Friday, May 15th, 2015
The Joy and the Horror
Families with LGBT Members,
A while back, I got this phone call. “John, I never thought I’d be calling you about this, we just found out that my brother is gay. My whole family is devastated.” At the time, I believed someone being gay was a sinful invasion of a family’s sanctity. If the person was repentant and didn’t accept a gay identity and remained celibate or faithful to their marriage if they were married, then there could be hope for a future of peace within their family.
Best we know, about 3 to 8% of the population is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This means that way more than double that number of people has a loved one or friend that is LGB or T. And, it’s highly possible that the percentages are much higher because of secrecy and shame.
For over twenty years I worked full time in ministry to LGBT people and their families. Those if us working in our ministry could see that this was a terrible burden to bear for any family, especially those who held to a conservative religious belief that being LGBT was sinful and therefore destructive to the people involved. We could only hold to the belief that destruction would be at the end of a dark tunnel. This caused endless grief and anxiety to those who were parents, siblings or extended family members. We had little hope that the majority of these loved ones would cease to continue on their path of destruction because that is largely what we saw.
Many Christian organizations publicized horrifying stories of the deadly disease of HIV. They posted lists of extreme and dangerous behaviors describing what gay people do. I received an email from a counseling pastor at a church I formerly attended. It contained an informational sheet on homosexuality written by Focus on the Family. It was a horrifying list of what they believed about homosexuals and their lifestyles. I can only imagine who may have received his email that may have just found out about their homosexual child!
Radio broadcasts profoundly negatively impacted the moms and dads who had just found out their children may be gay. But they often concluded with messages of hope for change saying that if their children wanted to, they could eradicate homosexuality from their lives. They taught that homosexuality came from childhood experiences and negative parental relationships such as an absent dad or an overbearing mom.
Focus on the Family produced a one-day conference called Love Won Out. Produced five times a year in cities all around the country with an average attendance of close to one thousand people. Their curriculum included: teaching that poor child development causes homosexuality, scary statistics of how homosexuality was invading our schools through LGBT affirming curriculums, and powerful and emotional testimonies of men and women who had changed their sexuality saying they were living “free” from homosexuality. Parents gave testimonies about the terribly negative impacts of their children’s homosexuality. Over the long period of time these conferences were presented, many thousands of grieving parents clung to the belief that if only their kids would be obedient, repent, and change, then their lives would be free and their homes peaceful again.
A regular question at the Q & A session was, “What do you do when your son or daughter wants to bring their partners home for a visit?” This was also the topic of many holiday newsletters. The advice was typically to draw boundaries against their LGBT kids, which usually resulted in heartbreak. Celebrations and holidays were especially painful. Many families remained in an endless cycle of grief, which they could not resolve as long as their children remained LGBT. This created huge problems and often lead to long-term estrangement and ongoing pain for all concerned.
Even while I was still working in ExGay ministry, I began to see a change in some of these families as they made their way to peace and acceptance of their LGBT kids. No more grief-laden conversations. No more Bible scriptures in letters and telephone conversations about homosexuality or discussions about God’s intended will for sexuality. Those who could do this found peace, but peace did not come from their loved one’s repentance as they’d been taught in their ExGay ministry support groups.
Families appeared to be coming around. Perhaps they realized it was fruitless to expect repentance or a sexual orientation change. Some families actually changed their long-held beliefs and came to accept same-gender relationships – many began supporting their loved ones decision to date or even to marry. Some families chose to no longer allow homosexuality to divide them and learned how to love one another between the lines of their disagreement.
Other families couldn’t accept their children’s sexuality and they could never find that same peace. Year after year, they remained convicted that anything other than a straight marriage, or a choice to be celibate, was evil and destructive. Some parents – or siblings – continued to look at their LGBT loved ones with fear, distance, and trepidation. They attempted to uphold boundaries as they would with a troubled alcoholic family member or another addiction problem. They believed to even fudge a little on their boundaries would allow danger and evil to invade their sanctuary of life.
These situations meant arguments, ongoing negative conversations, and estrangement from their LGBT loved ones. These families usually blamed the gay one for the problems between them, calling them “selfish” and “stubborn” for refusing to do what the rest of the family wanted. Kind of ironic to call someone selfish for not doing what you want them to.
Because the LGBT person felt such frustration with their family, they grew increasingly sensitive and resistant to their family’s badgering about right and wrong and “choices” about their sexuality. This would often lead to ongoing arguments and so it became easy to place the blame on them.
Some conservative religious families used these arguments as proof that homosexuality causes evil to invade their lives and divide their relationships. But is it really the influence of homosexuality? Or is it caused by the rigidity of the people involved? It seems either side could be saying, “No, I’m not going to change.” “I’m not going to diminish my values,” or “I’m not going to live any differently.” Perhaps the discord came from the ongoing battle between someone wanting to live as they see fit and others not wanting them to do that. It might be a combination of all of the above.
But as I look at those who find peace, it seems that the changes came from the non-LGBT family members finding a way to accept their loved ones. If there is no destruction, or abusive behavior, then where does the problem really lie? And maybe some of the appearance of destruction stems from frustration of not being accepted as they are. If either party could show some acceptance, this could actually diminish.
“But John, my daughter isn’t the same person she always was before this came out. She seems so different when we are around her, it ‘s not good.”
