Love, Acceptance, & Coming Out: A Mom’s Perspective
June is LGBTQ+ Awareness and Pride Month, and we are proud to be share more about how this topic relates to child well-being and child abuse prevention on our blogs this month.
Guest post by: Pamela White, Children’s Center Development and Communications Director
A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog post about the emerging research that links negative long-term impact on LGBTQ+ kids when they are strongly rejected or abandoned by their parents or caregivers. As a parent who has experienced a child coming out, I want to share, with my daughter’s permission, our story of navigating this experience.
I will always remember the afternoon that my daughter told me she was a lesbian. It was the summer between her junior and senior year of college. We were having a heart to heart about the beautiful wedding we’d been involved with the day before; and though she hadn’t planned to tell me that day, it just slipped out.
Somehow, at that moment of revelation, I knew that my daughter’s health and well-being was just as much in my hands as when she was a toddler running towards a busy street. My reaction could bring her back to my side or send her hurtling into danger. I remember telling her there was absolutely nothing she could do or be that would change my love for her.
Then, I asked lots of questions and listened as she shared her journey with me. She told me she had been aware of her attraction to women since she was in middle school, but she thought this attraction might go away, and so, she never shared her feelings or questions with any of her family or close friends.
The conversation then circled back to her disappointment that she would never have a big joyful wedding with our large family and circle of friends because, at that time, people in same-sex relationships could not legally marry. She was grief-stricken at that realization and as we talked through her fears of rejection and isolation, I looked for every opportunity to express my love for her and my absolute confidence in our family and friend’s acceptance.
Truth is, while I was not shocked by this news, I was surprised that she had been afraid to come out to us. Being gay was not a problematic issue in our family. We talked about it on a somewhat regular basis as she was growing up especially as friends or acquaintances came out or political arguments for gay rights were in the news. Additionally and probably more importantly, my brother, who is gay, and his long-term partner, had been and still are, a big part of our lives.
Because she was afraid of possible reactions from her peer group and community, my child chose not to share her struggles, even with those of us who loved her most. This fear was, unfortunately, well founded. During her junior year of high school, my daughter observed students bully a group of kids who openly identified as gay. Sadly, many adults in the community and at the school handled the situation with disregard for those being bullied, while threats and protests against LGBTQ+ students created more fear. It was a highly charged situation that wound up as a regional news topic.
Though her siblings, her father and I, and all of our extended family robustly and lovingly accepted my daughter’s coming-out, I shudder to think of how, in some families, things can be different. A booklet, Supportive Families, Healthy Children,* recently put out by San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project related that they had done studies which revealed,
“Gay and transgender teens who were highly rejected by their parents and caregivers were at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults (ages 21-25). Highly rejected young people were:
- More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide
- Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
- More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases
compared with gay and transgender young adults who were not at all or only rejected a little by their parents and caregivers – because of their gay or transgender identity.”
What’s more, according to other studies, about 26% of LGBTQ+ youth were kicked out of their homes by their parents (or other caregivers) because of conflicts regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTQ+ youth comprise as much as 43% of all homeless youth. Abuse, both verbal and physical, by parents or other family members is also often experienced by gay or gender nonconforming children as a result of their coming out. In fact, 30% of all LGBTQ+ youth report they have experienced physical violence at home, while 32% of homeless LGBTQ+ youth report physical, emotional or sexual abuse.**
This latter information is hard for me, as a parent, to comprehend. I will admit that understanding what it means to have a gay child was, and continues to be, a journey. But lovingly accepting my daughter? That was a no-brainer. Supporting her as she questioned and figured things out had always been part of my job as her parent and this time was no different.
Today, my daughter, now in her 30s, has and maintains strong, loving relationships with our family as well as a whole village of extended family and friends. She finished her bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology the spring after she came out and works with children in school or childcare settings where she uses music and storytelling to help kids embrace their potential.
Occasionally, I jokingly remind her that whenever she finds the right woman, we are ready to throw that Big Fat Gay Wedding that she’s always dreamed about…and she throws her head back and laughs, “I know, Momma,” she tells me, “and I’m going to hold you to it!”