CAN WE
UNDERSTAND ?





A Guide for Parents



Prepared by The New York
City Parents & Friends of
Lesbians and Gay Men





Introduction


It is often a shock for parent to find out that their child is homosexual. Whether you are a mother
or a father, whether you have a son or a daughter, whether you long suspected something of the
kind, or were completely surprised, finding out for sure can be a shock. The feelings that shake
you are very strong and confusing. You may hardly be able to talk about it without tears and
anger. Every family is different and every case individual. One parent may find out by chance,
while another may be told face-to-face. A third may receive a phone call or a letter. The child
may be a teenager or an adult, self-accepting or upset or confused or fearful of what the have
discovered about themselves. Parents may be ready to listen, or not able to and react by
drawing back. For all, however, there are some underlying concerns and questions.


First
Reactions



Why did he or she have to tell us ?

Many parents think that they would be happier
if they didn't know. What you must realize,
however, is that if you did not know you would
never really know your child. A large part of
their life would be kept secret from you, and
you would never really know the whole human
being. What would it have been like if the first
time you had fallen in love, you did not feel
safe to tell anyone? Imagine getting married
and not being able to tell your family. Imagine,
even worst, getting divorced and not being able
to explain to your family why you were in pain.
These are the parts of you child's life you
would miss, if they had not shared this with
you. The fact that your child told you is a sign
of their love and need for your support and
understanding. After all, who should know if
not you?


Why did she or he do this to us ?

Many parents feel bitter resentment at the fact
of their child's homosexuality. This feeling is
based on the assumption that being
homosexual is a matter of choice and that this
was a conscious decision, perhaps even
made to hurt them. In fact, homosexuals do
not choose their orientation -- they simply are
what they are: homosexuality is their true
nature. The only choice lesbians and gay men
have is whether to be honest about who they
are or to hide it. Hiding it imposes a
tremendous burden -- it means living a lie, day
in and day out. No other minority group is
asked to hide from their parents and family
what makes them "different". What parent
would want their child to have to live that way?


What did we do wrong ?

Most parents feel guilt when they first find out.
Psychology and psychiatry have told us for
years that the way the child turns out is the
patents' "fault." In fact, no parent has that
much power over a child. Homosexuals are
found in all types of families with all types of
backgrounds and from all types of cultures. No
one knows as yet what controls sexuality or a
person's sexual orientation.


What caused this to happen to us ?

There are many theories of what causes
homosexuality, some base on serious
scientific study and some not. For over a
decade, more and more research has been
examining possible biological or prenatal
causes. The finding of numerous studies
seem to indicate that homosexuality little to
do with dominate mothers and distant or
hostile fathers, and more to do with some
inherit biological or personality characteristics.


Parents'
Concerns for
Their Child



Will she or he be ostracized, have trouble
finding or keeping a job, or even be
physically attacked ?


We must answer: "Yes, unfortunately, all of
the things are possible and do occur regularly
in out society." It depends on where she or he
decides to live, what kind of job she or he
wants, and how open or 'out' she or he decides
to act. It maybe hard to accept that you child
has to be consider these things on her or his
career and life choices, bit it is the reality.
Regardless of where you live there are
lesbians & gay men living and working invisibly
around you, because they do not feel they can
risk being open about themselves. But we
must also say that attitudes towards
homosexuals have been slowly changing for
the better and are more positive in many
places. Also, there are a growing number of
groups (including P-FLAG chapters) who are
working to promote more such change, and
who are ready to help those who have
difficulties.


Will she or he be lonely in their old age
since they will not have a family of their
own ?


Maybe; but we must remember that this is
very often true of all of us. Spouses die,
marriages break up, children often live far
away, and many young straight couples
choose not to have children. Many of us have
to adjust to solitude when we are old. On the
plus side, many lesbians and gay men
develop long-lasting relationships, and the gay
community is warmly supportive of its
members. As it is becoming easier to "come
out" -- that is acknowledge their sexual
orientation to themselves and others -- many
homosexuals will have a chance to live as part
of community all their lives. Gay men and
Lesbians include in their concept of family not
only their lover and blood relatives, but their
lifetime friends. There already exists an
organization for elderly lesbians and gay men.
(SAGE, 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY
10011)


Should we send our child to a therapist or
a psychiatrist to be "cured" ?


