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Loving family seeks advice for helping gay son 

My 13-year-old son came out to us this morning. He plans to tell his brothers in the next few days. We love and accept our son, and this news isn't surprising (but when will the stereotypical neatness kick in?), but we do have some concerns. He has, apparently, already made the news public at school. Any pointers you can give? We want to make sure he knows that we love him and don't care about his sexuality, while at the same time preparing him to deal with those people who do. Also, any advice you can give for when he starts dating would be appreciated.

Dad Seeks Support

"On behalf of advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth everywhere, let me be the first to say 'thank you,'" says Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN (www.glsen.org), the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which works to create safe school environments for LGBT — and straight — youth. "Simply by giving your son your love and support, you have already significantly increased his chances of living a happy and fulfilling life. The importance of an accepting home cannot be overstated." (The damage that can be done by a hostile family also cannot be overstated: LGBT youth whose families are hostile are eight times likelier to commit suicide than their straight peers. Hostile parents can't make their gay kids straight, but they can make them dead.)

"The bad news is that school can be a miserable place for LGBT youth," says Byard. "GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT teens experienced harassment in school in the past year. The good news is that engaged parents can make a huge difference."

So, DSS, while it's admirable that you want your son to understand that you "don't care about his sexuality," you also have to make your son understand that you care about him and that you're aware of the challenges he faces.

"Talk to your son and learn more about his school and his experiences there since coming out," advises Byard. "What kind of response has he received? What supports are in place for him at school? Does the school have a Gay-Straight Alliance? Do students have access to LGBT-affirming resources in the library? Does the school have policies that address bullying? Are there adults in the school community whom he trusts and feels are supportive?"

Call your son's school, DSS, and set up a meeting. Making sure his teachers and school administrators know that you're on your son's side — and they know you intend to hold them accountable — can go a long way toward creating a safe environment for your son at school.

"Send a GLSEN Safe Space Kit (www.safespacekit.com) to your son's school to give educators the tools they need to provide support and create a safe space in their classroom for your son," advises Byard. "Visible signs of support, such as a GLSEN Safe Space sticker on a door, can fundamentally alter the school experience of an LGBT youth by helping them identify those adults in the community who are supportive."

As for dating and sex ...

"Treat your son with the same awkwardness you would your other kids," says Byard. "I'm speaking as a mom myself now. Make sure he has access to all the health and safety information he needs. (Sitting down to watch reruns of Will & Grace together won't cut it.) I have two daughters and want to be absolutely sure they have access to all the information they need to make smart and healthy — and potentially life-saving! — decisions. Make yourself available to talk whenever he needs and welcome his boyfriends inside the house the same way you would if they were girlfriends."

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