Last month being Pride Month, several articles regarding what parents should say when their child comes out to them were published. In general, I think they had really great advice that basically boiled down to this: Don't be an asshole. And that's generally good advice for any situation, and something I try to remember every time I see my in-laws. However, as parents, I think we should do a lot better.
So here are some helpful hints for supporting your gay child before they ever come out to you. After all, parenting gay kids does not start when they come out. They've been gay since day one, whether you knew it or not.
1. Acknowledge that your child could be gay.
Any child born to any parent or adopted into any family could be gay. Why? Because they are human beings, and some humans are gay. That's just a fact. And not acknowledging it doesn't do anyone any favors.
2. Show your child that people being gay is A-OK with you.
Talking to your children is always good. I recommend it. Tell your children you believe in equality for all people. But talking can only do so much. Actions speak more loudly than words. Some examples of actions:
- Take you family to Pride. You don't have to be gay to participate in Pride events. At Pride, your child can see all different types of families, and your child can see you being an advocate just by showing up.
- Donate to the Trevor Project, HRC, PFLAG or another LGBT organization with your child. Talk to them about why it is important to support organizations that promote equality and the equal treatment of all people.
- Enjoy other LGBT events. Maybe your city has a chorus, a band, or art exhibits that involve the LGBT community. You can educate your kids and give them some culture. Double win!
3. Don't lie about the people in your child's life.
If you child has a favorite pair of gay uncles or aunts who live together and love one another, there is no shame in explaining the nature of their relationship to your kids. In my experience, kids get that people love each other. They don't think it's weird or wrong, unless they are taught it's weird and wrong. And you aren't teaching them about sex. It's about love. It's easy to say, "Toby and Sam love each other just like Mommy and Daddy do." Love is a good thing.
4. Dress up your car in equality.
Due to the multitudes of bumper stickers available, there are thousands of ways to express yourself. It can be as simple as a blue equal symbol, or maybe a sticker that says, "Hate is not a family value." My car is currently sporting one that says, "I Heart Equality." It's an easy way to show where you stand on the issue.
5. Watch your mouth.
Words and expressions like "faggot," "dyke," "fairy," "lesbo," "that's so gay," etc., are harmful. Don't try to fool yourself by thinking they aren't. Eliminate hate speech from your vocabulary. It is demeaning, and as a parent, you shouldn't be OK with demeaning your own child.
6. Speak up.
If people are being homophobic jerks and you say nothing, that sends a definitive message, and not a good one. Open your mouth and call people out on their hate. Is it always comfortable? No. But a gay child needs to see their parents defending them, whether they have come out or not.
7. Let your kid be themselves.
Do you have a son who lives for musical theater and Project Runway? Great. Do you have a daughter who thinks dresses were invented by the devil? Great. Do either of these things mean your kid is gay? Of course not. But by supporting them, you are showing your child that they are perfect and loved just the way they are.
8. Listen to your kids.
If your kid tells you they have a crush on someone of the same gender, let them. Don't freak out or jump to conclusions or tell them that they can't have such a crush. Lots of kids who have same-sex crushes aren't gay, but some of them are. Whatever your child is feeling is real and important. And little-kid crushes are adorable. Enjoy the adorableness. The rest will come in time. (Although it may happen sooner than you think.)
9. Fill in the gaps in your library.
Books like And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell, The Family Book by Todd Parr, and My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis and Suzanne DeSimone, just to name a few, can bring diversity into your house in fun and colorful ways that kids love. They can help teach that all different types of people and families are beautiful and worth celebrating.
10. Love your kids.
Loving your kids is the number-one job and responsibility of every parent. We chose to be parents. It's one of the most wonderful, fabulous, frustrating, and rewarding roles in the world. It is our privilege to be someone's mom or dad. And it's a privilege that shouldn't be taken for granted.
If parents do some of these things, then when a child does come out, hopefully it won't be with fear and trepidation that you will reject them. It will simply be your child telling you something important about themselves. And if your kid is straight, you've taught them great lessons about equality. There's no harm. After all, our kids our going to be who they are. Nothing you do or say can change that. But as parents, we can affect the way our children see themselves. I want my kids to know they are amazing.
And if your kid does come out to you, remember the advice that nearly always works: Don't be an asshole.