Well meaning but dangerous advice that you should not give to gay teens

youth homeless_1
Depressed little girl

Awhile back, I read that Rolling Stone article that was making the rounds about LGBT teen homelessness. The angle of the article was that after every major gay civil rights victory the number of homeless LGBT teens has a spike, because each victory leads to a bunch of teens tremulously coming out to their conservative parents. For most, this probably works out okay. But in some not-insignificant number of cases, the parents say, “I don’t care what the Supreme Court says–I still think homosexuality is a perversion,” and they kick their kids out.

In most of those cases, I imagine, the parents eventually regret their decision and the family is reunited (though god knows how the teen is ever able to forgive them), but in the meantime you’ve got someone living on the street.

Which is why, on the infrequent occasion that some teen messages or emails or tweets to me asking for advice in this situation, I’m always extremely careful to say…there’s a worst-case scenario here, and if you think that case might be your case, then don’t come out until you’re financially independent.

It’s not only the expedient thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do in terms of preserving your family relationships. If your parents kick out their teen, that’s not something your family will ever recover from. But if they get angry and stop talking to their adult son or daughter for a few years, then you can probably come back from that.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that I recently read a book that was published for kids–a sort of handbook on how to be gay called This Book Is So Gay–and in the section on coming out, it was like, “The fear that you’ll be…tossed out onto the street is absolutely the worst-case scenario and one that very rarely happens” and goes on to say “I can’t stress enough how rare this is.”

I think that’s irresponsible advice to give to kids. Not because getting tossed into the street isn’t rare. I believe it is rare (though not as rare as one would want it to be), but because of the catastrophic consequences of giving that advice to the wrong person

I think this is something all LGBT public figures have to be extremely cognizant of. We can and should tell kids that they should be proud of who they are and that they should own their own identities, but we also can’t understate the risks.

For many–perhaps most–of us, these are not real risks. I didn’t come out to my parents as a teen, but even if I had, they certainly would not have kicked me out. And I have to believe that these risks are diminishing every year. But they’re far from zero. And it’s our duty to err on the side of caution.

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  1. caroleparkes

    You highlight some excellent points. When my husband and I were bringing up our three boys, we made it clear to them when they were still young we would still love and accept them no matter what their sexual preferences were. All three turned out to be heterosexual and we didn’t have to face the reality of one or all of them being ‘different’. I do wonder sometimes wonder how we would have coped if one of them had been gay. How ingrained our sense of ‘normal’ is becomes apparent to me when I see gay couples kissing. I think I may have found it tougher to accept than I’d imagined, eve though this goes against my beliefs.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      It can be difficult. In the moment when teens come out, they’re looking for acceptance, and in that moment any hesitation can be seized upon and held against you. Teens have worked up to this moment for years, but parents have to face it suddenly. There can be questions, confusion, fear, and these manifest as questions–“How do you know?” or “Are you sure?”–that parents later come to regret having to ask. It’s tough, but I’m sure you would have done fine =]