Coming Out to Religious Parents: A Personal Reflection & Helpful Guide
Like most people, my parents are complex. I’m talking a Republican, Catholic, humanitarian kind of complexity. But, even more complex is my relationship with them, particularly since I’ve come out as bisexual. While our commonalities include a general sense of empathy, compassion, and kindness toward our fellow man – our differences include all of the things you shouldn’t discuss at dinner parties: religion, sex, and politics; yet dinner conversations in our home were exciting (to say the least.)
Rich with passionate debate, we spent many evenings throughout my adolescence playing devil’s advocate to one another’s views on everything from the afterlife to social policy. I knew my being an atheist was upsetting to them, but I also knew they loved me and wanted me to have a happy and fulfilled life; so, nothing kept me from sharing my honest opinions. But nothing prepared me for their reaction when I told them I was dating a woman and it was serious.
Our differences of opinion were respectful in theory, until I actually came out.
“It’s disgusting.” my mother said.
My father sat silently.
“It’s worse when it’s your kid.” he followed up.
I won’t bore you with the details, but for the two years that followed while I solely dated women, our interactions consisted mainly of anger, tears, and frustration. I was 24, living on my own and the pain I felt was enormous and almost paralyzing. This said, I am still among the lucky few who experience this emotional distress from a distance. Many younger individuals who come out, or who are planning to, face much more severe consequences as they are more dependent on their religious caretakers for food, clothing, shelter, and education.
Beyond facing the dangers of homelessness that include sexual victimization, STDs, lack of access to education/skill development, and substance abuse, LGBTQ youths who experience rejection from their families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their accepted LGBTQ peers.
The issues caused by the rejection from family creates trauma, sadness and chaos on many different levels of the psyche. A sense of self can be lost due to the confusion of the non acceptance from the humans who created you; it is beyond earth shattering.
-Karly Smith, Art Therapist, The Ali Forney Center
Less than 10% of the general youth population identifies as LGBTQ, while findings from The Williams Institute report 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
The religious-right strong-hold in America has left us with a staggering reality. In fact, it appears that parents are abandoning their LGBTQ children in the name of God.
While progress has been made towards acceptance within younger populations and urban areas, 42% of LGBTQ youth still report a lack of acceptance within their communities. Of the total LGBTQ youth population experiencing homelessness, most are homeless due to being rejected by their families and/or abused at home.
If you are planning to come out to your religious parents- here are a few tips to help you on your journey.
- Know your rights. It’s empowering to know the circumstances in which you are protected by the law. Protection Laws change based on the state you live in. In particular, it’s important to look at the protection your state offers you.
- Identify and alert your support system. Notify a friend, family member, or community organization that you can trust. Ask your support system to help you during this time, whether that means giving advice or being present with you as an advocate.
- Have a plan. Choose a setting where you are most comfortable speaking safely and openly, decide who should be there, and choose a time when everyone will be able to speak without distractions.
- Don’t try to convert them. Everyone is responsible for their own opinions. It’s not worth trying to “convince” your family that you are truly LGBTQ, or that it is an entirely natural, moral, and biological truth. All of the gay chimpanzees in the Animal Kingdom won’t help to win them over. Be prepared for terms like “unnatural”, “immoral” or “unclean” and understand they they do not define you or reflect who you are- they are simply the product of a person’s misunderstanding.”
- Be aware of your safety. If you feel that you may be in physical danger, you should explore other options for coming out. Write a letter or have a phone call and plan to stay with a trusted ally.
- Give them time and space. Arrange to stay with a trusted ally if you might need to. Begin to think about longer-term options for living, if necessary. Resources exist to help you find housing in your state.
- Know that you are not alone. Reach out to the services and people available to you. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT”.
- Clearly communicate your boundaries. outline your personal boundaries in a letter and the space you’ll need to take if they are violated.
To find more resources for housing and protection services please visit:http://www.aliforneycenter.org/