Many parents don’t understand the
biology of sexual orientation and gender
identity. They may think their LGBT
child is going through a phase, or that
therapy might make them “normal.”
Such a lack of knowledge can create
additional stress between parents and
Richard Delisle, a 23-year-old Ontario
university student, told his parents he
was gay when he was 17. He says they
were happy he told them, but worried
about what they thought was the gay
lifestyle. “Their generation tends to think
that gay people are more promiscuous,
do drugs, and live in a hard-core party
atmosphere,” Delisle says. “They thought
I’d be going to gay bars and getting
beaten up. About a year and a half
after I came out, they realized it’s not
Delisle’s life, he says, is similar to most
Ruth Smith (not her real name) has
a gay son and is the leader of a PFLAG
(Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians
and Gays) Canada group in Western
Canada. She stresses the importance of
parents learning about LGBT orientations
and identities, and recommends PFLAG
as a source of reliable information.
The comprehensive parent section of
PFLAG Canada’s website ( pflagcanada.ca)
answers common questions, dispels
misconceptions, and has extensive links
to support groups, academic research,
religious organizations and health-care
information. Smith points out that
PFLAG also provides support and resources for parents of transgender
children. (For transgender individuals,
their sense of gender identity does not
match the gender they were born with).
“Finding support and education and
being an advocate is more challenging
for parents of transchildren, because
transgender issues are not well understood,” Smith says.
Clay Swanson, a 20-year-old trans-
gender individual who lives in southern
Alberta, has the body of a female but says
he’s always known he’s a boy inside.
He came out to his parents as a lesbian
at the age of 17, but wishes he had told
them at that time he was transgender.
“Telling them I was a lesbian basically
went okay,” he says. “I think they kind
of had some idea, but they were surprised.
I think it was more of a shock when I told
them later that I wanted to transition
[undergo a sex change]. And at first
they thought maybe it was just a phase.”
Swanson says his parents have since
become very supportive, but his transi-
tion process—he has started hormone
treatments and is planning to have
mastectomies in the near future—
is difficult for them to understand.
“I don’t think they really get how
I feel, but they appreciate that I’m being
honest with them and myself,” he says.
While parents cannot be expected
THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON
to deny what they’re feeling, Flessati
says it’s important for them to maintain
open, honest communication with their
LGBT children, because they have likely
been going through emotional turmoil,
perhaps for several years, about their
sexual orientation or gender identity.
He says youth of diverse sexual
orientation are at increased risk of
stress disorders, alcohol and drug abuse,
depression and suicidal tendencies.
“This isn’t inherent or pathological;
it’s caused by the social stigma, the
bullying, the rejection… .”
Open, continuous communication
has a positive effect on an LGBT child’s
CHILDREN COME OUT TO PARENTS
IS THEY WANT TO HAVE A MORE
WITH THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PEOPLE
IN THEIR LIVES.