Parenting a gay or lesbian child
Initial reaction(s) when your child says: "I'm gay."
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
- 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.
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
- In an extended family involving second cousins, it is an almost
- 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.
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 Pflag.org. 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.
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 Amazon.com reviewers.
- 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 Amazon.com online book store. 15 reviewers gave this book a rating of 4.9 stars out of a maximum of 5.
- Robert A Bernstein, "Straight Parents, Gay Children: Keeping Families Together,"
- 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 Amazon.com online book store. 12 reviewers gave this book a rating of 3 stars out of a maximum of 5.
- 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 Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com 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,"
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "BeeDee," commenting on an article "Black America To Gay
America: Jena Six, This Is How It's Done!" Queer Sighted,
2007-SEP-24, at: http://www.queersighted.com
- Amy Dickinson, "Ask Amy: Parent pressures gay son to change," Washington Post, 2013-NOV-18, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Copyright © 2008 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2008-AUG-06
Last update: 2015-JUN-26
Author: B.A. Robinson