Ask a Counselor: My child is LGBTQ. What should I do?

by Kay Bruner on April 6, 2017

A Life Overseas is not a policy-making institution, but rather a support system for missionaries and Christians living overseas.  My experiences and opinions are my own, and I am solely responsible for them.  I am not speaking for other writers or editors.  

Due to the controversial nature of this topic, comments will be moderator-approved before posting.   

Anyone who needs help and support can write to me personally, here.  

A missionary friend of mine told me the other day that when she learned that her child was part of the LGBTQ community, she felt as if she had been cast into a wilderness.

The news came right at the beginning of Lent, and, ironically, her church had asked her to preach on the story of Hagar.  As she worked through the story of Hagar, and how the angel of the Lord found Hagar and cared for her in the wilderness, my friend started thinking about all the other stories in the Bible of wildernesses and angels who visited the wanderers there.

My friend said,

“And an image came to mind: I remembered that in old maps, when the artists didn’t know what to include, there would be a blank and ‘here be dragons’.  Maybe in a ‘wilderness’ of whatever sort (depression, bereavement, unemployment, etc), we can write in ‘here be angels’. For now, I have to walk through this one day at a time, but who knows, round some bend in the path, maybe an angel will show up.”

 

When a parent learns that a child is part of the LGBTQ community they may feel exactly like my friend: like they are struggling in a wilderness waiting for an angel.

But their child has been in the wilderness as well – and may have been there alone for a long time.

About 4% of the adult population in the US identifies as LGBTQ.

Right now, we’ve got about 10,000 followers on our Facebook page.  If each one of those followers represented just one child, that’s 10,000 children.

4% of 10,000 is 400.

400 kids who will one day reveal to their parents that they’re part of the LGBTQ family.

400 families who will experience the wilderness, too.

Some of our families and kids are already in that wilderness.  I know, because they write and tell me so.  I know, because they are my clients.  I know, because they are my friends.

Every parent of LGBTQ kids that I’ve ever talked to loves their kid, and wants to the do the best they can for their child.  

The problem is, they don’t know what to do. They’re confused by the varying stories they hear about the LGBTQ world, and most of them are too scared to talk to anybody about it.  

This article is for those parents, the ones who are going to hear this news from a child that they love, and wonder, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Here is the first, most vital, overarching thing you must do:

LOVE AND ACCEPT YOUR CHILD, JUST AS THEY ARE.

FOR YOUR LGBTQ CHILD, THE FIRST ANGEL IS YOU.

ACCEPTANCE IS LITERALLY A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

Let me tell you why.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for all young people ages 10-24.  At this already-vulnerable time of life, LGBTQ youth are figuring out that they are different, that they’re part of just 4% of the population, a population that’s regularly been characterized as an abomination, and blamed for everything from Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of the nuclear family.  These are the things they’ve likely heard in church, and possibly from friends and family.

Remember that coupled with their feelings about their gender identity or sexual orientation is the identity of being a third culture kid. This can make their journey exponentially more complicated.

It’s not surprising, then, that LGBTQ adolescents are FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide than their peers.

Even more horrifying, LGBTQ youth from highly-rejecting families are EIGHT TIMES more likely to attempt suicide.  Source

For example, after the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality in the summer of 2015, the LDS Church in Utah ruled that, regardless of the SCOTUS ruling, the LDS church would declare apostate those in same-sex marriages.  In the two months following the LDS announcement, 32 LDS LGBTQ youth committed suicide.

By contrast, “family acceptance in adolescence is associated with young adult positive health outcomes (self-esteem, social support, and general health) and is protective for negative health outcomes (depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and attempts).” Source

It is also worth noting that family rejection has been shown to increase sexual risk-taking.

To keep your child as safe as possible:

  • Accept them as they are.
  • Love them unconditionally.  Which means: totally without condition.

Think back to the day before your child confided in you. You delighted in them; delighted in their amazing personality and unique gifts. They are still amazing. They still have unique gifts. What has changed is that now you know the inner turmoil and pain that they have been feeling; you have been invited into their wilderness and they have honored you with their story.

