The HUMCC community was and is an alternative home, a place of refuge from hostile families, an institution that actively sought and (still) seeks to intervene between congregants and their kin. This was reflected in the seemingly contradictory injunction: ‘Some have left home because they are angry with their parents. Come home.’
In a focus group discussion on the subject of coming out to parents, church members referred to ‘culture and tradition’ and ‘norms and values’ as the basis of their parents’ objection to their sexual orientation. We broke these broad generalisations down into a number of specific areas. Foremost amongst these was that of bearing children. For men, the importance of children was couched in terms of what anthropologists call agnatic descent – the family name being perpetuated as well as the growth of the family:
A man is supposed to bear children and have children to extend the family. It is very important for the family name to grow, so if you come along and tell them now that you are gay, it becomes such a bigger problem because they actually think now they are not going to have grandchildren. The family name is not going to expand. It is just going to stay where it is. (Focus group, 16 August 1997)
This remark was echoed by a son who came out to his mother. His mother expressed her disapproval in terms of his responsibility, as the only son, to produce children.
I am expecting you to bring a grandchild at home. I am expecting you to bring a child. You know you have got sisters – you are the only boy at home and what I want is you to have a boy.1 (Focus group, 16 August 1997)
In the focus group discussion, the importance of children was emphasised by discussing what happens when a woman is unable to bear children. ‘It is taboo for a woman to be barren.’ A married woman who fails to bear children will be ‘thought of as being cursed or bewitched’ (Focus group, 16 August 1997).
Lesbian tendencies are often thought of as a product of bewitchment or a punishment for wrongdoing. This was borne out by a story told by a lesbian member of the focus group.