbian. They know there is something different about them."

Ray said he didn't always feel that compassion.

The Wiebes grew up during a time when things were a certain way: Men and women married, the wives took care of the home and the husbands worked.

But age chipped away at that prejudice and the message of the pastor just made sense -- love thy neighbor, love God.

"They're no different than anyone else," said Linda. "Why do we have to put labels on everyone?"

Four years ago, the Wiebes moved to Payson, but didn't start the PFLAG chapter until this past August.

After running their own church for six years, Ray said the couple needed time to decompress and enjoy retirement.

Now, with the help of other community members, they've taken up their cause once again.

The local PFLAG group meets the third Wednesday of the month.

The group keeps a separate voicemail for messages, and above all, the Wiebes stress confidentiality.

To contact PFLAG, call (928) 472-3227 or visit the Web site at www.pflagpayson.org.

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