16, 2001 by
life's tragedies, the suicide of a child must be one of the
cruelest. And the suicides of gay and lesbian kids must be
particularly cruel, especially to parents who aren't homophobic
and had no idea their child was gay until after the trigger was
pulled or the noose went taut.
speaking to PFLAG chapters over the years, I have met several
parents of gay kids who committed suicide, and their refrain is
always sadly similar: "If only we had known. Why didn't we send
the right signals to our children, telling them we would have
loved them no matter what?"
a good question, and not just for parents of kids who commit
suicide. Almost all lesbian and gay teens go through a terrible,
lonely stage when they feel they have no one to turn to, not
even their own family members--sometimes especially not their
own family members. It's a phase that can leave lasting psychic
damage even to the vast majority who survive it. And it's a
passage that we, as a community and a movement, should work to
to do that would be to send a public service message to all
parents, a message that says: You may have a gay child, and
here's how to deal with that possibility now, before any damage
our community's youth programs are directed at kids who are
already in the process of coming out or those who are being
actively harassed because they're gay or perceived to be gay.
And most programs and messages for adults are tailored to
parents who already know they have a gay child. Groups like
Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the Gay,
Lesbian, and Straight Education Network do a fabulous job of
helping to educate and support such families as well as
campaigning to turn schools and youth organizations into safe
and accepting environments where gay kids can come out without
fear of harassment.
most deeply closeted gay kids, home is where the greatest fear
is. And those kids in the worst pain--and at the highest
risk--tend to be those who have not confided to anyone that they
are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even "questioning"--in other
words, the truly invisible kids who often live in terror of what
their families would do if they dared to come out.
these kids need to hear from their families is a general message
of acceptance: That lesbian and gay is perfectly OK. That I, the
parent, would love you, the child, just as much if I knew you
course, parents who are committed homophobes would never send
such a message. But even among accepting parents there are
probably still very few who send this message, because they
don't think of it, they don't consider the possibility their
child might be gay, it's embarrassing, it's hard to bring up,
parents need to be reminded directly and continuously: Your
child might be gay, even though you don't know it. And if your
child is gay, that child is at vastly higher risk of anxiety,
confusion, despair, and, yes, sometimes even suicide. But there
are things you can say and do, a message of love and acceptance
you can deliver and deliver now, before any damage is done.
not exactly unprecedented. We've all seen those public service
ads that say, "Talk to your child about drugs." We've seen the
same kinds of campaigns about sex education. These campaigns
make perfect sense. Experts have learned a lot about the best
ways to deal with substance abuse and teenage sexuality, and the
home is almost always the best place to get those messages
across. But parents need to be educated before they can educate
about a campaign that says, "Millions of American kids are gay
and at risk. So talk to your children and let them know you love
them, no matter how they choose to love"?
not a bad message, even for straight kids to hear. And who
knows? It might even get the 'phobes to start thinking.