The adolescent and teen years are almost universally awkward (for kids and parents alike!). Imagine coping with the normal ups and downs associated with coming of age, and adding to the mix the challenges of being a youth who questions their sexual orientation. The usual mix of hormones, peer-pressure, and overall angst pales to the unique struggles faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
Most gay youth report feeling unsafe in their school due to their sexual orientation, with a majority reporting being verbally harassed and many also subjected to violence.
Perhaps most painful of all, however, is when gay youth are rejected by their own families. Imagine having to go from an unaccepting school environment, say, to a household that's equally unfriendly. Gay youth make up a disproportionately high number of homeless teens, and no wonder: these kids often don't have a "home" or safe place to go when coping with harassment and abuse, and may even be forced from their homes by families who can’t, or won’t, accept them.
But this isn't always the case. Many gay youth find support among family anf friends. For those who don't though, there are places you can turn for support. One place to start is YouthResource, a website for LGBT youth which offers a database of peer education groups, campus groups, gay-straight alliances, and community-based youth groups in your area, as well as a list of national hotlines and other resources.
What if I'm not sure?
Many people feel attracted to people of the same sex. This can lead someone to wonder whether or not they are gay. Deciding you are gay often happens gradually, it may not be something you can initially put a name to, and it can feel very confusing.
“I kept telling myself sooner or later I'd start finding women attractive. I tried dating women to, you know, get things started. I hated it though. I felt so fake. The older I got the more I realized I really was attracted to men, not women! I finally had to admit to myself I was gay. It was really quite a shock when it hit me.”
Parents can help by simply being there for their kids. Even when they are uncomfortable with a child’s questions his or her sexual orientation; parents can still offer love and support. Remember that the things you want for your child - a good education, loving relationships, career success, health, happiness, making a difference in the world – don’t change because he or she is gay. The important thing is to recognize the challenges these kids face, and understand just how important to them your love and faith are.
So if you’re uncomfortable, acknowledge it, but also affirm that you care. Let them know you love them, even as you may find it difficult to understand or embrace everything about them. Again, don’t worry about being perfect, just be willing to love and allow them into your heart and your home.
Remember that gay teens are probably their own harshest critics. They’re almost certainly hurting. They really need you. Just knowing that parents love them is much more powerful than you can imagine. As one observer put it, “Once you’ve been rejected by your family…what’s left?”
If you're looking for more information on supporting your child, or looking for support and information for yourself, the organization Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) has resources to help. PFLAG supports LGBT people, their families and friends through local PFLAG chapter helplines and support group meetings and locally and nationally produced resources. PFLAG also educates families and provides public education on sexual orientation, gender identity and LGBT issues.