When I worked as a high school mental health counselor, I worked with a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who struggled with telling their parents about their sexual orientation.
Many of them felt like they had to keep their sexual orientation a secret which of course caused them a lot of anxiety and even depression. Most of all, they were terrified of not being accepted by their family.
Some of them were so scared that they would be disowned by their parents that they contemplated suicide. This was especially true when the youth came from a really religious family/background.
Luckily none of my students ever went this far, but I did help do grief counseling at a high school after a teen committed suicide due to the guilt and fear he felt about being gay and not being able to come out to his parents.
Some of the teenagers I worked with turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with their feelings. while others turned to self-injurious behaviors like cutting themselves or acted out behaviorally (running away, skipping school, etc.).
Whenever I could, whenever a teen was ready to come out, I always encouraged them to bring their parents in for a family session. Many of them were too afraid to talk to their parents alone and wanted to do it in an environment where they felt safe.
Unfortunately this was something that rarely happened as many of the teens hadn’t yet worked up the courage to come out to their family.
However whenever it did happen, I always discussed the session beforehand with the teen so that there would be no surprises.
I wouldn’t tell the parents anything the teen didn’t want me to tell them, and I always encouraged the teen to lead the conversation while I would be there primarily as guidance and support.
Most of the parents who came to these family sessions already had some clue that their child wasn’t heterosexual. Many more were in denial. Luckily only a very few were visibly upset or angry.
What I wanted the parents to understand is that they didn’t make their child gay nor can they make them not gay.
This was especially true for male students. Sometimes a single mother would blame herself for not making her son “a man” or the father would blame himself for not being “tougher” on his son.
Parents do not make their children gay and “praying the gay away” or “reparative therapy” only works to temporarily change a child’s behavior at best, while risking permanent damage to their self-esteem and mental health.
It doesn’t work.
Parents often feel angry, sad, and scared when they find out their child is gay. For many of them, they have to grieve over the loss of their ideal child. Maybe little Johnny is not going to marry Suzy and have 2.5 kids. Maybe Little Johnny will marry Billy and they will adopt 2.5 kids.
Many of them fear what their child will have to deal with from society on top of any other prejudices they may already be predisposed to (i.e, being Black and gay). It’s important that parents surround themselves with supportive people including support groups like Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
While it’s important for the parents to get support, it’s most important that the parents support their child.
The world can be tough enough for the LGBT community, but it’s even tougher for those whose parents reject them.
The teens I’ve worked with who fared the best mentally and emotionally were the teens whose parents supported them when they came out despite their own personal and religious views.
With the support of their parents it made it easier for them to deal with any other negativity they had to face such as depression and bullying. It also allowed them to blossom into the amazing young people they already were.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, being homosexual was once listed as a mental illness. We now know that it is not. It is not something to be cured or prevented. It doesn’t go away if we ignore it.
Get over it.