No matter what your child tells you, there are 4 things that will always be the right thing to say:

  • I love you.
  • Thank you for telling me.
  • How can I help?
  • No matter what happens, we’ll get through this together.

ACCEPTING YOUR CHILD DOES NOT MEAN YOU’LL BE “CONDONING SIN.”

  • You don’t have to accept that promiscuity is okay. 

Just because someone is LGBTQ doesn’t mean they are promiscuous.  The Christian LGBTQ people I know aren’t promiscuous at all.  They want to manage their sexuality in healthy ways just like I want to do with my own. As a therapist, I would see sexual acting-out as a sign of deep pain.  Acceptance should help with this (the research shows), and therapy can help as well.  Even if your child is acting out, LOVE.  Especially if your child is acting out, LOVE.

  • You don’t have to accept a progressive view of Those Six Passages.   

Your child may accept a progressive view of scripture, and you may not. You can disagree about the Bible and still treat each other with love and care. People don’t do this very well or very often, but it absolutely is possible.  If you struggle to reconcile acceptance without being “unbiblical,” you may find comfort in Greg Boyd’s Third Way.

  • You don’t have to accept marriage equality.  

In the past decade, two thoughts have emerged around marriage equality. Side A believes that LGBTQ people have God’s blessing to marry, just as straight people do. Side B believes that LGBTQ people should remain celibate.

Most conservative Christian parents are comforted by the idea that Side B exists, and hopeful that their child will choose Side B.  However, as a therapist, I would suggest that how your child chooses to manage their gender identity and sexual orientation will be their decision, not yours.  I would encourage you to try to understand where both Side A and Side B are coming from, so you’re ready for what your child chooses.  (Resources included below.)

I have gay friends my age (I’m in my 50’s) whose parents never “agreed” or  “affirmed” — but they were able to accept and LOVE their gay kids anyway, just as they are.  I think that’s an incredibly powerful act of faith which all of us can emulate, regardless of what we think the Bible says or how we wish others would choose to live their lives.

If your child does choose celibacy, be aware of the incredible burden that celibacy places upon your child in Western culture.  For some background on this, please read Brett Trapp’s blog, Blue Babies Pink.

  • You DO need to accept that your child’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation is not a sin.  

Our sexual orientation, in and of itself, is not a sin.

Being straight is not a sin, although straight people do many sinful things.  Some of those sinful things involve our sexuality, and many of them don’t.

Same goes for LGBTQ people.

  • You DO need to understand what the reputable evidence shows, regarding choice and change.

There is NO peer-reviewed science to support the idea that sexual orientation is a choice.  There is NO peer-reviewed evidence to show that sexual orientation is the result of abuse or bad parenting.  In fact, the reputable evidence shows that sexual orientation is a matter of birth.

You can read a summary of many relevant research articles here.

The best article I’ve found about the medical realities for transgender people is here.

The nugget is this:

“Based on available scientific evidence, the jury is no longer out – sexual orientation is programmed into the brain of an infant prior to birth. The evidence includes studies of genetics, prenatal hormonal impact, maternal immunity, and other prenatal factors.”  Joani Lea Jack, Christian mom, pediatrician, and member of the LGBT provisional section of the American Academy of Pediatrics

GET YOUR SELF-CARE ON, PARENTS. 

Remember the “Ring Theory” of care: put the person needing care in the center of the circle.  Then follow the simple rule: comfort in, dump out.

Your child is in the center of the circle.

Bring COMFORT IN to your child.

  • Love.
  • Support.
  • Listen.
  • Give hugs.
  • Find a therapist, if needed.
  • Get them into a support group if possible.
  • Accept their decisions about how to live their lives, even if you don’t agree.

Then, find a place that’s safe for you to DUMP OUT, and get the support you need in return.

Find your angels.  They are here, even in the wilderness.

  • Find a counselor who can help you process your emotions and create healthy boundaries.
  • Educate yourself with the resources listed below.
  • Find safe friends who will walk with you.
  • Find a support group:  connect with other Christian parents of LGBTQ kids who are faithfully loving their kids.

There is help in the wilderness.  You are not alone.

