Parents: How to Support Your LGBTQ Child
As a therapist, I am honored to have walked down numerous paths with individuals facing a wide variety of complex life issues. I have found many individuals (including myself) “wake up in the house that we build”. Facing the stark reality that the circumstances we find ourselves in were carefully designed and built by our own choices.
There are also individuals who find themselves in heart wrenching situations they did not necessarily create. These individuals generally find themselves surrounded in a confusing scary secluded place descending from self-doubt, loneliness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, depression, loss, and fear. Intertwined in this world are many times from the LGBTQ community.
There are many struggles the LGBTQ community face daily: judgment, racism, shame, guilt, contempt, mockery, dishonor, discredit, disrespect, distain, and disregard. LGBTQ requires a process. A process much of the heterosexual world can’t and don’t understand.
Being LGBTQ is never an individual “issue”…just like being “straight” isn’t an “issue”.
The “issue” lies in the complication of our own beliefs, issues, and misunderstandings.
As human beings, we ALL have difficulties. How we manage these difficulties determines the outcome. One of the most important things I have learned from the countless hours in my profession is when anyone, regardless of age, doesn’t feel support and acceptance from their parent or primary caregiver, they experience a deep seeded void that will never be fully replaced.
Life requires a process for each of us in order to truly feel a sense of peace. A process of self-discovery, awareness, mindfulness, acceptance and finally loving oneself.
In my experience working with many members of the LGBTQ community, this process is virtually impossible to complete adequately when one factor is non-present.
Parents and family non-acceptance…just like any other human being.
Kids grow into the pre-teen years, teen years, young adulthood, and then adulthood. Although there are many changes and maturity take place (hopefully), the need, desire, and longing for parents’ love, approval and acceptance remains an intricate part of our human existence.
I have spent many sessions talking through the dynamics and role-playing scenarios with adolescents and adults who are terrified “to tell my parents” (or close family members) they are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender. I have never spent a single second with someone terrified to tell their parents they are “straight”.
Parents, your kids may be grown, but they still crave your acceptance and approval, period. I am not talking about acceptance of damaging unhealthy illegal lifestyles. I am speaking about parents judging their children for their sexual identity.
Homosexuality is not a sickness; homophobia is…
Questions from Parents Regarding a LGBTQ Lifestyle or Identity
What did I do wrong?
You didn’t do anything wrong! The idea that parents are responsible for making their children gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered is a myth. Sexual orientation is an inherent trait, like eye and hair color. Wanting to blame someone who influenced your child to become gay or lesbian discounts your child and screams non-acceptance. Talk to your child and allow them to be honest without judgment. If they are curious, struggling, or seeking education, embrace this or they will find someone else who will listen to them. Suggesting counseling with a supportive heart and not with judgment like, “You need counseling to find out you are not gay!” will keep the communication open. When parents hit the panic button and make the issue about themselves or what someone else “did wrong” it shuts and locks the door for your child to communicate with you openly and honestly in the future.
How can my child be sure? Maybe she/he’s just rebelling or experimenting.
It is easy to try to convince yourself (or other people will) that this is “just a phase.” Wake-up! Yes, during the teen years it can “be a phase” and can be addressed in therapy. Let’s get real, our society remains to be judgmental or have opinions regarding the LGBTQ world. When parents respond with, “Are you sure you are gay?” it again discounts your child seeing that I highly doubt any parent would ask their child, “Are you sure you’re straight?”
Many parents want to live in La La Land and feel that they would be better off not knowing they have a child who is gay, lesbian, or transgender. This creates an environment of lies, dishonesty, alienation, hurt, and disconnection with your child. An individual who has “come out” to you has usually gone through a long and hard process of acknowledging his/her own sexual orientation. The fact that your child told you shows his/her love for you and desire to have an honest relationship with you. It may also be a sign of a need for support.
Why is my child gay? Should I take him/her or suggest they go to therapy?
Does it really matter why your child is gay? Although it is not known specifically what causes people to be gay, most scientists agree that it is likely the result of a complex interaction between biological and environmental factors. The American Psychological Association states “…Homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable.” Members of the LGBTQ community or their family members do seek help to work through their feelings about coming out. Keep in mind members of the “straight” community also seek counseling too.
Why did my child wait so long to tell me?
