Are you an LGBTQ person whose family isn’t very supportive? Are you afraid to come out to your family because they might not react well? If so, this post may help you understand your parents or other family members. I recently conducted a workshop on this topic with a group of students (and a few former students) at the Queer Asian Conference at UC Berkeley. I was impressed by their insights and by how open they were to seeing things from their parents’ point of view. Their love for their families and their positive responses inspired me to do a recap for this month’s post. This information may also be useful for service providers and educators who work with LGBTQ youth.
Many families reject their LGBTQ children and some are not 100% accepting. I believe this is changing. Having an LGBTQ child opened my eyes and helped me see things in a new way. I see this happening with many families, though not all families are open to change. In many cases it is safer and healthier to keep a distance from unsupportive families. This post may be helpful to you if you want to stay connected or re-establish a connection.
Many parents grew up with deeply held beliefs that make it hard to understand that the child they love is LGBTQ.
Challenges parents/family members face – I started the conversation by sharing some of my own challenges as the mother of a gay son. Many parents grew up with deeply held beliefs that make it hard to understand that the child they love is LGBTQ. Below are some of the feelings and barriers parents might be dealing with.
- Knowledge or beliefs about LGBTQ people. They may think that you are going against or nature, going against God’s will, being corrupted by American culture, choosing a bad path, or that you are mentally ill. It can be very scary for them if they believe that something is seriously wrong with you, especially if they think you will be punished for your sins for eternity or will never be able to have a good life. It can be even more stressful if they don’t know other families with LGBTQ+ children and feel alone.
- Rigid ideas about how people should behave based on gender. Like me, your parents probably grew up believing that the gender we are assigned at birth limits what we can and can’t do and who we can be. They were probably raised to believe that boy = masculine = attracted girls, and girl = feminine = attracted to boys. When you don’t follow these gender stereotypes, or have a different gender identity than they expected, your parents may be terrified that something is very wrong.
- Fear that having an LGBTQ child means that they are bad parents or brings shame upon the family. Parents/caregivers usually get the credit when their kids are doing well and the blame when their kids do things that aren’t considered acceptable. If your parents think it’s not okay to be LGBTQ, they may fear being judged or bringing shame upon the family. They may also feel bad about themselves because they think they did something wrong to cause their child to be LGBTQ.
- Dreams or expectations for their children that don’t fit with being LGBTQ. Maybe your parents have sacrificed a lot and worked hard so that you can live dreams that they couldn’t live. Maybe they dream of you getting an education, a good job, getting married (to someone of the “opposite” sex) and having children. You may be viewed as failing in your family duty if you don’t live up to these expectations. Supporting you as an LGBTQ child may mean letting go of expectations or going against beliefs passed down through generations.
- Fear that bad things will happen to their child because of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence. Your family may live in or come from an area that is very unsafe for LGBTQ people. Your parents probably don’t want you to suffer hardship or to be in danger. Families of color or immigrant families who feel that their children already face discrimination may be doubly concerned if their child is LGBTQ.
More and more families are overcoming barriers to become more supportive and openly proud of their LGBTQ children.
Supporting a family’s process – More and more families are overcoming barriers to become more supportive and openly proud of their LGBTQ children. In the workshop, we talked about things that help parents/family members become more accepting:
1. Get the support you need to feel good about yourself and your identity. Your family might not be able to give you the support you need right now and may even be saying or doing things that are hurtful. You may need to let your feelings out without worrying about your family’s reactions. Who are the people you trust the most that can support you? Whatever your family says, remember that there is nothing wrong with being you. The more comfortable you feel about your identity, the easier it will be to have compassion for your family in their process.
2. Keep positive things in your life. You may feel very down if your family isn’t where you need them to be in their process. If possible, try to keep other parts of your life going well. What’s important to you? What makes you happy? When your parents see you carrying on with your life in a more positive way, it will be easier for them to believe that you can have a happy life.
3. Give family members time to process. Allow space and keep connected. It probably took a process for you to get clear about your identity and feel comfortable with who you are. You may still be figuring things out. Family members usually need time too. Don’t give up if they aren’t supportive when they first learn about your LGBTQ identity. Try to accept where they are in their process, even if it isn’t where you’d want them to be. Allow them the space they need to process and find other ways to stay connected.
4. Remember things you appreciate about your family. Your parents may have many strengths that can help them become more understanding. Remembering these strengths can also help you keep a more balanced view. Most likely, they love you and want you to be happy, healthy, and safe. They may be very resilient from confronting hardships in life. Maybe they understand what it’s like to be marginalized because of their own experiences based on race, immigrant status, language, class, or other differences. Maybe they are open to learning new things.
5. Be honest without to blaming or forcing things. If you choose to talk to your parents about being more supportive, be honest about what you need without putting them down. Try not to judge them even if you feel judged by them. Listen without jumping in every time you disagree. Share your ideas without trying to force them to see things your way. Remember that you have no control over how they are going to react or respond. Ask for what you need, and realize they may or may not be ready to meet your needs.
6. Help family members find resources when they are ready. Your family might benefit from support or information, such as connections with other families, non-judgmental people they can talk to, videos with families they can relate to, examples of how religious people have learned to be accepting of their LGBTQ loved ones, information about the importance of family acceptance, or examples of happy, successful LGBTQ families. If they aren’t open to these resources now, they may become more open over time.
7. Be compassionate, kind, and forgiving. It can be really hard to be compassionate with someone who isn’t fully accepting of who you are. Remember that your parents may be trying their best and be forgiving if they don’t always get it.
Remember that your parents may be trying their best and be forgiving if they don’t always get it.
This post is based on my own experience as a mother, dialogues with many families, LGBTQ youth and adults, review of many personal stories, and ideas in the book Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child, by Michael C. LaSala, PhD.
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