It is now generally acknowledged by the
psychiatric and mental health communities
that homosexuality is not, as was previously
supposed, a disease which can or should be
cured. In December 1973 the American
Psychiatric Association (APA) declared that
homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder
or disease. The APA has take the official
position that it would be unethical to try to
change the sexual orientation of a
homosexual. However, many people who are
homosexual are so imbued with the prejudice
of our society that they cannot accept their
sexual orientation as normal. In these cases it
is often helpful to get psychiatric or
psychological help for the purpose of
self-acceptance. Care must be taken, however
to select a therapist who is not himself or
herself imbued with those prejudices.

Will she or he get into trouble with the law?

It is difficult to answer this question briefly
since state laws differ greatly. It can be said
that in no state is it illegal to be gay or lesbian
and that in some areas there are legal
protections against discrimination. There is a
pamphlet published by Lambda Legal Defense
and Education Fund, Inc., which tries to
answer in detail the most frequent questions:
Gays and the Law: A Guide for Lay People
(Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund,
Inc., 132 West 43rd Street, New York, NY
10036).

In more than half of the 50 states, legislatures
or courts decided that sodomy or 'deviant'
sexual behavior between consisting adults in
private is not a crime. However, even where it
still is, most lesbians and gay men live their
lives never having problems with the police


Parents'
Concerns for
Themselves



What will the neighbors say ?

This is a real concern, especially for families who live in small communities where their whole
social lives are dependent on the good will of the people around them. The answer to this
question is much the same as the one to the one above. When you are secure in your own
feelings, and informed about the subject, the you can talk about your child's sexual orientation
with others and help them understand that their prejudice against homosexuality is based on
ignorance and fear.


Questions of
General Concern



Is Homosexuality Unnatural ?

Homosexuality is not unnatural since it exists
in nature. It is just as natural for one person to
be heterosexual as it is for another to be
homosexual.

We do not know why some people are
homosexual, but we know that there always
were, are and will be homosexuals. Studies
have shown that there are and were
homosexuals in every society, no matter how
permissive or repressive they were.

It is estimated that 10% of the population in
the United States and throughout the world is
lesbian or gay; at least one member out of
every four families. For them, homosexuality is
their true nature. To ask them to behave
otherwise would be to ask the to behave
unnaturally.


Can a homosexual person choose to
become heterosexual ?


No, a person homosexuality is an integral part
of their personality. A gay man or lesbian can
choose not to have an intimate relationship
with a person of the same sex. That dose no
mean they can choose not to be homosexual.
Many people do not understand that there is a
difference between sexual orientation and
sexual behavior. Reparative or Change therapy
is based on the misconception that a
homosexual who chooses or is trained to
behave as a heterosexual cease to be a
homosexual. The is not the case, a persons
sexual or affectional orientation has more to
do with the gender of the person they can
bond with emotionally than with the gender of
the person the have sex with.
Questions of
General Concern


Is homosexuality a sin ?

This is one of the most difficult questions for
religious people. Many religions teach the
homosexuality is condemned. But no where in
the Bible is there mention of those whose true
nature is homosexual. Neither the Ten
Commandments nor the Gospels mention
homosexuality. Biblical scholars tell us that
the oft-quoted (out-of-context) proscription in
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and St. Paul's
Epistles Romans 1:26-27, refer to male
prostitution in the temples: sexual practices
by heterosexuals. We ask that you listen to
priest, ministers and rabbis who have studied
the question and have come up with these
answers:



Catholic

Because of the diverse condition of humans, it
happens that some acts are virtuous to some
people, as appropriate and suitable to them,
while the same are immoral for others, as
inappropriate to them.

(Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologies)



Homosexuality has nothing necessarily to do
with sin, sickness or failure. It is a different
way of fulfilling God's plan ... Supposedly, the
sin for which God destroyed Sodom was
homosexuality. That's the great myth. I
discovered through scholarly research that
was not true. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah
was inhospitably to stranger ... In Matthew,
Jesus says to his disciples: "Go out and
preach the Gospel and if you come to any
town and they don't receive you well, if they're
inhospitable, shake the sand from your sandal
and it will be worse for that town than it was for
Sodom" ... The four Gospels are totally silent
on the issue of homosexuality.