It can be difficult to realize that you don’t know your child as well as you may have thought. In my opinion, kids don’t share the things with their parents when they feel the parent will blow up, they don’t trust their parent, or fear they will be alienated or judged. The process of discovering sexuality takes time and can be an in-depth complicated journey. Many of my patients report growing up feeling “different,” but not really understanding why. Young children and adolescents fear being different and will internalize their feelings leading them to self-doubt and sadly, sometimes, self-hatred.
Will my child be ostracized, have trouble finding or keeping a job, or even be physically attacked? I don’t want them to suffer in society with this lifestyle.
Unfortunately, our society can be judgmental and yes, these things can happen. Being available to your child whether a teen or grown, offers them a safe place to talk, process, and seek guidance in specific coping skills to deal with the difficult issues life has to offer.
How will I ever tell my friends and family?
Get over yourself. You don’t get on your roof and shout, “My kid is gay” any more than you would shout, “My kid is straight”. Many parents need time to process the information and if that is you, take the time and talk to your closest friends but do not betray your child’s confidence if he/she does not want you to talk about it. If your adult child is “out” and comfortable, you go about life and include your child and partner just like you would if they were straight. You don’t need to explain, justify, make excuses for or announce it to the world. It is what it is and move forward. If you have issues with the concept, seek counseling. Don’t expect your kid to be your sounding board. Bottom line, if you want your child to remain in your life, accept him/her as is. Again, this does not mean you accept behaviors damaging to your child, family, or yourself.
We accept gay people, but why do they have to flaunt it? I won’t be around it.
Really? Look around. Heterosexuals “flaunt” their orientation constantly, with overt displays of affection, fashion and manners to attract the opposite sex, conversation about lovers and spouses, and social media posts that are rude, disgraceful, and inappropriate. I have seen many people who are uncomfortable, even angry, when they see public displays of affection between members of the same sex. Individuals can rub, kiss, and exhibit some crazy behaviors but “gay or lesbians can’t touch each other?” I have to say I have never witnessed any couple of the same sex exhibiting offending behaviors, in fact, they generally are overly aware and discrete in their actions…stemming out of fear.
Everyone has a choice to be part of someone’s life. When your adult child is in the LGBTQ community, it’s just that. It is a reality. Parents reject their kids’ lifestyle and you have chosen to be alienated. Acceptance doesn’t mean agreeing on every single aspect. It means you want to be a part of their life and create your own boundaries that will more than likely be respected. Communication is key here.
Our religion teaches that homosexuality is wrong.
For many parents, this can be the most difficult issue to reconcile. For others it is not an issue at all. Though some religions still condemn homosexuality, there are respected leaders within nearly every religious group who believe that it is wrong to pass judgment on gay people, and others who not only include, but also celebrate the gay people in their communities. Individuals are entitled to have their own opinions. It is what you do with your opinion that can hurt and damage relationships.
Judgment is wrong however you look at it. I am not sure how any of us who profess to be Christians can justify judging others.
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5.
There are countless issues where people need to “agree to disagree” and not allow these different opinions to alienate and destroy the family unit.
What about AIDS?
HIV/AIDS is not a “gay” disease, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a sexually transmitted disease which can also be spread by unsterilized needles. In other parts of the world, the disease has attacked mostly heterosexuals, and has spread among the straight community in the U.S. as well. HIV/AIDS is not necessarily the result of living a promiscuous life and says nothing about the person who has the disease. HIV infection is difficult to get and there is no medical reason to alienate those who have it. The way a parent deals with HIV/AIDS must depend on the person who has the disease. All people with HIV/AIDS need love and care. To show our love and support is more important than ever when a person has HIV/AIDS, period.
How can I best support my child, now that I know about his or her sexual orientation?
Be you and allow your child to be themselves. Discuss feelings and offer a supportive loving ear. Talk, listen, and learn together. Educate yourself and take an interest in your child’s world and what he/she faces. Seek counseling for yourself or with your child if needed. Focus on the amazing aspects of your child and be proud they are your child. Don’t allow sexual identity to destroy your relationship with your child. Don’t set yourself up for regret later. Don’t be part of our society who holds secrets or exhibits homophobia. Holding secrets or living in silence allows discrimination to survive in our society.
Interested in more? I would love to meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule a session. (817) 701-5438 | firstname.lastname@example.org
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.