But some parents, even those who claim to support a gay child, will have an unexpected reaction. One of the most confusing and troubling is when a parent tells a GLBT child not to come out to other family members.
For one lesbian teen, this message came from her mother. She writes:
"I told my mom I was lesbian. First she pretended it was a stage, pretended i never came out, then told me I can't come out to the rest of the family and I should quickly try to fix my problem".
Another was sent to religious "counselling" and told by his parents to keep his sexual orientation a secret. He says:
"When I came out, my parents made me go talk to their church bishop. I was told I'm broken, that they were taking me to counseling to help fix me, and that if things got worse they would have to take more drastic actions. They told me it's just a phase and that I could be "fixed." They also forbid me from telling anyone. To this day they cannot accept that I'm gay."
A third had this experience with her mother:
"She said and I am not even kidding "It is like your dad cheating on me. We are not going to scream it to the world. You can live a happy life in secret." I now know that if I come out to the world (and by world I mean my family and close friends) my mom will not offer any support."
And it isn't just teens who go through this. About's Guide to Gay Life describes what happened during a vacation with extended family.
"As the week progressed, I discovered that me being out did not exactly mean they were. While the group was together there was careful sidestepping of my personal life. No questions. No interest. Just a pass over."
Whether you are directly told to keep your sexual orientation a secret, or whether it is pointedly ignored, being expected to keep a core part of who you are a secret just reinforces the idea that it is wrong to be GLBT.
Parents who make this request sometimes try to justify doing so by saying things like, "Well, I understand, but great-aunt Gertrude just would not.
And that might be true, but telling a teen to stay closeted is really asking a lot.
So what can you do? Here are some options:
- Just be yourself and hope that you don't get in trouble with your folks.
- Come out to another family member or adult friend who you think would be supportive and have that person talk to your parents.
- Explain that being forced to hide who you are isn't going to change the fact that you are gay. It is just going to put distance between you and your family.
- Explain to your parents that staying closeted can actually lead to stress, depression and anxiety.
One of the hardest things for teens is that they aren't yet autonomous people who can live their lives freely. Sometimes this works out fine, but when you and your folks don't agree about things like being openly gay, it can take a serious toll.