what it's like…when your child comes out as gay

blog what its like child comes out as gay* this is part of a fall series here called “what it’s like…”, interviews with brave friends with real stories unfolding in their lives.  the first one is here.  

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one of the things that often gets ignored in so much of the conversations about homosexuality & church are the parents.  these are their babies people are talking about!  and it can be really confusing and hard to know what to do when your child says “i’m gay.”  i want you to meet my friend lisa*, a brave and awesome mommy who has been learning what it means to fully embrace her son’s journey. listen in to her story of what it feels like and what we can learn from her story.

describe a little bit about your background, faith experience, and what it was like for you when your son was honest with you?  

I come from a very conservative Christian background.  For years I was a leader in women’s ministry and taught women bible studies.  My son came out to me during his second year of college.  He told me that he was gay and that he did not think that being gay or being in a same sex relationship was wrong.  It was very difficult for me because I believed what the church had taught me – that same sex relationships were wrong in God’s eyes.  I knew my son was a good person and that he loved the Lord and was devoted to the church. My son and I went through some very difficult times and I am ashamed to say that in the beginning I reacted horribly. There was a lot of yelling and crying for a while but we finally ended up being able to have a relationship even though we disagreed about same sex relationships. Eventually I began to search out answers on my own. I studied scripture, prayed a lot and talked to people with different perspectives. Today I don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to condemn same sex relationships and that without sufficient evidence it would be an unjust act to do so.

what kind of reactions did you get from family, friends, church? 

Initially the main feedback that we received was to make sure that our son knew we loved him and to maintain a relationship with him.  However, later when people found out that I no longer believed that same sex relationships were wrong most people wanted to convince me that same sex relationships were sinful.  A lot of relationships ended up becoming almost non-existent after that.  No one ever said they were ending our relationship but a lot of people just stopped connecting.  Drawing from what I had observed in the past I assumed that a lot of people were whispering behind my back that I had gotten off track and were probably praying for me to be enlightened.  Even many of those that I have remained in relationship with often give me the impression that they are thinking that having a gay son has caused me to come to the wrong conclusion.  Of course, my opinion is that having a gay son has caused me to be able to see more clearly.  The saddest thing for me has been the division that this has caused for me with the church.  I have a lot of unresolved anger towards the church because I feel that for the most part the church has bent the truth regarding what scripture does and does not say about loving, monogamous, healthy same sex relationships and I hold the church responsible for the fact that my son had no safe place in his community to turn to when he was an adolescent.

what are some of the raw feelings you experienced during this season? 

Anger, fear, grief and loneliness were the main feelings that I remember having. Initially I was very angry with God.  I was very afraid about how my children would be treated by others.  I grieved the loss of the future I had imagined for my son and my family.  I was lonely because I felt like I had to be careful about who I told and so, for the most part, I was keeping it a secret.

what are some things that safe people did or said that have really helped you, your family?

The people that were most helpful were those who were primarily concerned with how we were all doing – individually and as a family.  They made time to be with us, not just to comfort us or check on us, but to spend time together and do something fun together. 

what are some things that people said or did that hurt, that you’d put in the category of “these kinds of things really harm souls so don’t do or say it”? 

The thing that hurt me the most was finding out that many people cared more about what I believed about same sex relationship than they cared about me, my son, or my family.  

There were so many things that people said (and still do) that were damaging.  I could make a long list but two things that bother me the most is when people compare my son’s sexual orientation to other “sins” such as stealing or pedophilia and when people say that it is possible for my son to change his sexual orientation. 

how has your relationship with God, others, yourself changed through this experience? 

My relationship with God has changed in that I leave a lot more room for mystery where he is concerned these days.  In other words, I have a lot more questions and a lot less answers.  It’s actually harder but I can’t go back now that I am here.

I think the main way that my relationship with others has changed is that I am now connected with a more diverse group of people. Becoming more humble about what I believe has made my faith act more like a bridge than a barrier.  I also believe that this experience has created more compassion, kindness and patience within me which goes a long way to improving relationships.  I am not saying I have arrived but only that I have improved from what I was before this.

As far as my relationship with myself … I’m a little easier on myself than I used to be. I don’t feel like I have to have everything nailed down these days.  I allow myself to not know something or not be sure about what I think about something.  It’s a freedom that I wasn’t accustomed to.  I like it.

if you had one word of advice for “the church” related to this often-charged topic, what would it be?  

“One” word of advice is very difficult for me as I have several pieces of advice so I am going to cheat and include three here but I will make them short.  (1) Create a safe environment for LGBT Christians to be honest and open, listen to them and learn from them  (2) Stop trying to make scripture say more than it does  (3) Stop treating people who disagree with you as if they are not serious, committed Christians.

