(The Vancouver Sun, June 4, 2001)
Q: My 16 year old son has just given me a letter stating that he is gay. I have to admit that I am not completely comfortable with this, but at the same time I want him to feel supported and accepted. What should I do?
This is a tough one. Although each situation is different, your priority should be ensuring that your son feels respected, loved and safe. Without meaning to simplify a very complex process, heres a general list of Dos and Donts for parents when talking to a son or daughter:
- Dont ignore the letter out of discomfort. It will send the message the you do not care, or even worse, that you disapprove.
- Dont corner him or demand an explanation. If he feels attacked or judged, he will run the other way.
- Dont be homophobic, even if it is unintentional. Phrases like "I still love you anyway" imply there is something bad to accept. Dont suggest therapy. Homosexuality is not a mental illness and cannot be "cured", nor is it a phase of adolescent development that teens "grow out of". Also, avoid blame statements, homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but an innate sexual orientation.
- Do be honest with yourself. Your son will pick up on any unresolved feelings of discomfort you have around homosexuality. If you truly want to create a relationship with your son based on respect, love and safety, your own attitudes and beliefs will have to be addressed.
- Do be aware of the feelings your son is most likely experiencing, and acknowledge them to him . The fact that your son chose to write a letter attests to his anxiety around talking about this. Many teens feel isolated and afraid of rejection or judgement. He will need your support and willingness to be open. Homosexual teens are three times more likely to be suicidal due to the lack of support and the isolation they often experience.
- Do respond to the letter and be honest your son. It is perfectly alright to say something like "Im confused about how I feel about this, but I want you to know that I love you and I am willing to educate myself on how to be a supportive parent to you."
- Do be empathetic and available to talk openly.
- Do educate yourself. Make use of community resources like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at 604-689-3711. Leaving the literature you are reading around your home will demonstrate your desire to be supportive to him.
- Do provide your son with resources and support like the Provincial Pride Line at 1-866-NOT-ALON. Youthquest! also provides drop-in centres for teens around the province (460-9115). Facilitate his connection to these resources by helping him make the calls or driving him if necessary. Because the dropout rate for gay youth is much higher than for straight youth, look into support for him at school such as Gay/Straight Alliance Clubs. There are also several books for both of you to read, such as Am I Blue? Coming Out From the Silence by M. Bauer.