I’d like to end with a word from Brett Trapp who tells his Southern Christian coming-out story at Blue Babies Pink:

I wish I could find every parent who will eventually have a child come out to them, look them in the eye, and tell them:

When you least expect it, a battered child who’s been lost at sea will show up on your doorstep. This is your child, but it’s a version of them you’ve never met.
They will be haggard—long tangled hair, skinny, ragged clothes, dirty feet. They look like this because they’re worn out—exhausted—from many years at sea, alone in a lifeboat with no water, no map, and no paddle. You had no idea, but that’s not your fault. 
Next, welcome them inside. Offer them a drink.
After a few moments, they’re going to swallow hard and tell you they’ve been on a journey. Know that by the time they get to your doorstep, they will have had to muster every last ounce of courage and energy. In fact, getting to your doorstep may have been the hardest part of their journey. 
Your next job is to listen. And believe what they tell you…

And dear parent, whatever you do, don’t lecture them.
Don’t shame them for being in that boat. Don’t tell them that God hates people in lifeboats. Tell them that God loves those few souls in rafts just like he loves the rest on land. And remember, that you aren’t the survivor here. They—THEY—are the ones that have been on a long, lonely journey. Remember this.
Ask them if they ever saw land in the distance.
Ask them if they ever saw land-dwellers on the horizon and if they ever screamed for help. Apologize for those people that didn’t hear them or the ones who held up giant signs saying, “GOD HATES PEOPLE IN LIFEBOATS.” Tell them you’re sorry they had to see that and that you would have ripped up those signs if you could. 
Ask them if they ever put a message in a bottle and tossed it into the sea, hoping it might reach someone on land.
Tell them you wished you’d found that message. In fact, grab them by the shoulders, look them right in the eye, and tell them you would have done anything to find it if that meant getting to you sooner. Tell them you would have drowned yourself to get to them. Then tell them you wished we didn’t live in a world where scared kids had to put messages in bottles. Tell them that’s unjust. 
And finally, tell them they’re no longer alone, no longer out on those high seas.
Tell them they’re on land now and land has homes. And homes are filled with love, and love is the thing that makes the boat stop rocking. Love is the thing that calms those storms. Love is the thing that scares off black shadows in black waters. And that as long as they are breathing, they will have a home, and they will never ever be alone.”

RESOURCES

LGTBQ Christians speak:

Torn, Justin Lee (Side A)

Blue Babies Pink, Brett Trapp (Side B)

Dialogue on LGBTQ experiences at Biola University  (Side A, Side B discussion with Justin Lee and Wesley Hill)

Christian allies share their journeys to LGBTQ acceptance:

Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, Kathy Baldock

Changing our Mind, David P. Gushee

The Baptist Pastor and His Transgender Friends, TEDx Talk, Mark Wingfield

Resources for the LGBTQ community and their allies:

Canyonwalker Connections

The Gay Christian Network

For adults seeking to reconcile faith and their LGBTQ identity, web-based therapy is available at The Christian Closet.

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About Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell and blogs at www.kaybruner.com. She is available for counseling at her office in Dallas or via skype for a reduced rate to clients overseas. For more information go to: www.kaybruner.com/counseling
  • Marla Taviano

    This is awesome, Kay. Thank you so much!! Since you’re moderating these comments, you can just delete mine after you read it. Just wanted you to know that I LOVE Brett Trapp’s story (soooo good) and he’s become a fb friend of mine (and, by that, I mean we’ve exchanged several fb messages/voice messages). He’s not on “Side B” though. A few weeks ago he opened up about his boyfriend that he’s been seeing for several months now. Just don’t want anyone to feel misled.

  • Anna Wegner

    Thank you for your article encouraging loving compassion and understanding. I appreciate that you spoke to parents on both sides of the issue.

  • Kathy

    Big thumbs up Kay. Well done!

  • Erika Loftis

    Oh man, I am so so grateful to read this. I haven’t even been brave enough to “come out” as a non-hater in a Christian community… (I really hope that when it has come time, though, I have demonstrated love and acceptance…) Thanks for writing this. Thanks for the resources.