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oh, these three words of advice are awesome!  thank you lisa for sharing your heart with us.  i know this small space can never capture all of your story but the part that resonates the most with me is how the thing every child needs the most is unconditional love.  it’s what we all need, especially when we are wrestling with these hard twists and turns we weren’t expecting life would bring us.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

37 Comments

  • “a lot of people just stopped connecting.”

    I recently had a very harsh falling out with a member of a church I used to attend over the Chick-fil-A thing. We weren’t close friends, but her daughter had been friends with my son and had been in a class I’d taught on Wednesday evenings. We were Facebook friends, so her stuff popped up on my wall occasionally.

    On the day that Christians flocked to restaurants to show “support,” she posted something about how awesome it was, how Christians should be diligent in speaking up. I said, “Yeah, because fags are such horrible people. Right?” She said that’s not what she meant, but of course that’s what she meant. We went back and forth. She said I should know her better than that. I told her that I really didn’t as we’d never really connected after I left the church, and even when I was there it was mostly about potlucks and spiritual high fives or other assorted Christian whatnot. We had never connected as honest people.

    So she blocked me.

    Yeah, I was a bit harsh. I tried to be civil at first. I pointed out that the chicken sandwich thing was not about free speech but about knowingly slapping homosexuals in the face for food. I simply got tired of all her Christianese. About how she loves the sinner but has an obligation to hate the sin. All that nonsense. I asked her how many homosexuals have pounded down her church door seeking salvation because of her prayers and loving spirit. Of course, there were none.

    When people refuse to connect, especially when things get tough and answers aren’t so black and white, or where emotions and feelings are raw and real, then people suffer.

    Thank you for having an open mind, Lisa. I wish I could have been there, to lend an ear and not judge. To tell your son that he is loved more than he can ever imagine.

    And thanks, Kathy, for this forum. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and I love the new look. And, as always, your heart . . .

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    • Brian – thank you, thank you, thank you! It is people like you (they may be in the minority but they are there) that got me through this whole thing without me completely writing off Christianity.

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    • thanks, brian, always great to hear from you here and i’m so glad we met out here all those years ago now. how time flies. and how i appreciate what you shared. without connection, we are toast in any kind of moving forward in any way, shape or form. then it’s just dumb arguments. but through relationship, eye to eye, heart to heart, everything shifts.

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  • Not a huge deal but could you correct the spelling error in the heading “when YOUR child comes out” 🙂

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  • This is really good! I love your “3 words of advice” too! What is needed IS a safe place to be open and honest and from there true listening and learning and healing happen. I like what you said about how it’s changed your relationship with God and others. I’ve experienced something similar after a different set of circumstances and I not only like it, but I have found that the real me has come out to live! Thank you for sharing!

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    • Thanks for your kind words! I do see some of these changes taking place in some churches so I do have hope that there will be more safe places for Christian lgbt people.

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  • As a fellow gay follower of Christ, it’s a really heartwarming read. I’ve also been fortunate with the most understanding and loving parents when I came out. Lisa, I’m so proud of you that you decided to stickwith your child. I’ve seen too many parents totally reject their children. 🙁

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    • Felix, I’m so glad to hear that your parents were understanding, loving and supportive of you and I appreciate your kind words to me but I cringe everytime i think about how I initially reacted towards my son. I wasn’t kind at first and I was condemning and judgemental. I realize that my initial reaction could have driven my son away or even worse, it could have driven him to harm himself. I regret that I wasn’t loving and kind from the beginning and I take every opportunity to encourage all parents to be gentle and loving with their child. I’m glad that my son cared enough to stick around and fight for our relationship. He taught me about a deeper and fuller kind of grace and love than I had ever known before which was one of the things that made me question what I had been taught. In recent years I have noticed that a lot of Christian lgbt people are more loving, gracious and kind than many straight Christians. Maybe it is because people who have been treated like outcasts by the church have had to embrace God more fully. I heard someone say once that people who suffer understand the message of Jesus in a way that other’s just don’t get.

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      • Tried to reply and accidentally it marked “unlike” … That is the opposite of my sentiment! “he taught me about a deeper and fuller kind of grace than I had ever known before….” How beautiful is that?

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  • Interesting read. i have felt for sometime now that Christians have treated gay people with so much judgement and not shown the love they would for someone with a different sin, they could ‘tolerate’ more. i would like to know Lisa, how you came to your decision that being gay was acceptable to God? I am not saying you are wrong, but i have always found from Romans 1 that homosexuality was wrong. I would love to be enlightened by what you have found. Always open to hearing other peoples take on scripture. Thanks for sharing. i feel profound grief for anyone who has to go through this issue as a Christian, as it would be a hard road to walk with all the hate and unloving, from so called Christian friends and church family. I hope you and yr family are doing well.

