How to ‘Come Around’ to your kid coming out

Author Anne Dohrenwend with her son Leo. Dohrenwend is a professor and Ph.D. in counseling psychology.

Fighting for the rights of LGBTQ Americans have initiated kiss-ins, parades, protests, marches and a wide array of fiery and bitter polemics from all sides of the political spectrum. But the public battles often begin with a quieter reality: the first time an LGBTQ person comes out to his or her parents. “Coming Around: Parenting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Kids,” a new book by Dr. Anne Dohrenwend, seeks to make that first conversation — and the subsequent ones — as relaxed and positive as possible.

“I want to give people a place to start,” Dohrenwend says of her book, which is written for liberal and conservative parents alike. “Often people do come around. After accepting and learning and loving your child who is gay, it breaks down the stereotypes.”

For Steve Scott, there was a long pause at the other end of the line 11 years ago when he called to tell his religious parents that he was gay. Now, Scott is a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and an active participant in the push for gay rights in California. For Scott, the conversation that began with telling his parents he was gay continues with the fight for marriage equality. Last week, Scott sent off a package with books and pamphlets for his father in Nebraska after the two engaged in a heated debate.

“It’s kind of an ongoing conversation; even now we’re still discussing issues,” Scott says. “I realize and understand it’s very tough for him. It’s something he’s actively trying to comprehend and register.”
According to Dohrenwend, Scott and his father are doing the most important thing: communicating. It is vital between parents and their LGBTQ child of any age, at all stages of the coming-out process.

“Kids are more resilient when they feel their parents accept them,” says Dohrenwend, who notes that this acceptance is particularly important when they come out earlier in life.

Tips for parents

How to communicate that, whatever your child’s sexual orientation, you will never withdraw your love:
   
Don’t try to change your child. It is unproductive to force children to be something that they are not.
   
Take a stance against discrimination and hate. Parents of LGBTQ children don’t need to march in parades or be active politically, but they should take a stance against discrimination.
   
Don’t give uninvited advice. Dohrenwend suggests that a good way to parent any child, especially an adult child, is to give less and less advice that isn’t asked for. Respecting boundaries is important.
   
Get to know your child’s friends and partner, and try to make them feel comfortable in your home. This is how parents of LGBTQ children can make sure their children stay near them and the communication lines stay open.


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