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How to come out to your parents, from moms and dads who regret their initial reactions

How to come out to your parents, from moms and dads who regret their initial reactions

Father and daughter at New York City Pride parade 2006

‘I would do everything differently,’ Narelle Phipps shares with Gay Star News. ‘I just sat at the table and said I was devastated.’

Her son Neil came out to her when he was 18 years old.

‘I cried almost non-stop for two weeks. I also don’t think I hugged him or told him I loved him,’ she said.

Coming out to your parents as LGBTI can be one of the most stressful moments of your life. But what if they aren’t supportive?

‘I burst into tears,’ Gillian Maury revealed, after both her son and daughter came out to her within six months of each other.

When her daughter came out, she broke down. She even said it was such a waste of good genes for her not to reproduce.

I really struggled with feeling I had no control over the situation and cried on and off every day/night for about a year,’ she said.

Portland Pride parade 2008
Portland Pride parade 2008 (Image: PortlandPictures.com | Flickr)

Vietnam War veteran Geoff Thomas could not believe he could ‘produce a gay son.’ When his son came out to him at the age of 28, Geoff asked himself: ‘Why do I hate gays?’

I grew up homophobic,’ he concluded, many years later.

We’ve written in the past about what to do if you think your parents are homophobic and might react negatively to you coming out.

Now we’ve asked some parents of LGBTI kids to offer some advice to other parents about coming to terms with their child’s sexuality.

Identify the problem thinking

‘I am that blokey bloke,’ Geoff said. ‘And I came to realize that most of what I had been taught was based on unfounded fear, ignorance and prejudice.’

I wanted to erase the homophobic jokes I told in front of my son and I felt deeply ashamed with my conduct,’ he said.

Gillian recalls: ‘I’m surprised that my reaction was so strong and so ignorant. I was thinking about myself and how everyone would judge me.’

Narelle agreed: ‘I am ashamed to say so much of it was about me. So much in life is about attitude.’

So they all decided to make a change.

It’s through research and the knowledge that comes with it, as well as conversations with LGBTI people that Geoff came to terms with his son’s sexuality.

He rose to fame when he asked a question on a national television program called Q&A to the then Opposition leader of Australia.

He was thrust into the spotlight as an activist for LGBTI rights.

‘I always thought that gays were weak. But I told my son I recognize the courage it took for him to come out,’ he said.

Prepare prepare prepare!

If you think your child might be LGBTI and they haven’t come out, preparation is everything. It’s all about equipping yourself with the most amount of information. But this also includes mental preparation.

Narelle said: ‘I had wondered about him being gay since he was 8, but I did nothing to prepare myself for the eventuality.

‘I would prepare myself so I could put my arms around him and tell him I loved him and we would support him wholeheartedly,’ she said.

Thankfully, her relationship with her son didn’t push him away for good.

Gillian said: ‘I had my suspicions about my son but thought that if I ignored the whole issue, it would go away. I had no suspicions about our daughter, so was very shocked.’

I work as a school counsellor, so it was a wake up call that I had to learn more about gay and lesbian issues,’ she added.

Washington DC Pride march 2007
Washington DC Pride march 2007 (Image: Alex Guerrero | Flickr)

The power of PFLAG

All of them have one very important thing in common: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

Through PFLAG, all of the parents found a support network with other parents going through the same thing.

Narelle said: ‘I found PFLAG profoundly helpful.

‘I am a very shy person, but I undertook training and became a PFLAG representative to speak at schools, the police service and various other organisations like banks and financial institutions. To raise awareness of what it’s like being the mother of a gay son,’ she said.

Geoff went on a similar journey and gives talks at schools and gay group sessions. He even painted the car he uses for his plumbing business for the recent marriage equality vote in Australia.

He said: ‘I drove the ute [car] to three states promoting the cause with local LGBTI groups and throughout Sydney on a daily basis. It will make its last appearance at the head of PFLAG in the [Sydney Mardi Gras] parade.’

All of the parents now have great relationships with their gay children.

Gillian’s advice is simple: ‘Let them know you’re always available to talk or have a coffee.’

Geoff said: ‘My simple message to others is to love your children.

‘You helped produce them, you have a responsibility to help raise them. Ensure they have every opportunity in life,’ he said.