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    • thank you for taking time to share, tracy, and appreciate your question. looks like lisa responded. i always remember something very important, too, about the scriptures–we are terribly biased to the way we’ve been taught them. people say “God says…” but we need to be clear that it’s really “this is what i think God says….” and those are two different things. in the study that i did on this topic i did find the scriptures far less clear than what was taught to me in the previous circles i was in.

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  • Loved the section in his you’ve been changed by the experience … Having been discarded by the church myself, it’s relatively easy for me to love my fellow-marginalized gay Christians. My struggle is to love the religious Pharisees who consider themselves “better than” … I have trouble knowing how truth, grace, and love combine toward the haters …

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    • Janell – I have trouble loving the religious Pharisees myself and not just because of the way they may hurt me but because of the damage I see them doing to others – especially to young people who can’t really stand up for themselves.

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    • janell, i can relate, i sometimes call myself a reverse pharisee in that respect. it’s a place i am really trying to work on. you might like the new post i’ve got coming on a conversation we’ve been having at the refuge. oh i wish you lived closer!

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  • Beautifully said. Thank you for inviting this story and thanks to Lisa for sharing it.

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  • While I do not accept the more liberal perspective on homosexuality, I’m not interested in tarring and feathering anyone over it. Since no sexuality will exist outside of this current life, I don’t see that anyone will suffer eternal consequences for their choices, whether heterosexual or homosexual or truly any other “sin.” IMHO

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  • Instead of following Jesus example and his command to love our neighbors, it’s so much easier and makes us feel so much holier to expend our breath condemning what we have decided are other people’s “sins”. It’s not our fault if we have convinced parents to reject their LGBT children and then those children commit suicide. Or is it?

    Don’t waste your time arguing theology with those folks. Spend your time loving your son.

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  • Lisa – Like many other Bible passages, the “clobber passages” were written a long time ago in other languages, to people who were very different than us who lived in cultures very different than ours. At the very most, their meanings are very ambiguous. Most likely, they were not meant to say what many churches teach they say.

    I have links to one or two excellent papers that are available online that speak to these passages and issues. I don’t want to post links here (since they don’t present the conservative viewpoint someone might get upset), but if you want the links, e-mail Kathy, she can contact me, I’ll send her the links and she can forward them to you. – Sam

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  • I think that one of the saddest things is that God talks about loving the poor and outcast over 2,000 times in the bible, while homosexuality is only talked about four times, and each time is pretty vague. 2,000 times compared to four? And yet, if you were to ask any stranger on the street what Christians fight for, homosexuality would be the first one they mentioned. If we were truly embracing the 2,000 other verses, we wouldn’t be chastising ANYONE.

    Also have you ever read Rene Gerard’s philosophy of skapegoating? It is that all people are in competition. To direct this negative energy away from their peers, like people will ban together to hate another group or person.

    And last point- I have a had time understanding what good would come out of banning same sex marriages and taking away rights from gay people. Do Christians think that people will stop being gay if this happens? Of course not- they will feel even more ostracized. What is the point of that? Every time that religion has mixed too much with government (Constantine, Rome, even communists although they would say it is non-religion) it has turned into a controlling mess. Maybe we should take all that money we spend on Christians trying to get into the government and give towards what God cared enough about to spend 2,000 verses on.

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  • I feel like one of the lucky ones… When our child came out, there was NO condemnation from our church… My husband and I struggled, but our baby has been able to hang in there with us while we all keep living this thing out…It has actually brought us closer, because we realized that not every child feels ok about going to their parents to share this part of their life. For that I am very thankful.

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  • I’m reading this late, but I wanted to say THANK YOU. I have lived through this story, and am so happy to read my own feelings, put so beautifully down in writing–I never could have expressed these things the way you did. I love my son, period. He is a wonderful, kind, caring, brilliant person, and his coming out has changed absolutely none of that. I loved when you wrote, “…my opinion is that having a gay son has caused me to be able to see more clearly.” That sentence has essentially been my mantra for the last six months, since my son came to me with his truth. The difficult thoughts and feelings I’ve had to go through have been nothing compared to what he’s been enduring, in secret and in silence, for years. My heart cries that he couldn’t tell me sooner, but I’m so glad to know now, and to be able to support him. If there is any one, pivotal thing in my life that has caused me to be a kinder, more loving person, it has been learning that my son is gay. As a result, I have met so many different people, and have opened up my own closed-off heart to loving, kind individuals that I never would have even been around before. Christ-likeness comes in many forms, and I’m so glad to see that now. Your article was beautiful, and I’m so happy to have come across it!

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    • Stella – It’s always so encouraging to hear from people who “get it”! Thanks for your kind and encouraging words and may you, your son and your family continue to be blessed on your journey.

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