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Emily Rizzo

October 1996

The Parents' Corner

Coming out is for parents, too

National Coming Out Day is celebrated each year on October 11th. It's become a day for gay, lesbian and bisexual people every where to announce their sexual orientation even if it's just wearing a pink triangle button to work or class. But it's also a day for parents and other family members to come out too.

I've often heard parents say "I have no problem with my child being gay but why should I talk about it with others? After all, I don't talk about my straight child's sex life." There are a couple of fallacies in that statement.

The first is that homosexuality is much more than what happens in the bedroom. Many people still believe in the 1950's model of sexual orientation as encompassing sexual acts alone whereas today we know it includes a broad spectrum of human behavior and the way we relate to other human beings.

Second, heterosexuality is so taken for granted in our society that most straight people don't even see how they project their sexual orientation, whether it's a photo of a spouse on the desk or talking about children or what the family did over the weekend.

There are some very good reasons for parents and family members to come out. By doing so, they send a very clear signal that homosexuality is acceptable and respectable, a fit topic for casual discussion. It's also the best way I know to put an end to homophobic remarks and jokes. Not only will people think twice about making an anti-gay comment in your presence but it might stop them in general -- after all, they never know who else might have a gay child!

Coming out as a parent is a wonderful way to get others to come out as well. Several times now when I've mentioned that I have a gay son a straight person will say "oh, I have a lesbian sister but I've never told anyone before" or "my daughter is gay, and it's such a relief to be able to talk about it." The presence of a sympathetic adult can be just the impetus a young gay person needs to come out on the job. Some companies even allow employees to put up signs that their cubicle or office is "gay friendly" space.

How can a parent come out? It's easy! Parents of older children are used to being asked "is your son/daughter married?" Why not simply say "well, she's got a life partner and they'd love to get married but unfortunately same sex marriages aren't allowed yet." Or simply drop a reference to "my son's boyfriend said..." and see what happens!

Just as gay people can feel a sense of liberation by coming out, so can their parents. Closets are no fun for anyone.

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