Many parents are upset when they realize that one of their children is gay. Carol W. Berman, MD, a New York University Medical Center psychiatrist, believes that a parent’s discomfort of one of their children being part of the LGBT community is largely biological. “Our first instinct is to reproduce, and when your child announces that he or she is gay, you immediately think: What, no grandchildren.” Berman also believes that as humans we unconsciously wish to preserve our gene pool, which gets changed when marrying someone of the same sex, or a different faith or ethnicity. “It is all very complicated,” Berman says, “and your inner reaction does not correspond, or may be at variance, with your overall feelings.”
One of the first steps is to get educated. I remember that at the beginning of my journey I had many false ideas about what it meant to be gay. Though hard figures are difficult to come by, being gay is, and always was, fairly common.
Eventually the vast majority of parents want to remain friends with their children. To help them embrace a changed reality they may wish to seek professional help, but there are plenty of other resources. The PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) organization is a good place to start. A mother who marched with her son during one of the first New York Gay Pride marches founded it. Helping parents adjust to their children being gay is one of the principal goals of the organization.
I recently attended a PFLAG meeting. Though being gay is now widely accepted, most parents are still shocked when they discover that their child is not “straight.” As one participant put it: “Everybody accepts gay people nowadays, except when it is your own child.” Parents want their children to be like everybody else, except better, and being gay means that they suddenly are part of a minority group, one that at various times was outlawed or considered mentally deviant. But most everybody eventually adjusts to having LGBT children.
There are more than 350 PFLAG chapters in the US. To find one near you, go to the PFLAG website. There are other organizations that provide similar services including CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers. The latter’s website will provide you with a directory of more than 140 LGBT centers distributed throughout the United States. There also is the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), which concerns itself mostly with LGBT rights.
Discussing your feelings with a knowledgeable friend is almost always the best option. It may be difficult for you to select one among your acquaintances, though you may be surprised how many people have direct experiences with gay relatives, coworkers or friends.
Talking to a therapist is another option. Choosing a personally recommended one is best. Your personal physician may be able to recommend one—as a matter of fact, talking to him or her may be enough. Once again, the Internet provides organizations and names of LGBT-friendly practitioners – in New York State, the Association of Lesbian and Gay Affirmative Psychotherapists (ALGAP) is an excellent resource, while Psychology Today provides a national directory of therapists (you can search for those who specialize in LGBT issues).
The discovery that one’s child is gay often causes a rift between parents, with one person being more accepting than the other. At one PFLAG meeting I remember an utterly distressed father who defied his wife’s refusal to communicate with their gay daughter. Today most families manage to iron out differences. Even Dick Cheney, our ultra-conservative former Vice President, openly embraces his lesbian daughter and her children. He is not the only Republican to be swayed. In 2013, GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio became pro-gay marriage because he loved and respected his gay son.