Briefly describe how your child first came out to you and your initial reactions.
While on a church youth retreat, my son promised himself he would come out to us (his parents) before leaving home after high school. He put it off until the last minute, and came to me late at night after his father had already gone to bed. He said he had something to tell me. I could see that he was shaking with fear. I told him whatever it was would not change my love for him. He said he “had struggled with homosexual feelings” since his early teens. As a psychologist, I had an intellectual understanding of same-sex attraction so I tried to reassure him. He stopped me and said, “This is why I haven’t told you. I don’t want you to tell me it’s okay. God is going to help me overcome these feelings. I just want your support.” I went to bed and cried. I felt fear for him in our faith community and fear for him in our culture. I felt deep remorse about raising him in a conservative church that taught him to reject himself. And I mourned the loss of the future I had pictured for him.
What concerns did you experience over the first weeks or months?
I worried about whether to share this information with his father. We are not used to keeping big secrets from each other in our marriage. But I decided it was his secret to share, and I told my son he needed to tell his father when he was ready to do so. In the meantime, I tried to provide my husband with reading material and engage him in conversation about lgbt issues and our church’s stance on these issues, in hopes of preparing him to be accepting when our son came out to him.
I also continued to struggle with my own fears, remorse, and grief. And I began to face the fact that I had settled for a very inauthentic existence: keeping my faith self out of my work as a psychologist and keeping my knowledge of lgbt issues out of my church self. This was easier than making waves. But it became unbearable after my son came out. I thought that if he had the courage to be authentic, I too should have the courage to be authentic. I began to talk more openly about what I knew when the subject came up in my faith community, and I began to open my mouth more about my faith with my colleagues at work. I also sought out every book and article I could find on reconciling faith and sexuality to arm myself with resources.
Has your child come out to other family members over time?
My son came out to his one sibling several years after coming out to us, after he decided that God was not going to change his orientation and that he should accept himself as a gay man. His sibling wondered why he had waited to share this information; he explained that he had been hoping he would never have to share it (if he was able to change his orientation). He chose to come out to extended family via letters after his graduation from college. We wrote letters of support and enclosed them with his letter to our family members on both sides. We got a range of reactions, from one family member who refused to share a family holiday with us, to family members who sent us Bible references, to family members who said it made absolutely no difference to them.
What is the hardest thing about knowing their LGBTQ identity?
A parent’s desire to protect their child from harm. I can’t bear that he has to face rejection and stereotyping from people who are truly ignorant of what it means to be gay, particularly when those people are connected to our faith community. It bothers me that my son can be rejected on “religious” grounds, when my faith teaches me that the core of true religion is love.
What are some challenges have you faced concerning your LGBTQ child?
We lost our church of 35 years over our acceptance of and support for our son. We spent several years trying to open a space for conversation and dialogue on the subject in our church, but the leadership was afraid to address it and refused to give us any platform to share our experience. We ended up writing a letter and mailing it to everyone in the congregation, explaining why we could not be part of a church that discriminated against people like our son.
It was also a challenge when our son started dating. Being around him with a boyfriend required another level of adjustment. We intentionally sought out ways of exposing ourselves to lgbt relationships by attending our local lgbt film festival. We also got involved with an organization that helped us and our son with issues of faith and sexuality, and found a sense of community there (the Gay Christian Network).
What is the best thing about knowing your child's LGBTQ identity?
He is free to be himself. The tension and irritability that were the price he paid for hiding a part of himself are gone. And we love our new son-in-law.
Also, his journey has been a catalyst for my own journey to greater authenticity and I am deeply thankful for that. I now consider it one of the greatest blessings of my life to have a gay son. My own faith has blossomed and been renewed, and we are now part of a fully welcoming church where we have made wonderful new friends.
Knowing what you know today, would you want your child to “stay in the closet”?
NO NO NO! It would not only diminish him and his ability to live life to the fullest, it would diminish me – for all the reasons given above.
What would you say to other parents learning the LGBTQ identity of their child?
Welcome to the journey! Focus on loving your child well, and the rest will fall into place. If you can open yourself to the possibility that having an LGBTQ child will be a catalyst for growth in your own life, you will be richly blessed.
What would you say to youth coming out to their families?
Don’t be afraid of “hurting” your parents with the truth of who you are. Inviting them into a more authentic relationship with you is a great gift. You can be the catalyst for growth in their lives, whether they recognize that right away or not.
Be patient with them. Think about how long it took you to accept this part of yourself and allow them at least that much time to process this new information about you.
Make sure you have other supports in place if you anticipate your parents will not react well initially. If you are still dependent on your parents for the roof over your head, it’s okay to wait until you are able to be on your own before you tell them.
Consider coming out via letter. It will give you a chance to be sure you have said everything you want to say in the way you want to say it, and it will increase the chances that they will fully process what you want them to know. Coming out face to face can be intensely emotional and sometimes people say things they later regret.
100K-500K, 20-29, 20-29, 20s - 30s, 30-39, 40-49, 500K-1 million, Arkansas, Father, Featured, Florida, Gay, Lesbian, Mother, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Older Teen (16-19), Older Teen (16-19), Oregon, Over 1 million, Pennsylvania, Pre-Teen (12 & under), Rural, Texas, Transgender, Under 100K, United States of America, Written, Young Teen (12-15), Young Teen (12-150