“Mom, I’m gay”

Local moms on parenting their LGBTQ teens

Pat yourselves on the back, mom and dad. You’ve made it through the baby years. Your little ones are grown up and navigating middle or high school. Now you can start fantasizing about weddings and grandchildren.

But what happens when those fantasies are suddenly turned upside down? What happens to that daughter or son-in-law you imagined, to those grandbabies you would spoil rotten, when you hear your child say, “I’m gay”? 

‘Always shocking’

Kerhonkson mom Christine Wynkoop was faced with this question. An educator at Rondout Valley High School, she was familiar with LGBTQ issues, as she was involved in the gay-straight alliance club Synthesis.

She says that she had some suspicions that her son Matthew was gay, and was waiting for the day he would confirm that. When that day finally came, however, Wynkoop was still taken aback.

She says that this news is “always shocking.” Her biggest concern was his safety. She wondered, “How is the world going to treat my child?”

Hudson Valley resources for parents of LGBT teens

Matthew was a freshman in high school at the time, and it was not the first time he had revealed this news to a family member. He had already told his brother, Randy. The two were always fighting, but after Matthew came out to him, their whole relationship shifted. Wynkoop says Randy felt honored that his brother shared this with him.

It took another year, and a promise of support from Christine and Randy, before Matthew felt comfortable coming out to his father.

Wynkoop says that it took a great deal of courage for her son to come out to the family, particularly in 2002, and for that she admires him. But even as a socially aware and well-educated parent, Wynkoop needed support from others to process this news.

Kerhonkson mom Christine Wynkoop with her son, Matthew. “What we’re doing is making a difference,” she says. 

How will others react?

Anne De Muro of Poughkeepsie learned that her son Tyler was gay through his Facebook profile. She had allowed him to create a profile on the social media site when he was 13, with the understanding that she would have his log-on information.

When she logged on, she saw messages that he had sent to a friend discussing his sexuality. She says she was disappointed that he told his friends before trusting her enough to tell her, and when she confronted him about it, he became upset that she had invaded his privacy.

De Muro says she asked him if he was sure he was gay. Tyler’s response was, “If I told you I was straight, would you ask me that?”

De Muro calls this question the only bump in the road of their conversation, but she still had serious concerns that lingered well after that discussion. Like Wynkoop, her greatest concern was how others would treat her son. She says she concocted every terrible scenario imaginable, and was horrified to think, “There will be people in his life that hate him just because he is gay.”

She says she cried, wondering, “What kind of life is he going to have?”

When Anne De Muro of Poughkeepsie asked her son, Tyler, if he was sure he was gay, he responded, “If I told you I was straight, would you ask me that?”

Tips for fellow parents

So what can parents do when faced with this news? How should they react when their vision of their child’s future suddenly changes? How can they be supportive and at the same time address their own fears and concerns? Wynkoop and De Muro offer these tips:

1. Take a breath

Wynkoop suggests waiting to say something until you have had time to process the information. “Sometimes the best reaction is to say, ‘Let me digest this.’”

She also points out that though the teenager has thought about this moment for a very long time, the conversation is probably coming as a surprise to the parent.

De Muro echoes this advice. She says that when faced with this news, parents should take the time to process, keeping in mind that if your child is coming to you with this information, that child is putting his or her trust in you. “Don’t react, act,” she says.

Read more: Family support is critical for gay teens

2. Allow yourself to be human

The surprise and shock parents feel upon learning that their child is gay is understandable. “We have to give ourselves a break,” Wynkoop says. “Even as a well-educated and aware parent, we tend to go with what society says is normal.”

It is okay to express fear, says De Muro, and if you don’t know quite what to do for your child, that’s okay, too. “Ask your child questions; let them tell you what they need.”

Read more: Discussing sexuality with your teen

3. Join with other parents

De Muro stresses that parents are not going through this alone. She says that it is important to reach out to organizations that can help support you. The day after her conversation with Tyler, she went to her first Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays meeting. She also says that GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) helped her navigate the school years.

4. Get proactive and educate others

De Muro went to the principal of Tyler’s school over the summer to discuss ways the school could be supportive. She says she didn’t want to go in after the fact because of a problem. As a result, a Gay Straight Alliance has been formed at the school.

She does her best, too, to educate her own circle of friends. She says that occasionally she will see a meme on Facebook that includes a gay slur. She tells those who posted it to imagine putting Tyler’s name in there, hoping to personalize it and show how hurtful such things can be. She reminds people that we all play a role: the bully, the bullied, or the bystander. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Wynkoop became an advocate. In the past, she has served on the board of GLSEN and was a staff advisor for the Synthesis club at Rondout Valley High School. She says that recently she saw two boys walking down the hall at the school holding hands. These weren’t students who attended Synthesis, but they felt comfortable enough to walk together showing affection. “What we’re doing is making a difference.”

Dawn Green is a freelance writer and a mom to two boys in Saugerties.