When he was just 18 years old, Larry DeShane, Jr., Center Administrator at Grand Rapids Pride Center, summoned the courage to tell his parents he was gay.
He braced himself, uncertain what would happen next.
"My father turned around and said, 'I thought you were going to tell me something important, like you were quitting college,'" recalled DeShane. "Hearing that was so reassuring. There's an overwhelming fear that no matter how great your parents are, coming out will change the way they treat you. My parents just supported me."
Hearing the News
"When my brother came out to me, I felt relieved and happy for him," explained Rachael Rohde, Media Consultant with Serendipity Media. "I wanted to let him know that it didn't change anything, and I still loved him." When he came out to their parents, almost a year later, there were tears. "My dad cried, but I think it was more like relief," said Rohde. "It felt like, 'OK we can talk about this now.'"
As you respond, thank your child for trusting you enough to share his or her feelings. "Stay away from phrases like, 'No matter what, I love you'—or—'Even though you're gay, I still love you,''" said DeShane. Instead, focus on validating what they're telling you. "The fact that they've come to you to tell you is a huge opportunity for growth in the relationship."
When your child shares his or her gender or sexual identity with you, you may need time to process the information and learn new terms, such as LGBTQ+ or LBGTQIA. Rather than leaning on your child for education, seek support and information from the many local and online resources available.
Let Your Child Lead
As much as you might think, "How am I going to tell everyone this news?" it's not your tale to tell. After your child confides in you, talk to her about where she is in the coming-out process and how she wants to proceed. Then, be sure to let her take the lead.
Locally, Grand Rapids Pride Center is a fantastic resource that offers social and support groups for LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17, family groups, and parent groups, as well as a new therapeutic group called Stand With Trans. All programs are free of charge.
Family members, allies and LGBTQ individuals can also connect with PFLAG in the Lakeshore/Holland area.
The Grand Rapids Pride Center's website includes names of medical and mental health professionals. "They've all been vetted by us to be inclusive and supportive of our entire community, including therapists who have a background in religion," DeShane said.
What About Faith?
"Growing up, we never missed church on Sunday. It was a huge part of our lives," said Rohde. "It's been hard to watch my brother struggle to not be accepted by a community he's grown up in his whole life."
If you find yourself in a similar position, there are pastors, churches, and synagogues in Grand Rapids that are open and affirming, including All Souls Church, Plymouth United Church of Christ, and Fountain Street Church, among others. In addition to places of worship, there's an organization called GIFT that works to affirm LGBTQ individuals in West Michigan faith communities.
The Long View
When your child tells you he or she has a different sexual orientation or gender identity than you've always assumed, you may feel like the future you've imagined for him or her future has gone up in smoke. "But with proper family support," said DeShane, "all of the dreams, hopes, and aspiration you had for your child can still be there."
According to the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2017), 13.3 percent of heterosexual students had seriously considered attempting suicide. That number skyrocketed to 47.7 percent for gay, lesbian and bisexual students.
Scary numbers. But ...
The the Family Acceptance Project found that LGBTQ youth with family support are almost 50 percent less likely to attempt suicide compared to those whose families are unsupportive.
Written by Kirsetin Morello, a Michigan-based author, speaker, writer, travel-lover, wife and grateful mom of three boys. Read more about her at www.KirsetinMorello.com.