It is common for heterosexual parents to feel disappointment, anger, shock, or guilt when their child “comes out.” All other family members may initially have feelings of disbelief or denial as they come to terms with a new reality that becomes a significant stressor in their family. This event is arguably more stressful for the child, as disclosing sexual orientation has the potential of causing rejection. That being said, if an individual’s family does not accept same-sex attraction, it may cause the individual added stress and guilt.
As someone who firmly believes that the institution of marriage is between a man and a woman, I am not saying that families need to agree with the lifestyles of the LGBT community, but I am saying that criticism, contempt, and especially disownment are not acceptable.
Having a sister with same-sex attraction, I have found that, for our family, everything became a lot easier as we tried to understand her, give encouragement, and most importantly, love her unconditionally. This has helped her to maintain her well-being and we have all grown so much closer as a family. Of course, there was a rollercoaster of emotions before we got to the point we’re at now.
When lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth come to terms with their sexual orientation and share it with their family and others, it becomes a life-changing growth that will affect these children physically and mentally, setting the precedence for the rest of their lives. This also means their families will need time to process this information, just as each individual needed time to carefully figure things out themselves before coming out.
To help families comprehend what they will experience emotionally after their child comes out, a research study by Kubler-Ross (1969) has outlined the stages individuals will pass through that he calls the Developmental Model of Parental Reactions, which are:
- Denial and Isolation
Considering the outcomes and health risks that affect youth with same-sex attraction, it is absolutely vital that families are compassionate and rally together to support their LGBT family member, which will naturally increase their resiliency throughout this rollercoaster ride.
According to studies by Savin-Williams and Dube, several suggestions are given to assist in the overall well-being of families with youth experiencing same-sex attraction:
1) Parents need to realize that recognizing and integrating a new identity as a parent of a gay/lesbian child requires time, trust, and stamina. Educational and support resources may be necessary for this to happen.
2) When these support resources are available, they can provide information that can help parents shed their previous heterosexual hopes and homosexual fears. These resources are critical for parents’ ability to adapt. This also includes therapy or support groups where parents will benefit from directly talking with other parents in similar situations.
3) It is possible that what is more important than the initial response to disclosure is to actually understand what leads to a healthy long-term relationship. Parents must overcome whatever prevents them from saying, “You are my child and I love you no matter what.”
4) Extended family might have a perspective about the family, relationships, and what is most important that can help parents going through their “trauma.”
5) Pragmatic self-questioning stimulates an inner process of self-examination, such as
“Who is my child and what do I want for her/him?” After taking this inventory, many parents altered their expectations for their children and themselves.
It is important for families to understand what homosexuality truly is and how their reactions and level of support for their LGBT loved one can help or hinder them. As parents and siblings are resilient and rally together with compassion, the stressors of having a family member with same-sex attraction will become easier to bear. Families will become stronger by turning this difficult situation into a family crucible.
Again, I believe in marriage between a man and a woman, but I also believe in understanding others through respectful dialogues. I believe individuals with same-sex attraction deserve to be heard and loved, and I believe this should especially be true within our families. I am happy to say this is what we have finally achieved in my family after a long journey, all because of my sister, who I am proud to call my family.