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Counseling Parents of Gay Children

Margit Cathrine Moller

The news of marriage equality in New York brought a renewed sense of hope to all gay men and women all over the world. But while we celebrate this as mark of a matured society, we also need to revisit the effect of this to their parents.

Gay people are usually encouraged to come out to their families as a sign of honesty, freedom, and responsibility. But not all parents are prepared for this coming out. They tend to react with anger, shame, guilt, disappointment, or shock. And understandably so, because no parent wants a child to go through the whole difficulty of being gay in a homophobic society.

An honest disclosure which is a freeing experience for the child may trigger a painful family crisis, which can lead to damaged relationships. Researchers have agreed that coming out to others is good for lesbians, gay men, and their relationships (Cain, 1991a,b; Caron and Ulin, 1997; LaSala, 1997), but coming out to parents is often the most stressful experience a gay person faces (Mallon, 1998). Studies show that parents react with shock, guilt, anger, embarrassment, and rejection when they learn that their children are homosexual (Ben-Ari, 1995; LaSala, 1998; Rothberg and Weinstein, 1996). More extreme reactions can include estrangement (Muller, 1987; Thompson, 1992), violence (Mallon, 1992), even threats of murder (Healy, 1992). Thus, it is important that parents go through counseling to help them understand their reactions and guide them towards a healthier response that unites rather than divides the family.

This kind of counseling usually entails helping parents address the emotional needs of coming-out. There is a grieving process that they need to go through as they need to let go of their own expectations and welcome the new reality.

Part of counseling is also providing parents with accurate information about gay lifestyles in order to overcome unfounded fears based on homophobic reactions such as incidents of AIDS, pedophilia, sexual promiscuity and others.

The intent of this kind of counseling is to empower parents so that they can deal with their own reactions, assist their child and manage the whole family towards healthy acceptance and creating a family support.