Coming out to your Christian parents can be a real risk. You put everything on the line, and you don’t know what will happen. Will they come alongside you? Or disown you?
I’m a mom of five kids, and we spent more than 20 years in the evangelical church. My oldest daughter came out about 10 years ago and soon after, my youngest daughter came out. We embraced them immediately, but many parents don’t.
I wanted to write to you today to give you some important advice: hope for the best… and prepare for the worst—because honestly, you may not know ahead of time which way it will go.
It’s like watching for a tropical storm on the horizon—it may just blow by you and go out to sea—or it may turn into a Cat 5 hurricane that will destroy everything in its path! Or anywhere in-between.
The more hurricanes you’ve seen—either on the news or for real—the more you realize what a risk they can be.
Please don’t think I’m insensitive, comparing someone’s coming out story to hurricanes like Harvey or Irma. Really. Those events caused real and lasting destruction and death. The last thing I want to do is offend those terrorized by such events.
I am using that analogy to point out that a family’s response can be like a hurricane to the one it hits. LGBTQI people have lost their families and communities; they’ve been made homeless, their personal belongings thrown away or burned on the lawn. If it happens to you, it is a personal hurricane. I’m here to give you a heads-up about talking to your parents.
How To Prepare for the Potential Hurricane of Coming Out!
- Take Care of You.
- Make a plan. If you’re in a position of risk—you’re still living at home, or your parents are paying for your college—then consider that carefully. It can be soul crushing to wait until you’re beyond your parents’ support before you come out, so you have to weigh the risk.
If you do come out, have a plan of what you’ll do if it turns bad. Have someone on-call or have someone with you. Or go to a public place.
Over the years, I’ve helped a lot of young people to come out to their parents, and here’s how some of them do it. One guy came out to his mom at a coffeeshop, and he held onto the keys because he was afraid she might take off. One woman put campus security on speed-dial before she came out to her parents in her dorm room. One teen was so used to his parents’ volatile abuse, yelling and throwing the Bible at him—that his grandmother went with him to tell his parents. They did go ballistic, so his grandmother took him to live with her right then and there… and they grabbed the bag he had ready. What would you put in that bag? Anything you’d want to have if you suddenly were displaced. Your devices. Any paperwork that would be hard to replace—like birth certificate, drivers license, social security card, passport if you have one. And cash. I don’t want to scare you! Just better safe than sorry. Better to laugh about having a bag you don’t need, than to cry about needing a bag you don’t have!
It can be hard to tell if your parents will lose it completely. But the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. After a devastating hurricane, FEMA surveys the area and determines “no-build zones.” In some cities, the same areas are devastated by multiple hurricanes. How many times does it take to stop building on areas that have been repeatedly devastated?
If your parents have a history of flying off the handle, of telling you about God’s will and God’s wrath, they’ll probably do that again. Consider carefully before you say something you can’t unsay. Take it instead as an indication that you should be ready to evacuate if the storm comes.
Hope for the best… prepare for the worst.
- Take Care of Your Family.
- Give them some time. Because here’s the deal: they did not go through all the preparation that you did, so their heads may be spinning. They’re afraid: for you, for them, and for what this might mean. They’re likely to be running the program the culture or the church has installed in them. They don’t yet understand God’s full love and inclusion. If you can stay calm—even if they’re not—it will help you… and them.
Of course, LGBTQI people have seen the devastation—they’ve seen the damage of hurricanes, so to speak—as their friends have found themselves homeless, or beaten up, or cut off from everything. Just the fact that their child had to think about preparing for a bad outcome, is sobering to parents!
They may be devastated that you carried this around, alone, for so long. Here’s what you can do for them: tell them you’re all good, all is well, they didn’t cause this, and they don’t need to regret anything—but that you do need them to love you and to be there for you now.
- Also, be ready to offer resources and answer their basic questions. Like, “Are you sure,” “How do you know?” “But you dated so-and-so…” Again it’s new to them. This is a gift on your part, btw—not an obligation. You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to. Assure them that you can always talk again after they have worked through the resources. Look at FreedHearts.org for many things you can share with them. And all of this only holds as long as they’re respectful. Don’t take abuse. (If they’re abusive, you go into that plan you prepared!)
On the other hand, they may not be ready to talk, and you may have to wait. That’s fair.
- Recognize that your parents’ response reveals them, not you.
In other words, if they say terrible things to you, hateful, vicious words, that is because that is their worldview, NOT because you deserve it.
When affirming pastor Tony Campolo was a college chaplain, a student came to him crying—terrified because someone had threatened to out her to her parents. She was sure they would disown her. So Tony called them right then and said, “I have your daughter in my office.”
The dad said, “Oh, she’s a great girl—great student, kind, loving…”
Tony said, “Yes, and in just a moment I’m going to find out if you’re worthy to be her father.” You see? Because that dad’s response reveals him, not her.
Hope for the best… and prepare for the worst.
- Remember the Truth About You! No matter how your family reacts, they do love you. They just may be so clouded with fear that they’ve lost sight of that. But it’s still true.
I don’t know what your mom or dad will say, but I will tell you what this mom says. You are worthy. You belong. You matter. You deserve to love and to be loved—as you are, for who you are. That’s the truth.
We have a lot of resources, including courses and groups for parents; courses, stand-in Moms and Dads, and chosen family groups for LGBTQ. If I can help you, or your parents, on this journey, please just come say hello at FreedHearts.org