What’s it like to come out as an LGBT teen? How do you react when your son or daughter tells you he’s gay? What is it like coming out to religious parents? We collected three stories from parents whose teens have come out to them. While these parents love and support their children, they do worry about how others will treat them and are hopeful that they will be accepted in the larger world.
PARENT 1 | Colleen Toohey Porter
My son, William, is a 23-year-old college graduate living and working in Toronto, Canada. He is extremely close with his dad, brother, sister, and me. A true and loyal friend to many, William has many interests. He writes, performs capoeira, sings in a band, and speaks a little German and Swahili. He loves to travel, eat spicy food, and drink beer. And, he’s gay.
William’s sexuality, or that of his brother and sister, was not something my husband and I focused on. It just didn’t matter to us. But it did to him. When he was going into seventh grade, we moved from our home in western New York to Cleveland. Along with the normal, expected challenges kids have with a move, he seemed to really be struggling. We started to notice that our once sweet, funny, engaged boy was becoming sullen and withdrawn. He racked up hundreds of minutes on our phone plan calling his best friend back home. He moped around the house and seemed utterly miserable. We couldn’t stand it.
One evening, William, his dad, and I were in the kitchen and we began talking, rather awkwardly at first, probing him about his sad state of being. “Is it that you miss home?” “Is something up at school?” Nothing.
Then I said, “Is it because you’re gay?” Wow, there it was. Finally, we said it out loud. He was kind of stunned for a minute and then said, “Yeah. I am gay.” The simple act of being able to say it to us brought him great relief. We hadn’t realized that the formality of telling us had been troubling him so deeply. He was worried about us and how we would handle the “news”.
Honestly, it wasn’t really news. Some people say that a mother knows when their child is gay.
In our family, we all knew and even joked about it from the time he was a little guy. It never really mattered. But we hadn’t given him the chance to voice it.
Soon after we talked, we could see and feel the change in him. He had the freedom to be exactly who he was, and being gay was a part of it. High school was tough, so he chose a post-secondary education option year at CSU, applied to the University of Toronto (a very gay-friendly town), and went off to school. He’s been dating a wonderful guy for over a year, which he says is like ten years in gay!
One of the biggest worries you have as a parent is how to protect your child from the sticks and stones and names that will hurt them. You won’t always be able to intervene when others treat your kid badly. And in all of this, that was our biggest concern: how cruel and insensitive others would be to him because of who he is. In the end, all we could do was let him know our love for him, exactly as he is. Sometimes it’s just that easy.
PARENT 2 | Jim Buccini
One afternoon, my wife called and said, “The school called, and they’re worried about Jimmy, and he needs to talk to us.”
I couldn’t understand. Why would the school be worried about Jimmy? He’s an A student, popular and respected by his teachers. It was a 45-minute ride, and I was worried that something had happened to my son. It was the longest ride I ever took.
When I got to the school, I went to the room where the guidance counselor and youth minister were waiting with Jimmy. My wife and I sat there, stunned, and asked Jimmy, “What’s the matter?” I never saw Jimmy like this; he was upset and in deep pain.
After a few minutes, his guidance counselor encouraged Jimmy to talk to us. He sat there for another few minutes, and the words were not coming out, only some tears and anguish on his face.
Finally he blurted, “I’m gay.”
With that said, a ton of bricks fell on me. My wife reached out to him to let him know that it was okay and that we loved him.
I looked at him with tears in my eyes and said, “There are only two things you need to know: one, you are my son, and two, I love you.”
Jimmy hugged us, and he looked so relieved that we were supportive. He indicated that he was the same Jimmy.
It was comforting to see that Jimmy was happy in our support, but I was hurting inside. The hurt wasn’t because he was gay; I was worried about the world. How would people treat him? I couldn’t be there everyday to protect him. What would my friends and family say?
For the next several weeks, I was confused and preoccupied with Jimmy being gay. Nothing changed between Jimmy and me; our relationship was strong. He was out, and I was worried. One thought kept me focused: He’s my son and I love him.
Eventually, I did tell family and friends and was relieved by their reaction. Everyone accepted Jimmy. They told me they knew Jimmy and that his being gay didn’t matter. They loved Jimmy. Our daughter, Michela, who is three years younger than Jimmy, has been very supportive and an ally to the Gay-Straight Alliance throughout her college years and her career.
Jimmy has been out for over 10 years, now. My wife and I are extremely proud of him. He earned his Masters in Social Work from Syracuse University and worked for a year at a counseling agency. He is now enrolled at Divinity School at Yale University and resides in Connecticut with his partner.
I hope someday that there is equality for everyone and that sexual orientation won’t matter. I hope someday that people won’t have to “come out.” I hope someday that everyone will be accepted for who they are.
PARENT 3 | Anonymous
Our son attended a liberal arts college in Ohio. Recently, Michael told us that he was gay. He told my wife before Christmas when he was home on break. He waited to tell me when we were driving back to school a month later. Fortunately, he was driving.
I don’t remember my first words but I think his announcement that he had a boyfriend was met by at least a period of silence. We talked a little about his boyfriend but the conversation soon turned to religion. We are Catholic. We’re rather conservative parents. Michael has three siblings who married in the Catholic Church and have given us grandchildren. We expected Michael to meet a nice girl, fall in love, marry and have children. All our hopes, dreams, and expectations for Michael changed in an instant.
I know I talked to Michael on the remainder of the drive about God, religion, what problems I thought he would face in his life, bigotry, etc. What I was thinking was, “Why is this happening to us?”
That night, Michael went out with friends, and my wife and I were finally able to talk. We were both worried about his future on a moral and a practical level. To be frank, we wondered if it was our fault that Michael was gay. We didn’t talk a lot about it with Michael before we returned home.
We did a lot of research and found that a person is not gay as a result of their environment nor is it a choice. People are born homosexual (or heterosexual for that matter). This helped us. We also found that the Church states that it is not a sin to be gay but that the Church believes homosexuals are disordered. This did not help us. Our son is not disordered. He is a loving, kind, young man who has had many successes in his life and is well liked and respected by both young people and adults.
My wife read an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about an organization named PFLAG Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. We called the president and after a long discussion, we decided to attend one of the meetings. This was one of the best decisions we have made.
PFLAG has helped us tremendously. We have met parents who have traveled the same road that we are on now. They have shown us that it is a process. We have met gay couples who are in loving relationships and are very happy. And we’ve met young people who have come out to their parents and have not been accepted. We try to be supportive of them and their parents in the same way others helped us.
My wife and I have told some members of our family and some of our friends that Michael is gay; however, Michael has not told his siblings yet. We believe this is part of Michael’s journey. He has told some friends and everyone at his college knows he is gay.
The people we have told accept Michael for who he is. He is still Michael. Being gay does not change that.
Having met Michael’s boyfriend, we feel lucky that Michael is in a loving relationship. We have seen at PFLAG meetings how gay couples can be happy and loving in long-term relationships. But many things still need to change. Gays deserve the same protections and rights that heterosexuals have. We hope that Michael will obtain all these rights during this lifetime and that he will always be accepted for who he is.