(John J. McNeill, S.J. in an interview with
Charles Orleb in the Journal Christopher
Street, Oct. 1976


Jewish

Above all else, Judaism has always stressed
the importance and sanctity of the individual.
The ancient rabbis likened each human life to
the entire world. 'Why did God create each
human being different, not stamping us out
like so many coins?' asked the rabbis. 'To
show us that each person is unique,' they
answered. Judaism has always gloried in the
individuality of human life, and it has always
cherished freedom as the vehicle through
which each unique individual can develop to
their potential.

It is for this reason, and because we Jews
have learned first hand how stifling and
destructive oppression is, that the Reform
Jewish movement in all its branches has
called for gay rights legislation and for loving
acceptance of gay people. While all branches
of Judaism do not agree, liberal Judaism
recognizes that religious strictures against
homosexuality were a product of their time
and place, an ancient age in which existence
itself depended upon each member of society
having children to populate the frontier and the
army. That was a long time ago, before
modern science and psychiatry brought us
new understanding of human nature. We Jews
have always incorporated the latest knowledge
in our Judaism -- this adaptability is why we
have survived, and why so many other Biblical
prohibitions are disregarded. Thinking Jews
today, indeed all thinking people, will refuse to
invoke homophobic rules from among all these
other long-forgotten laws. After all, even the
most Orthodox no longer stone disobedient
children to death and fundamentalist
Christians do not call for us all to keep
kosher, only two of the rules found in the
Bible. If we Jews, always victimized for being
different, are not accepting, who in God's
name will be?

(Rabbi Charles D. Lippman, 1985)




Protestant

Do I believe that homosexuality is a sin ? ... Homosexuality, quite like heterosexuality, is
neither a virtue nor an accomplishment. Homosexual orientation a mysterious gift of God's grace
communicated through an exceedingly complex set of chemical, biological, chromosomal,
hormonal, environmental, and developmental factors totally outside my homosexual friends'
control. Their homosexuality is a gift, neither a virtue nor a sin. What they do with their
homosexuality, however, is definitely their personal, moral, and spiritual responsibility. Their
behavior as homosexuals may be very sinful -- brutal, exploitative, selfish, promiscuous,
superficial. Their behavior as homosexuals, on the other hand, may be very beautiful -- tender,
considerate, loyal, other-centered, and profound. ... With this interpretation to the mystery that
must be attributed to both heterosexual and homosexual orientation, I clearly do not believe that
homosexuality is a sin.

(Bishop Melvin E. Wheatly, Jr., Methodist, Retired, Nov. 20, 1981)

How Can We
Learn to Deal
With This ?



Maybe the best way to answer this is to let
some parents speak for themselves. Here are
the stories of some parent who discovered that
their children were gay.



A Mother's Story

We have three sons, two of whom are
homosexuals. When our eldest son was 18,
he told us he was gay. My husband's
response was simple: 'Are you sure?' I, on the
other hand, had a great sense of guilt and
failure, wondering where we had gone wrong.
We have always been a close loving family. I
worried whether the relationship with our eldest
son would suffer as a result of his
homosexuality. I also had a great concern for
his future happiness and well-being, as did my
husband. I soon realized that our son was the
same person I had always known and loved,
but through his honesty I now knew more
about him; But, that understanding came later,
after our son directed us to Parent of Gays. I
no longer felt alone; new windows of
understanding were opened by asking
question, listening and reading. It was difficult
but positive stage in my life, which took time
and patience. I am happy to say that today our
family is as close as ever, but our relationship
is more open and honest than before.




A Step-Mother's Story


(text missing)




