What should parents do who think their children are gay?

Ian Kerner, PhD
Sexual Health

Parents have many hopes and dreams for their children. For many parents, these dreams include seeing their children have loving relationships, get married, and have children of their own. When parent wonder if their children are gay or lesbian, they may feel this vision is shattered, particularly that they may not be able to have children. It may also conflict with their values and beliefs of "right" and "wrong."

The reality is that your children may or may not consider themselves to be gay, and the reason you think they may be gay can be based on stereotypical assumptions. If your children are younger, let them be who they are without labeling what you think they might be. If your children are older, at the age when crushes, dating, and other scenarios can create teachable moments, then use these to open a dialogue. Maybe you have a gay or lesbian relative, friend, or neighbor who you can bring up and talk about what life might be like for him or her.

Even if your children are gay and you give them the opportunity to "come out," they still might not feel comfortable sharing this part of themselves with you. Realize that what you say in these conversations and how you say it will give your children an indication of where you stand on the topic and your ability to be supportive. Be sure to let your children know that you love them no matter their sexual orientation.

If your children do identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, consider asking them how you can best be supportive, and whether there are any books, community groups, or websites that they would like you to read to learn more about their experiences.

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Have you ever wondered if a child -- maybe even your own -- might be gay? If so, you're not the first parent who has. But a better question may be: How would you handle it if he or she were? In this special report, Parenting explores what is and isn't known about kids' sexuality, and how parents can show their love no matter what.

There have been many suicides of teenagers because parents do not understand why their child is different. Some parents even threaten their children or abuse them because the children are gay. This is unacceptable. It is your child’s decision whether or not they are gay. A parent should love their child unconditionally. Just because your child is gay, doesn’t mean they aren’t the same child you raised, or taught how to make sandcastles on the beach.

Don't shout at your child or make them feel inferior. Talk things through with them instead. Try to understand that they have questions that need answering or that they simply need a friend who will listen and not judge them. It's no use fighting about the issue as this will make things tense and worse than ever before. It may be a phase or it may be permanent. Either way, support your child and let them know that you are always there for them no matter what. I urge each parent to support their children because if tomorrow never comes, will you be able to say that you were always there when your child needed you the most?

In talking to many parents whose children eventually have come out to them, I've found that many have wondered whether to ask or not to ask. In the end, many have decided not to ask directly but instead to continue to be vocally and visibly supportive of gay and lesbian people and issues as their way of showing that it would be OK if their child did come out.

You also could use some of the methods that gay children use to come out to their parents as a way of testing the water without asking the question. For example, you could watch the television show, "Will & Grace," or a gay-themed movie together and discuss it. Or you could attend a gay pride festival or National Coming Out Day event as a family.

If your son is gay but still struggling to come out to himself, these activities would give him the chance to discuss it with the people he trusts: his family members. If he isn't gay, then he might tire of all this and tell you as much. But by then, he would have become one of the most knowledgeable and enlightened young men in the world!

Janice K. Hillman, MD

Sexual orientation is not usually a black or white decision or an epiphany. Talk with your child about what he or she may be feeling. Let your child know that you will be open and supportive to their ideas and will help them find resources to their questions.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.