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Parenting a gay or lesbian child

Initial reaction(s) when your child says: "I'm gay."

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Initial reactions:

Parents exhibit a broad range of responses to the news that their child is a gay or lesbian. They might react according to one or more of the following scenarios -- or probably some we haven't thought of. All of these are normal reactions. Most likely you will experience more than one:

  • Denial: A parent may believe that the child is really heterosexual, but is just going through a temporary phase until they eventually come to their senses. If your child is in their mid-teens, it is very unlikely that this is a phase." They have probably been struggling with their feelings for many years, and only now has built up the confidence to tell others.

  • Acceptance: A parent may have already accepted a child's homosexuality because they have seen signs in the past and have long suspected that their child is gay.

  • Concern for their child: They may have concerns over the homophobic reactions that others may have towards their child now and in the future. This might include: hatred, physical abuse, economic uncertainty, lack of protection for the child's family, etc. Surveys have shown that on the order of 40% of gays and lesbians have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. A posting on a gay information board said:
    "I am out and proud to be gay even though it is not 'safe' to do so. I know LGBT oppression well. I have been assaulted, cursed, ridiculed, and gay bashed on multiple occasions. I have had the word FAG spray painted on my house. My parents were thrown out of their church because of the 'unrepentant' way I 'chose' to live my life, even though they don't support my 'behavior.' My car has been vandalized, my house has been broken into, and I have to look over my shoulder when I walk down the street." 1
  • Confusion: A parent's natural impulse is to support their child. Yet they may also have strong feelings that they cannot support or allow any behavior that your church teaches is always sinful.

  • Embarrassment: Parents are often worried about the reaction of the extended family, friends, fellow members of their congregation, etc. when the latter find out that one of their children is gay. At the same time, if they express negative beliefs about homosexuality to coworkers, friends and others who have more liberal religious views, they worry about being considered homophobic, bigoted, and unloving.

  • Happiness: Some parents feel pleased that their relationship with their daughter or son is sufficiently trusting and close that their child has willingly come "out of the closet" and revealed their sexual orientation.

  • Prayer: Many parents pray to God for the strength to handle the situation, for the wisdom to know what to do, and/or to have God convert their gay child to heterosexuality.

    There are some indicators that prayer seeking to change their child's sexual orientation does not work in these situations:
    • Many children who find themselves with feelings of sexual attraction to members of the same sex have prayed to god for years, asking that he convert them to heterosexuality, without success.

    • For almost four decades, Exodus International was an umbrella group which grew to include over 260 local ministries, churches, and counselors dedicated to converting gays and lesbians to heterosexuality through prayer and reparative therapy. Their success rate was near or at zero. They finally changed their beliefs in mid-2012 and recognized that their attempts had been unsuccessful and dangerous to their clients. In mid-2013, they apologized to the LGBT community for the harm they had done to individual lesbians and gays, and went out of business.
  • Disappointment: Many parents experience a collapse of their joyful expectations of their child's marriage and future grandchildren. However, with same-sex marriage available in most states and Canada, adoption, surrogate mothers, and artificial insemination, marriage and grandchildren are now a definite possibility.

  • Guilt: Parents sometimes wonder whether they caused their child's homosexuality. They may have heard that it is caused by poor parenting or sexual molestation during childhood. That is unlikely, because child psychologists have studied pre-school children and predicted with about 85% certainty which ones will discover later in life that they are lesbian or gay.

  • Devastation: Being aware of their church's teaching that their child can never attain their eternal reward in Heaven and may spend eternity in Hell.

  • Desperate: Feeling alone, having to handle a very difficult problem with no support system available for themselves and their spouse.

  • Anger: Feeling the ultimate betrayal of a parent: to believe that their a son or daughter has chosen to be involved in the "homosexual lifestyle" in spite of all they have been taught.

  • Rage: Throwing the child out of the house and severing all contact with them. Some Jewish parents have even sat shiva for their gay child as if the latter had died. Even though only about 5% of youths are gay or lesbian, and another 5% are bisexual, about 40% of homeless youth have either been thrown out of their home or have found it impossible for them to remain there because of their sexual orientation.

Resolving these feelings can take a lot of time. It takes some parents weeks to adjust, some take months; some change over years; some become stuck and are never able to complete the process.

