For 20 years, Nathan Mathis has felt like he failed his daughter when she needed him most. On Monday night, Mathis stepped up for his daughter’s memory and for people like her.
Mathis stood outside the rally held for former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Monday night and held up a sign denouncing Moore’s position on homosexuality and criticizing Moore regarding allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. Mathis said he felt compelled to speak up for his daughter, Patti, who took her own life in 1995.
“Maybe I’m partly to blame, maybe how other people feel about gay folks is partly to blame,” he said.
In 1992, when Mathis learned that his daughter, who was then in high school, was gay, it was a different era. Will & Grace wasn’t on the air, same-sex marriage wasn’t anywhere on the political map and physical assaults against homosexuals happened more than they do now. If you were gay in the rural South, you hid it, or else likely faced social and economic consequences.
When Mathis, who had spent all of his life hearing sermons denouncing gays, learned his daughter was a lesbian, he didn’t take it well. Mathis said he said a lot of things to Patti that he now deeply regrets.
“I said some really horrible things,” he said. “I said it’d be better to have a dead daughter than one that was gay.”
Patti moved out of the Mathis home. She later spoke to her father and asked if he could help her find a medical solution for her sexual orientation.
“I was so naïve then,” he said. “I took her to doctors and psychiatrists and they all told me the same thing – she can’t help who she is.”
In time, tensions between Mathis and his daughter eased. He helped her get her own place, and believed she was happy. Then one day in 1995, a family member came and asked Mathis to go check on Patti. The relative had been by Patti’s house and heard music playing, but Patti had failed to answer the door.
When Mathis went to the home, he found his daughter dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the neck.
To this day, Mathis doesn’t know why his daughter took her life – whether it was a failed romance, social pressure or another cause. He struggles with feelings of guilt and shame.
Moore’s statements concerning gays angered him, and accusations that Moore had engaged in sexual misconduct with young women enraged him. When he found out Moore was coming to Midland City, Mathis, a former state legislator, decided to make a stand.
“I couldn’t sit there and do nothing,” he said. “I’ve never done anything like that before. I felt really awkward doing what I did.”
Mathis said that he hopes his story and his actions will help parents think before they react if they learn that their children are gay.
“You need to love that child, take them in your arms and tell them that you love them no matter who they are,” he said. “I wish I had done that.”