What do you do when you first find out that your child is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
After you find out that your child is gay, you will likely have many questions and experience a variety of emotions. It will take some time to absorb and process all of this new information. Just remember that you are not alone. According to widely accepted statistics, one in four — or even one in three — families has an immediate family member who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Remember that you love your child, and to preserve — perhaps even strengthen — your relationship with him/her, you must try to move towards understanding and, eventually, acceptance.
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. No one, including you, influenced your child to become gay. Even more important, there's nothing wrong about your child's sexual orientation. It's just the way some of us are made.
How can my child be sure? Maybe s/he's just rebelling or experimenting.
It is natural to try to think of this new information as "just a phase." However, because our culture is still predominantly anti-gay, there is very little chance that someone who is heterosexual would choose to live as gay. Keep in mind that you would probably never ask "Are you sure you're straight?"
Some parents feel that they would be better off not knowing that they have a gay child. Please remember that someone 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. According to one study, up to 80% of gay youth report feeling severe social and emotional isolation.
Why is my child gay? Should I take him/her to therapy?
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."
Many gay people or their family members do seek help to work through their feelings about coming out. PFLAG NYC holds monthly meetings in which families help one another through what can be a difficult process.
Is LGBT orientation unnatural?
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered orientation is not unnatural since these exist in nature. It is just as natural for one person to be heterosexual as it is for another to be homosexual. We don't know why some people are LGBT, but we know that there always were, are, and will be non-heterosexual people. For them, their orientation is their true nature. Being gay is not a behavior. It is an inherent trait, just as being heterosexual is. It is not something a person chooses about him/herself. Though some societies may still consider gay people "deviants," that definition is not supported by prominent organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and other mental health professionals, who all agree that homosexuality is not an illness, a mental disorder, or an emotional problem, but simply a fact of life for some people. To ask them to be or to behave otherwise is to ask them to behave unnaturally or to be something they are not.
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. It takes many gay people a long time to figure out what they're feeling. Many report growing up feeling "different," but not really understanding why. In addition, our predominant culture teaches gay people that who they are is not "okay," causing many to internalize self-hate or insecurity. The fact that s/he told you means that s/he is inviting you to share in a more open and honest relationship.
Will my child be ostracized, have trouble finding or keeping a job, or even be physically attacked?
Unfortunately, both of these things are possible. On the brighter side, attitudes about differences in sexual orientation have begun to change as society becomes better informed. There are many places where your child will be accepted for who s/he is and will be able to live in relative safety. However, until homophobia no longer exists in our society, your child may encounter some significant obstacles. It is even more unfortunate when this discrimination exists within a child's own family.
How will I ever tell my friends and family?
You may not for awhile. "Coming out" as a parent is a very individual matter. Many of us need time to live with the truth about our children before we tell others. But we have also found that confiding in trustworthy friends can help speed the process of acceptance and understanding, and many of us have found great support from family and friends. Once we are able to share our stories positively, we help those we tell become more accepting as well. PFLAG meetings are a good place to share your story with understanding parents and make new friends who share your experience.
We accept gay people, but why do they have to flaunt it?
In fact, heterosexuals "flaunt" their orientation constantly, with overt displays of affection, fashion and manners to attract the opposite sex, conversation about lovers and spouses, and pictures of loved ones proudly displayed at work, Yet many people are uncomfortable, even angry, when they see public displays of affection between members of the same sex. Because we have all been taught the untruth that something is wrong with LGBT orientation, this discomfort is understandable. But this belief is our problem, not a problem for LGBT people. If you feel that displays of sexual orientation should be private, then this should apply to everyone, both straight and gay.
But my 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. PFLAG NYC can refer you to information specific to your own religion, including local gay-friendly congregations. More questions on religion are answered here.
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 shun those who have it. The way a parent deals with HIV/AIDS must depend on the person who has the disease. But keep in mind: 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.
How can I best support my child, now that I know about his or her sexual orientation?
The fact that you are reading this shows that you are a concerned parent who is willing to show some support for your child. As with many other issues you may encounter within your family, you should be willing to talk, listen, and learn together with your child. In some cases, it may help for you to be able to talk about your feelings, and PFLAG NYC is here to help you with your needs as the parent of a gay child.
One way you can support your child is to educate yourself as much as possible about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender orientation and then help reduce some of the homophobia that exists in our society. After all, it is silence that allows prejudice and discrimination to survive.