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You are not alone:

Surveys quoted by religious conservatives typically show that about 1 or 2% of people are gay or lesbian. Surveys quoted by many gay-positive sources quote 10%. Among the general population, an estimate in excess of 20% is common. The actual number, based on the most accurate sources that we have been able to find, appears to be about 5% or one in 20 adults. Homosexuality is probably more common than naturally red hair in the U.S. and Canada.

This means that:

  • In a family with two children, there is an almost 10% chance that one will be gay.

  • In a family with a mother, father, and two children, in which the parents each have two siblings who in turn have two children each, there are two children and 8 first cousins. There is a 33% chance that one will be gay.

  • In an extended family involving second cousins, it is an almost certainty.

  • A family similar to the Duggar family featured on the TV program "19 kids and counting" can expect to have, on average, one lesbian or gay child and one bisexual child.

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Somewhat sarcastic advice from "DEAR AMY"

Advice colomnist Amy Dickinson posted the following reply to a parent of a gay child on 2013-NOV-18: 2

DEAR AMY: "I recently discovered that my son, who is 17, is a homosexual. We are part of a church group and I fear that if people in that group find out they will make fun of me for having a gay child.

He won’t listen to reason, and he will not stop being gay. I feel as if he is doing this just to get back at me for forgetting his birthday for the past three years — I have a busy work schedule.

Please help him make the right choice in life by not being gay. He won’t listen to me, so maybe he will listen to you. -- Feeling Betrayed"

DEAR BETRAYED: "You could teach your son an important lesson by changing your own sexuality to show him how easy it is. Try it for the next year or so: Stop being a heterosexual to demonstrate to your son that a person’s sexuality is a matter of choice — to be dictated by one’s parents, the parents’ church and social pressure.

I assume that my suggestion will evoke a reaction that your sexuality is at the core of who you are. The same is true for your son. He has a right to be accepted by his parents for being exactly who he is. ..."

Pressuring your son to change his sexuality is wrong. If you cannot learn to accept him as he is, it might be safest for him to live elsewhere.

A group that could help you and your family figure out how to navigate this is 3 This organization is founded for parents, families, friends and allies of LGBT people, and has helped countless families through this challenge. Please research and connect with a local chapter.

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Books available for parents of LGBT children:

Webmasters note: Any book that deals with human sexuality is probably going to receive some very negative reviews. You can expect few books here that have a rating of 5 stars out of 5 by reviewers.

  • book cover Grant Andrews & Malan van der Walt, "How to Understand and Accept Your Gay Son: (Even If You're Not Sure You Can)," CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, (2015). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. 15 reviewers gave this book a rating of 4.9 stars out of a maximum of 5.

  • book cover Robert A Bernstein, "Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together,"

  • book cover Betty Fairdhild and Nancy Hayward, "Now That You Know: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Their Gay and Lesbian Children," Mariner Books, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. 12 reviewers gave this book a rating of 3 stars out of a maximum of 5.

  • book cover Carolyn Griffin, Marina Worth, & Arthur Wirth, "Beyond acceptance: Parents of Lesbians and Gays," St. Martin's Griffin, (1997). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. 12 reviewers gave this book a rating of 4.3 stars out of a maximum of 5.

  • Kevin Jennings, "Always My Child: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Your Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Son or Daughter," Touchstone, (2003). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store. 15 reviewers gave this book a rating of 4.7 stars out of a maximum of 5.

  • Bryce McDougall, "My Child Is Gay: How Parents React When They Hear the News,"
  • Kristin Russo, "This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids: A Question & Answer Guide to Everyday Life,"
  • Ritch C. Savin-Williams, " 'Mom, Dad - I'm Gay': How Families Negotiate Coming Out,"


References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "BeeDee," commenting on an article "Black America To Gay America: Jena Six, This Is How It's Done!" Queer Sighted, 2007-SEP-24, at:
  2. Amy Dickinson, "Ask Amy: Parent pressures gay son to change," Washington Post, 2013-NOV-18, at:
  3. Pflag
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Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Parenting a gay/lesbian child > here

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Copyright © 2008 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2008-AUG-06
Last update: 2015-JUN-26
Author: B.A. Robinson
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