Last week, I was invited to a Pride Club at a Catholic College in Westchester County. October is National Coming Out month and I was at the college to answer questions from club members about how to come out to parents. As a gay son’s straight mother who had written an advice book When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need to Know, I was familiar with the subject, but hardly omniscient.
Fifteen students showed up for the meeting. Some were straight allies, others were LGBT. They were dressed in sweats, hoodies, flannel shirts, camisoles, one had temporary purple hair, one was in stocking feet. Whatever their appearances, they had one issue in common: they wanted to come out but were afraid.
One student, a Hispanic lesbian from Cuba, told the group that she was afraid to tell her mother and father because they were Catholic and would disown her. “You know the Hispanic culture, it’s traditional and macho. My family is not going to like having a lesbian in the family.” Miss Frightened wanted to maintain ties with her family, but was scared they would reject her.
This young woman’s dilemma is not uncommon. Religious parents who have been indoctrinated that homosexuality is wrong and quote the Bible as proof often have a hard time reconciling their religious tenets with the often unexpected reality of their child’s sexuality.
What can a parent do to accept their LGBT child? They don’t have to reject religion entirely. There are always more open-minded preachers, more LGBT-friendly churches. Realize that God created all men equal and teaches us to love our neighbors.
• To become more accepting of children’s sexual orientation, parents can discuss this issue in PFLAG (Parents of Lesbians & Gays with nationwide chapters.
• Parents who are tempted to put their LGBT kids in conversion camps should do research. They will see the negative effects of conversion therapy or gay-to-straight therapy that has been outlawed in many states because it is not effective, but can do harm.
• To educate, videos parents can view include Karslake, Daniel, For the Bible Tells Me So, First Run Features, 2007. This documentary on the intersection of religion and homosexuality in the United States focuses on the way conservative Christians often interpret The Bible in order to deny homosexual rights.
• Vines, Matthew, https:// www.youtube.com/user/vinesmatthew. These lectures empower LGBT-affirming Christians in non-affirming churches. Matthew Vines is the founder of the Reformation Project and author of God and the Gay Christians.
• There is support for accepting Gays and Lesbians within one’s religion. For example, there is a LGBT Catholic organization, DIGNITY (http://www.dignityusa.org).
“Do I Have To Tell My Extended Family?”
Another worry of these students is are they obligated to tell their aunts, grandparents, cousins once their parents know?
As it is the child’s story, it should be up to them whom they wish to tell. Are they out at school and to friends?
As a parent, you should ask an open-ended question such as “Have you thought about how and when you want to tell Granny? It is conceivable that your child may want you to tell the relatives rather than he having to tell each one. You may have to weigh the pros and cons of telling if the relative is conservative. You don’t want to imply that he should keep it a secret from certain people or act as if he should feel embarrassed or ashamed for others to know.
Coming Out takes nerve and should be done in a quiet setting. If you think your parent will react violently, it is best to wait until you’re not living in the same house as your parents and are not financially dependent on them.
But once you reveal your true self that you may have been hiding, it can be incredibly freeing and create a closer bond between parent and child.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.