Brigitte G. Dutil, ATR, LPCC, LMFT
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When Your Child Says, “I’m Gay”
Brigitte G. Dutil, ATR, MFT
In the past, when an adolescent stated, “I’m gay” to their parents “difficulties ranged from parental rejection to violence and expulsion from the home” (Fontaine, J.;
Hammond, N., 1996). Today, youth who are ‘coming-out’ are younger, at times more accepting of their own gay identity, and might even be better accepted by their
parents. The increase in the number of young people coming-out might be influenced by improved tolerance and acceptance by schools and peers, as evidenced
by the existence of Gay / Straight Alliance (GSA) groups on campus. Unfortunately, coming-out to parents continues to be a serious issue and concern for many
gay and lesbian youth.

What can I do if my child say’s “I’m gay”? One of the most important actions you can do is to listen to your child. Try not to panic, or pass judgment.

“Parents may have a range of reactions, with negative reactions common, but not a certainty in all families. Even when parents are apparently supportive, they may
have little patience for the long periods of identity uncertainty and exploration of many adolescents, and may cut off avenues for the heart-to-heart conversations
which their lesbian and gay children want. Some parents demonstrate what appears to be an almost obligatory initial negative reaction based on religious doctrine,
only to become far more accepting later. Overall, the decision to come out to parents often provokes a family crisis of some sort” (Fontaine, J.; Hammond, N., 1996).

Many parents experience a period of grief, which can be exacerbated throughout one’s life-time depending on life events.

Why am I grieving? The stages of grief (anger, denial, depression, bargaining, and acceptance) are non-linear, and acceptance might occur after any number of
the stages are experienced. Often times, parents grieve the loss of dreams or fantasies they once had for their child. Understandably, you may have assumed your
child was heterosexual and you might have conceived of such events as the child’s future wedding, grandchildren, or even profession. Not that being gay or lesbian
automatically results in the loss of such privileges, but initially you might believe this to be true. Grieving the loss of heterosexual privilege is not only experienced
by the parent, but might be experienced by the gay or lesbian child, depending on such issues as the child’s age when coming-out and the climate of the
surrounding community.

How does our family incorporate the identity of a gay or lesbian child? It is important for you and your child to be patient with one another. Your family might
experience a coming-out process of its own. The stages of coming-out (identity confusion, identity comparison, identity tolerance, identity acceptance, identity
pride, identity synthesis – Cass, 1979) are also non- linear, and consist of two parallel processes:

Internal structures define the self, your identity as the parent of a gay or lesbian child, as well as the identity as a sister or brother of a gay or lesbian sibling.

The
external development of behaviors and attitudes is the coming-out process. These behaviors and attitudes may or may not be congruent to one’s internal
identity (Falco, 1991).

During any one of these stages, how the parent or sibling of a gay or lesbian child feels may differ from how they act. You might tolerate or accept your child’s
sexual orientation, but struggle to express this acceptance to your child and / or publicly to family, friends, and the community. This struggle can be perceived by
the gay or lesbian child as rejection, possibly resulting in increased anxiety, depression, acting out behaviors, and family discord. It is important that you and your
child have an open line of communication in order for these issues to be addressed. A parent should not necessarily process their initially reactions directly with the
child, but should inform the child of their efforts to process and understand. The stability or change of a parent and child’s behavior can be significantly influenced
by society’s reaction to lesbian and gay youth.

What can I do to help my family? Seek professional assistance such as family and individual therapy to assist with communication and decrease distress.
Conversion therapy (converting homosexuality to heterosexuality) has been proven ineffective and even dangerous.

Allow your child to teach you about the LGBT community and culture. Inquire about the climate at school and within the family, and if necessary advocate for your
child in order to ensure that your child is safe and treated appropriately. If needed, ask for help. There are professional organizations that can provide appropriate
resources and referrals, such as PFLAG (Parents & Friends or Lesbians and Gays) and Gay & Lesbian Community Centers.

Brigitte G. Dutil, ATR, MFT – Treatment specializations include sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
References
Cass, V.C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4(3), 219-235.

Falco, K. (1991). Psychotherapy with lesbian clients. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel, Inc.

Fontaine, J.H. & Hammond, N.L. (1996). Counseling issues with gay and lesbian adolescents. Adolescence, 31(14), 817.

James, S.E. & Murphy, B.C. (1998). Gay and Lesbian Relationships in a changing social context. In C.J. Patterson and A.R. D’Augelli (Eds.), Lesbian, gay
and bisexual identities in families: psychological perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lindley, L.L. & Reininger, B.M. (2001). Support for instruction about homosexuality in South Carolina public schools. Journal of School Health, 71(1), 17-22.

Patterson, C.J. (1995). Sexual orientation and human development: An overview. Developmental Psychology, 31, 3-11.

Zevy, L. & Cavallaro, S.A. (1987). Invisibility, fantasy, and intimacy: Princess charming is not a prince. In Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Eds.),
Lesbian Psychologies: Explorations and Challenges, (pp.83-94). Urbana: University of Illinois.
Family Mediator, Collaborative Divorce Professional
Parenting Plan Coordinator, Psychotherapist

Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist LMFT42451
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor LPCC462
Registered Art Therapist ATR05-022