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Originally published Sunday, July 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Mom ties church "untruths" to lesbian daughter's death

The mother of a 29-year-old lesbian who committed suicide nearly a decade ago told a gathering of gays and their friends and family members...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The mother of a 29-year-old lesbian who committed suicide nearly a decade ago told a gathering of gays and their friends and family members yesterday that her daughter died because of the "untruths taught by the church."

A few of the 75 of so people gathered at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue wiped away tears as Mary Lou Wallner talked about Anna's death in 1997, about the guilt she felt and how the circumstances have changed her life.

Wallner, who lives just outside Little Rock, Ark., explained she was raised in a conservative Christian home, and that was how she had raised her daughter. When Anna came out as a lesbian in 1988, Wallner was not prepared to accept it.

"I committed a hate crime," she said, recalling a comment she once made. "I didn't love my daughter unconditionally."

Wallner and her husband, Bob, Anna's stepfather, were featured speakers at yesterday's Love Welcomes All conference sponsored by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). It was held in response to a conference last month that promoted the idea that homosexuality is preventable and treatable.

That June 25 event, sponsored by James Dobson's evangelical Christian organization, Focus on the Family, drew about 1,200 people.

Yesterday's daylong conference included a panel discussion that explored science and research about homosexuality and gave attendees a chance to chat with presenters.

Patrick Chapman, an anthropology instructor at South Puget Sound Community College, challenged published reports about homosexuals' ability to change, saying that "over 99 percent of those who attempt reparative therapy to change their sexual orientation have failed."

"There's scientific evidence that homosexuality is inborn and immutable — with a few exceptions explained by psychosocial theories," he said.

Kirsten McArdle, of Redmond, whose previously married sister came out to the family recently, said she attended the conference to better understand the difficult issues confronting her family.

"My parents are pretty open-minded, but I want to help them better understand this," she said.

"My dad characterized it as a phase, that she was rebelling. I believe it's part of who she is."

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McArdle said although she had a lot of gay and lesbian friends before her sister came out, "I had a hard time understanding how someone who had been with men could then suddenly find out she's gay."

During her gripping half-hour presentation, Wallner told the group about the painful telephone call from her ex-husband the night their daughter died and her long and painful path to spiritual acceptance.

With her husband, she created an organization called To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia (TEACH), to allow her to spread the story about her daughter.

The Bible, she warned the group, "must be taken as a whole, with considerations for the cultural realities of the day.

"Homosexuality is not a choice. Who would choose to adopt a gay lifestyle?"

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

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