What if your child says he's gay? How will you respond? The recent heartbreaking headlines about gay teens who have committed suicide in response to senseless bullying has rattled a lot of parents. You cannot insulate your child from every homophobic taunt, but you can choose how you would respond to your child's coming out.
Think it's too early to worry about this stuff? Think again. Children as young as 9 can experience 'crushes' and feelings of physical attraction. Gay and lesbian children raised in intolerant homes may try to deny these feelings to avoid rejection. But denial can lead to depression, risky behaviors and even suicide.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death during adolescence, and gay teens are four times more likely than straight teens to attempt suicide. But when a child's family rejects him, the odds of that child attempting suicide soar, to nine times higher.
What's a parent to do?
Whether or not you suspect your child is gay, foster an accepting atmosphere. Casually comment on a gay relative, friend or celebrity in a positive way. Don't laugh at gay jokes or use demeaning language. When the subject of gay rights comes up, express your support.
But what if you believe that being gay is a choice?
Most scientists, doctors and mental health professionals agree that people are born gay, that it is as natural as heterosexuality. Nothing you did or will do has any bearing on whether or not your child is gay. Whether you agree with this or not, though, isn't really the issue. The question is, are you willing to love and support your child?
When asked what it is that gay children most wish their parents understood, one gay man I know said it best. "They aren't sick, they aren't weird, they aren't bad and they aren't a disappointment. They are still the same exact people they were before they came out." What's different is your perception. Remember: A child's sexual orientation is just one part of who he is. Your child who loves soccer and Aerosmith is still the same kid you've loved since birth. Reassure him of your unconditional love by continuing to connect as you did before you knew he was gay.
It's OK to be scared and to say so. "I love you. It's only natural that I want to shelter you from any hurt, but no matter what, I'm with you."
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
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