The Doctor's Dilemma

Sure, gay physicians deal with prejudice. But from mom and pop?

Norman Smith lives in a modest one-story home on an idyllic street canopied by trees and lined with shrubbery. Five years into a committed relationship, he and his partner gaze at each other with obvious affection. It's a life for which the middle-aged Smith has worked hard: four years of medical school, a one-year internship, a two-year residency, then slowly building a patient base. His record is untarnished by medical misconduct, criminal activity, or bankruptcy.

For the past year, though, Smith has anguished over two people who are bent on destroying him: his mother and father. When Victor and Marie Smith were told last summer that Norman was gay, they lashed out with a shocking vengeance. According to court documents, the couple confronted their son's partner, Tim Sands, on September 28, calling him disgusting and vowing to lay waste to Norman's medical practice. Eleven days later they began telling patients at their son's office that he is a pedophile. The doctor called the police to the office twice, and Sands once summoned officers to their home.

"You can run, but you can't hide," the father wrote in a homophobic screed sent to his son in September. "My actions are geared toward preventing society from being contaminated with the rot that you two represent. I will take you out of the closet at whatever cost."

On February 23 a Broward County circuit court judge granted Norman a permanent restraining order against his parents, who must now stay 100 feet away from his home and office. Norman agreed to talk to New Timesabout the case, but asked that some details be changed to protect his identity. Thus all the names used in this article are pseudonyms. His parents declined to be interviewed.

Many parents have difficulty accepting the news that their child is gay; responses run from stoic acceptance to rejection. But raw vindictiveness? "That is one of the most extreme reactions I've heard about," says Michael LaSala, an assistant professor of social work at Rutgers University who studies relationships between gays or lesbians and their parents. But, he adds, "I'm not terribly surprised, because I've talked to people who were beat up and thrown out of the house as teens after telling their parents."

Despite the presence in South Florida of a large and established gay population, Norman is convinced the public is generally uninformed and equates homosexuality with pedophilia. For that reason he believes his parents could well have decimated his practice by publicizing his sexual preference. "I treat everybody -- Christians, Jews, non-Christians, every ethnicity," Norman says. "How do I know whether some of my patients don't have the same attitude my parents have?"

Just as Norman has always kept his work and personal life separate, he has remained somewhat aloof from his parents, whom he describes as "fly-off-the-handle people." As Norman approached age 40, they became increasingly distressed that he was not married and, more to the point, not producing grandchildren.

So early last summer Victor and Marie began prying into their son's life.

According to Norman's request for a restraining order, he saw his parents parked in front of or near his home at least 20 times during the summer. On seven occasions he and Sands saw them looking into the back yard and the back of the house. During the same period, Norman saw them parked in the rear of his office. The doctor asked them to leave the premises, but they repeatedly returned.

On the morning of September 28, Norman found his parents waiting outside his house as he was going to work. Despite Norman's request that they depart, Victor and Marie stayed. They then walked to the front door and knocked. When Sands answered, the couple confronted him, calling him "disgusting" and "white trash." They vowed to prevent their son from practicing medicine and promised to come to the house every morning until Sands left. They also threatened to go to "the newspaper" and expose Norman. (Norman's parents never approached New Timesor, to our knowledge, any other news organization.)

Shaken, Sands filed a police report at 10 a.m. "Reportee advises in the past few months parents of his lover have been harassing him," the report states. "These parents advise that they are disgusted [with] their son's relationship [with] reportee. Reportee was advised to look into a restraining order."

Later that day Victor and Marie went to Norman's office. When Norman got into his car and attempted to leave, they blocked his departure. As Norman's office staff watched, his parents yelled out the window, calling him a "faggot."

On October 5 Victor and Marie left a note in Norman's home mailbox demanding reimbursement of $5000. Norman contends $5000 is the balance of a $12,000 personal loan his parents provided in December 1995. He claims Victor and Marie told him that he need not reimburse them. "I think the money was just a tactic on their part," he says. "It's a scheme -- extortion, if you will."

A day after Victor and Marie requested payment, they went to their son's office and again asked for the $5000. Norman called the police, who barred them from the property for 90 days. Still, after police left, Victor and Marie returned to the office parking lot and told at least three patients their doctor lived with a man. They also told patients Norman was a pedophile. Later that day one of the parents called the office receptionist and told her Norman was homosexual.

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