Parents who have had no difficulties in accepting their son or daughter’s sexuality cite a number of helping factors. For Marcia it is her attitude to life: ‘I am very open-minded about most things in life and I suppose this fell in to that category – open-mindedness.’ Eliza and Tom feel that: ‘Having a good, open relationship with him’ has helped. Bianca and Jon say: ‘We have gay friends and have never thought that being gay was wrong in any way’. Mercedes said that ‘through my work and social contacts I met gay people and it was clear that the homophobia I was brought up with as a child was wrong’ . What helped Rosie was: ‘Being involved in gay rights before I even had any children, which made me very aware of the issues for LGBT people.’
Some of the parents who have had no difficulties in accepting their child’s same sex attraction describe themselves as atheists, or having no religion, with the exception of Eliza and Tom. Bianca, Jon and Rosie cite ‘having gay friends’ as something that makes having an LGBT child seem as nothing out of the ordinary. Green Pepper, who is finding it harder to accept, makes the point that she and Silver Fox: ‘…don’t know anyone with a gay child’.
It may also be the case that having a gay son or lesbian daughter is easier to adjust to if they come out when they are younger. Rosie was aware of the possibility since her sons were 2 or 3 and they both came out at 19 and 13. Marcia’s son came out at 12. It is possible that parents who are prepared from early on have time to adjust and never indulge in fantasies about a heterosexual future for their children. Parents like this may be less likely to seek support. Parents whose sons or daughters were older when they came out may be more settled in their assumptions and are often appalled that they did not know sooner. Gabrielle, whose son came out at 35, refers to: ‘…my son who has suffered so much’. Lesley, whose son came out at 25, says: ‘I could not imagine the anguish such a revelation had caused him and how lonely his journey must have been’.
Some parents recognize how their backgrounds have shaped their views. Lesley says: ‘It’s been hard to accept because of my own conservative up-bringing, my naivety when growing up and my desire to have a “perfect family” – in my mind “normal” children who grow up to get married and hopefully have children of their own.’ Rosie, on the other hand, remembers: ‘… my mother explaining it to me in the early 1960’s, saying that it was bad to criminalise homosexuality’.
People of faith sometimes find it much harder to accept their son or daughter’s sexuality. For Gabrielle: ‘The religion was hard. For him, too. To this day, if God is God, and His creation is perfect, why would He create confused sexual identity which would give so much pain? (This was the point of disagreement initially). Yet I believe from the depth of my heart that we are all created in His image. Hence it would be despicable to judge – furthermore my son is exceptional and a person I respect totally.’ Claire says: ‘I am a member of the liberal wing of the Church of England. However, many people in the church generally have hurtful views.’
Some parents can give up practicing their faith altogether because of the conflict between the demands of their religion and their resolve to support their son or daughter. Toni is member of the Church of England: ‘It is impossible for me to join the Pentecostal Church because my son is gay. So it is better that I am part of the Church of England’. Eliza, says: ‘Over the years I have met and known many gay clergy so I understand and know more about the theology of homosexuality.’ Many parents who are people of faith often find resolution through studying alternative perspectives within their own religion, and use their knowledge to make the case for accepting different sexuality.
‘One of the proudest moment of my life was when my son said to me, ‘I had the easiest coming out of everyone I know’. Having been brought up at an all-male boarding school, I had fallen really in love with a boy. He is now a great friend of all the family and we see him together with his female partner. I am of a largely tolerant nature, but I get angry with parents who find their relationship bedeviled by their child’s sexuality. After all, when St John was dying at the (in those days) incredible age of 90, his followers asked what they should do. He replied: ‘My children, love one another’. They said: ‘Is that all you want of us?’ He replied: ‘It is enough’. Or, as the Beatles put it: ‘All you need is love.’ (Tom)