  • Amy Medina

    I believe that God asks us to unconditionally love, but not always to unconditionally accept. I recommend the books by Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan to balance out the resources suggested here.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Love those two. I have heard both of them speak and met Christopher at a conference. Glad you mentioned them.

  • ELH

    So, so well written, Kay. Thank you. This kind of writing saves lives – literally.

  • Ruthann

    Thank you for your article. From your recommendation I have listened to the discussion held at Biola University between Justin Lee and Wesley Hill. It has given me much to digest. Again, thank you for today’s post.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Well done. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for living this. I admire you.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    This is such an important topic, Kay, and definitely needs addressing. There’s so much loneliness, isolation, and sadness surrounding these struggles, and the Church needs to be leading the way in offering love and support.

    For anyone looking for other “Side B” resources, I’ve found Wesley Hill to be helpful. He’s written “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality,” as well as “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.”

  • Donny Hilgeman

    I’m fortunate to have parents who demonstrably loved my husband even though they didn’t agree with us on homosexuality.
    My parents were missionaries for 40 years in Bolivia and learned early on that not everyone was going to agree with their message — and it was still ok to continue loving those people who didn’t – not just in words but in actions. They reached more people that way than by blocking them out of their lives. You pretty much have to learn this principle early on if you’re a missionary. They genuinely loved Mark and treated him like a son (Mark’s Mom did the same for me. Our parents were cut from the same cloth). Whether or not you agree, it is still really important to read this post – how you react could be a matter of life or death with your child, or family member, or friend.

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Thank you for responding to this and for this testament of love that you and your parents display for each other.

  • Matthew Davis

    Thank you for bringing home the message to unconditionally love and accept our children through every circumstance. As a father of adult sons I am acutely aware of their need to know that dad approves of them and loves them – no matter what. I have some questions though about the assertion later in the article that sexual orientation (same sex attraction) is programmed from birth. There are simply too many testimonies of those who have sought and found freedom from unwanted same sex attraction to support the inevitability of this assertion, and that changes everything. Would it be possible to also feature the alternative perspective on this issue?

    • Hi Matthew. Thanks for asking this important question. My background taught me this, as well. I heard the stories of conversion, and they sounded so hopeful and wonderful! Three things challenged my assumptions in this area. First, I met LGBTQ Christians who were absolutely desperate to change their orientation, had been in conversion therapy programs for years, and had been unable to shift their sexual orientation. This was cause for enormous pain and suffering to those people. Second, tthere is no peer-reviewed research to support the idea of change in this area. Surely if “conversion” were so common, there would be good research to show for it. Instead, what we have are simply personal stories. Now please hear me: I absolutely believe that each person has the right and responsibility to choose for themselves how they handle what they’ve got in terms of sexual orientation. So I am not wanting to heap any judgment or shame on those who share these stories. I would urge you to be aware of the language that is often used in these stories. Are people saying that their sexual orientation has change from gay to straight, or are they saying that they have “left the gay and lesbian lifestyle?” The ones I hear are in the second category, and it means that the person is choosing to live as a straight person, while still having their original sexual orientation. Again, it’s not my place to judge! They can choose to do this if they want. But be aware of the words that are being used and what they actually mean. Third, be aware of the collapse of Exodus International in 2013, where 90% of Christian people with the best of intentions were not able to sustain the kind of changes to orientation that they had hoped for. Again, thank you for asking this important question.

      • Tricia Wilson

        I hope you will blog on this topic as well.

  • Lynn C

    Thank you Kay. I am the parent of two 30 something adults. I wasn’t as good at saying and modeling these 4 statements when my kids were young as I would have liked. I wish they had been articulated for me as you have done but I am so thankful that we serve a God who redeems. My relationship with each of my kids have never been bad but they have been strained at times. It was when I practiced these 4 things that things have improved. We as parents love our kids more than life itself but we certainly miss the mark sometimes in showing it and convincing them of that fact. Thank you for being one of the people who helps us be better parents.

  • Tricia Wilson

    Kay, thank you, thank you, thank you. I will be sharing this all along my journey. This is so very helpful. Linked to you through Brett Trapp’s 5 question Friday. Met him face to face in Atlanta last week, and he and his boyfriend are lovely human beings. Thank you again.

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