A Father's Story

How did I feel when I found out my daughter
was a lesbian? It's hard to say. It was a
mixture of feelings. My first thought was -- life
will be difficult for her. She is different and so
therefore she would suffer the consequences
of being different: suspicion, fear and rejection
by the so-called normal world. She would carry
a label: dangerous and contagious, stay away,
protect yourself ! This made me feel sad at
first, then angry, and then protective. How
could I help my daughter? I decided to learn
more about homosexuality. Why does it
happen? Can it be cured? I later found out that
first question, to date, has no definitive
answer, and the second is a fallacious one,
because homosexuality is not a disease or an
illness. I read a lot, and that confused me. The
opinions expressed by various authors, in
some cases, differed drastically, based on
their background and what they were trying to
prove. It was difficult to get the fact.
It was my daughter who directed my wife and
me to Parents & Friends of Lesbians and
Gays. It was then that I realized that I was not
alone. The same feelings of guilt, inadequacy,
and sorrow were shared by many. There was
a feeling I did not share. Some people were
angry at their children for being homosexuals,
since they felt it has brought shame on them.
We all learned that by sharing this important
part of themselves, our children were giving us
a great gift of love. Since my daughter has told
us she was a lesbian and my wife & I learned
more about sexual orientation, we have
become much closer to our daughter. Prior to
this, there were time when she seemed --
unhappy, in fact at times impatient with us.
This has all changed. I could go on with many
more details, but I think the statement my
daughter made sums it all up: 'Dad, I have
never been as happy and relaxed as I am now
that you know and understand.'


We have accepted the situation, but why must they flaunt it ?

Often even parents who have accepted their child's homosexuality still protest at open behavior. It
makes them uncomfortable and angry to see public displays of affection and sexual attraction
between members of the same sex. We suggest that this is a normal result of the way have all
been brought up and what we have been taught about sex in general, and homosexuality in
particular. Although it is fully understandable, we must see it as our problem, and not as a
problem for our lesbian and gay children. If heterosexuals can display open affection in public,
there is no logical reason why gay men and lesbians should not. If you feel that sexual behavior
should be a private thing, then this should apply to all.


Conclusion


Accepting your child's homosexuality and educating yourself on the subject takes time. Sons
and daughters often expect their parent to understand immediately, but for many this is not
possible. Do no be impatient with yourself, no mater how long it takes. Remembers that your
child, like most lesbians and gay men, has probably spent a number of years trying to accept
and understand their own homosexuality. They should be willing to give you the time necessary
to be educated on this. If you really want to learn and understand this new aspect of your child,
given time you will.


Suggested
Readings



Mary V. Borhek, Coming Out To
Parents. New York: Pilgrim Press.

Mary V. Borhek, My Son Eric, New
York: The Pilgrim Press.

* John Boswell, Christianity, Social
Tolerance, and Homosexuality,
Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press.

Howard Brown, M.D., Familiar Faces,
Hidden Lives, New York: Harcourt,
Brace, Jovanovich.

Don Clark, Ph.D., Loving Someone
Gay, New York: Signet Books.

B. Fairchild and N. Hayward, Now That
You Know, New York: Harcourt, Brace,
Jovanovich.

Gordon Glasco, Second Nature, New
York: St. Martin's Press.

Laura Z. Hobson, Consenting Adult,
Warner Books.

* John J. McNeill, S. J. The Church and
the Homosexual, New York: Pocket
Books.

Leonard J. Martelli, When Someone
You Know Has AIDS. Crown
Publishers.

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon,
Lesbian/Woman, New York: Bantam.

* N. Pettenger, Time for Consent, SCM
Press.

Louise Rafkin, Different Daughters,
(written by mothers of lesbians). Cleis
Press.

* Scanzoni and Molienkoit, Is the
Homosexual My Neighbor ?, New York:
Harper and Row.

* Robin Scroggs. The New Testament
and Homosexuality, Philadelphia, PA:
Fortress Press.

Dr. Charles Silverstein. A Family
Matter. New York: McGraw Hill.

Dr. C. A. Tripp, The Homosexual
Matrix, New York: McGraw Hill.

Dr. George Weinberg. Society and the
Healthy Homosexual. New York: St.
Martin's.

Griffin and Wirth, Beyond Acceptance,
New York: Bantam.



* indicates titles deal with the question
from the religious point of view.

indicates titles of novels





Books can be ordered from:

Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. 15
Christopher Street, New York, N.Y.
10014. (212) 255-8097.

Wonmanbooks, 201 W. 92nd St., New
York, N.Y. 10025. (212) 873-4121,

A Different Light, 548 Hudson St. New
York, N.Y. 100 14. (212) 989-4850






New York City Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gay Men, Inc.
P. O. Box 553, Lenox Hill Station / New York, NY 10021



Copyright 1983, 1985, & 1992. New York City Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gay Men, Inc.

The Booklet Was Made Possible by a Generous Grant of The Eastman Foundation and The Chicago Resource Center.