Your 16-year-old son comes to you for help on everything from friendships to French homework. The two of you banter for hours about politics, sports, and the latest television reality show. There doesn’t seem to be anything you can’t talk about. That is, until today. When he tells you that he’s gay, you find yourself tongue-tied.
According to Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman, authors of the best-seller Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth – and their Allies, the first thing you should be aware of as a parent is that your son has paid you the highest compliment possible. His trust and belief in your love and friendship has allowed him to divulge one of the most difficult things a child will ever share with a parent. The following suggestions will help you to keep the vital lines of communication open.
- Educate yourself. Read books, go on the Internet, and speak with school counselors. Just as you would with any child, talk to your son or daughter openly about safe sex, including the facts about HIV, AIDS, and other STDs. You and your child are not alone; there is help readily available. For additional resources, go to www.advocatesforyouth.org, a national organization located in Washington, D.C.
- Stay open. This is a crucial time for your child. While this news may be difficult for you, it is probably overwhelming for him. Try not to be too eager to help. Let your child know you are there for him, but allow him to take the lead.
- Stay aware. Do not “out” your child to others. Guard her privacy. The decision about who to tell and when belongs to your child. Be vigilant concerning her emotional, mental, and physical health, and watch for signs of depression or substance abuse. Seek out professional help, if necessary.
- Be Patient. While you want to be understanding and supportive, your feelings will take a while to catch up. It's common for some parents to feel as if they've done something wrong, but in most cases, the distress is short-lived.
- Be an advocate. When ready, speak out. Join Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (www.pflag.org). There are chapters nationally and in Canada. Take part in Gay Pride celebrations. Become a speaker against homophobia. Write letters to local, state, and national representatives supporting civil rights for everyone. By taking part in the gay community, you are supporting who your child is and how much he means to you.