I know one woman whose family continues to reject her and keep up boundaries against her, with no indication that they have changed. This is a tremendous burden for her. She’s talked with me about how frustrated she is when she goes home. She’s continues to be tense, afraid the “subject” will come up yet again, even though it hasn’t for a long time. No wonder her parents don’t see the joyful little girl they once knew. She has now been married to her partner for three years. But, she is afraid to broach the subject of bringing her wife home for a holiday. Naturally, when she visits her family, she is lonely for her wife. Can you imagine a straight couple choosing to leave their spouse home for Christmas just because their family disapproves? I’m afraid I would choose to no longer to go home for a holiday. I’d choose to spend it with my spouse. She loves her family, but this is putting an undue burden on her to have to leave her wife at home at Christmas.
What I’ve seen is the families that are the healthiest and enjoy the best relationships are those who have chosen to embrace their LGBT loved one. This doesn’t mean they have to compromise their values. They can choose to continue to uphold whatever belief they have regarding homosexual relationships. But this doesn’t have to create separation with their family member. They can still love them. In fact, if they do that, I bet they will find something surprising. There will be some barriers with these relationships of the parents continue to hold to their belief that gay behavior is sinful. However, this doesn’t have to prevent loving involvement in each other’s lives.
It’s highly possible that they’ll discover a new and vibrant relationship with their son or daughter.
It’s possible that years of anxiety in their lives will diminish and peace will actually become a reality in their family.
It’s possible they’ll find that to welcome their son and his husband of five years does not expose their family to devastating evil, but instead will find they are a tremendous blessing. They may find a new person to embrace, to love, and to glean wonderful new things from in this unexpected relationship.
One man that I know has decided that he will no longer choose his family over his partner; he will no longer visit family for holidays and birthdays without his husband. Though he loves his family, his husband takes precedence. His husband is the one he will spend the rest of his life with. It is not a display of love when they ask him to give him up.
This family may be living in denial that all is well as they welcome their son but keep the danger of homosexuality outside their home. But what will they do when the son no longer comes without his husband? Will they choose to continue their steadfast position, and reignite the anxiety and arguments? Or, will they take this a step further and accept that their son has a wonderful man in his life that is decent, loving, and kind and choose to accept him in as family. I hope they do that latter.
Some helpful resources:
Liz Dyer has a regular blog for parents with gay kids.
Sererdipitydodah, A place of unexpected discoveries and fortuitous happenstance.
Liz also has a private Facebook support group for moms of LGBT kids. If you are interested in joining the group email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with Mom’s Facebook Group as the subject.
This article about Liz tells her story and refers you to her helpful online resources.
Written by a wonderful woman who with her husband, spend their entire lives supporting and encouraging parents with gay kids.
“When our child told us they were attracted to the same sex, we were shocked. The usual questions flooded us: what would this mean for their life? Would they be safe? Would they ever have children? We truly had no idea what lay ahead. But here’s the realization that smacked us: we were now the ‘others.’ Over the three years following our child’s revelation, we met many Christian parents of gay kids, and realized we were not the only ones to see that the emperor had no clothes. I believe that God is shaking the church until what’s left is the unshakable: God. There IS a way to love your LGBTQ child without sacrificing your faith. We can have more peace than we ever knew possible, and joy beyond our wildest dreams, as our children flourish in God’s inexhaustible love for them. I hope you will join me on this quest.” – Susan Cottrell
Susan and her husband also provide a private secret Facebook support group of Moms of LGBTQ kids – and also a similar group or Moms of Trans kids. AND Rob Cottrell runs a similar group or DADS of LGBTQ kids. People can email me at email@example.com for the Moms groups – and firstname.lastname@example.org for the Dads group.
One of the best books available to better understand just why there is such a high incidence of addiction and life problems among gay men. I highly recommend this book to better grasp the real reasons behind destructive behavior!
Today’s gay man enjoys unprecedented, hard-won social acceptance. Despite this victory, however, serious problems still exist. Substance abuse, depression, suicide, and sex addiction among gay men are at an all-time high, causing many to ask, “Are we really better off?” Drawing on contemporary research, psychologist Alan Downs’s own struggle with shame and anger, and stories from his patients, The Velvet Rage passionately describes the stages of a gay man’s journey out of shame and offers practical and inspired strategies to stop the cycle of avoidance and self-defeating behavior. Updated to reflect the effects of the many recent social, cultural, and political changes, The Velvet Rage is an empowering book that has already changed the public discourse on gay culture and helped shape the identity of an entire generation of gay men.
A great book to listen to the heart of a really good guy who happens to be Christian and gay, his struggle and his victory.
As a teenager and young man, Justin Lee felt deeply torn. Nicknamed “God Boy” by his peers, he knew that he was called to a life in the evangelical Christian ministry. But Lee harbored a secret: He also knew that he was gay. In this groundbreaking book, Lee recalls the events–his coming out to his parents, his experiences with the “ex-gay” movement, and his in-depth study of the Bible–that led him, eventually, to self-acceptance.
If you really want to read and study contemporary culture, the church, and homosexuality, this book, written by a straight man, is one of the best!
In A Time to Embrace William Stacy Johnson brilliantly analyzes the religious, legal, and political debates about gay marriage, civil unions, and committed gay couples. This new edition includes updates that reflect the many changes in laws pertaining to civil unions / same-sex marriage since 2006.