During adolescence, emotional doors open and the truth is yearning to find its way out. This is especially true for gay adolescents who need to tell their families about who they are, while facing the great fear of being rejected.
And rejection is a very real consequence. All across the country gay boys and girls are bullied to the point of violence. Eventually, some gay adolescents choose suicide. They arrive at the conclusion that it is better to take their life than have to face rejection day after day. This is true of Billy Lucas, age 15, Seth Walsh, age 13, Tyler Clementi, age 18, and Asher Brown, age 13. All four of these boys took their life in September 2012 because of being bullied for their homosexuality.
You can imagine the difficulty then for teens that feel the need to tell their parents, their families. They want to come out and tell them who they are and at the same time they fear being rejected like they are at school and socially. Of course, often the challenge for parents is the belief that homosexuality is wrong. For some, homosexuality is a religious violation that means religious consequences, such as going to hell.
This was the case for one boy’s mother who was devastated when her son told her that he was gay. Joan knew that her son Jonathan had been depressed for some time. She knew that something was wrong and that he was keeping it from her. Finally, Jonathan conceded to his mother’s pleas to tell her what was wrong. But, Joan never expected what he told her. She had seen her son being very male – playing sports and very physically active during his youth. Plus, her religious views said that homosexuality was sinful and worthy of punishment.
Despite her confusion and worry, she did not share her fears with her son. She continued to accept and love him. Her decision to do this was confirmed when he said, “I don’t care if anybody else accepts me as long as you do.” She knew at the point that she needed to stay by his side. And when he told her that he had been experiencing bullying at school for being gay, she said to herself, “I knew I would have to be his protector and guide.”
And this is the great task of parents of gay teens: to love them no matter what, to balance the love for their children with their religious and moral beliefs.
Indeed, there are challenges that come with raising a gay teen. Joan took on those challenges with great fervor. She wanted to do anything she could to ease Jonathan’s adolescent experience, a time when he is discovering his identity and finding his way into adulthood. The first step she took was educating herself, including learning that LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. She began attending the LGBT annual parade with her son and joined a LGBT support group for parents. PFLAG – Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays – is one of the largest communities of support for the LGBT population, and they have local chapters where she could develop relationship with other LGBT parents. She even researched the local, state, and federal laws for homosexual individuals. To work through her religious and moral beliefs about homosexuality while staying by her son’s side, she began to attend therapy, a service provided by PFLAG.
Jonathan began attending therapy too. For gay teenagers, therapy could include issues such as how to deal with social prejudices, how to manage the aftermath of “coming out”, distinguishing a true sense of self out of the chaos of family and social expectations, in addition to the concerns that are already typical for adolescence. Without having a place to vent frustration, stress, and anxieties, being a gay adolescent can be difficult. An adolescent who is carrying the weight of these issues can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns for a gay teen. Furthermore, research has proven that rates of suicide are higher among adolescents who are gay or lesbian than among heterosexual teens.
A therapist treating gay adolescents must be sensitive to these concerns, and the right therapist can provide treatment that facilitates a teen’s walk through judgments at home, at school, or in the workplace. For example, although a teen may not have openly admitted his or her sexual orientation, at times certain behavior, dress, speech, and hand movements can invite criticism, insults, and harassment. Learning how to cope with these difficult situations as well as manage the feelings that result are part of the therapeutic experience.
Therapy was a critical part of the healing for Jonathan and his mother. Today, they realize that Jonathan’s adolescence brought them closer together.
Miller, K. (n.d.) Gay Teens Bullied to the Point of Suicide. Ladies’ Home Journal. Retrieved May 20, 2014 from: http://www.lhj.com/relationships/family/raising-kids/gay-teens-bullied-to-suicide/?page=1