Civilities Chat: PFLAG’s Jody Huckaby talks about LGBT youth coming out today

Jody Huckaby
Jody Huckaby

Last week we had a special guest – Jody M. Huckaby, the head of PFLAG National, the nation’s largest organization of parents, families, friends, and allies united with people who are LGBTQ. He took questions for more than an hour; below is Part 2 of an adaptation of the online chat. To read the full transcript, please click here. Read Part 1 here.

Enough with all the celebrities coming out as LGBT!

Q: It’s not really a question, more of a comment. But I don’t even care any more when another celebrity announces that they are gay, and honestly, I’m starting to get tired of the special coming-out announcements and appearances they make. It seems like it’s more about extra publicity at this point, unless it’s someone like the first gay football player, who is actually breaking some sort of barrier.

A: I hear you!  And I’m a bit torn on this very good question. I think that part of what allows younger people to be able to come out as LGBTQ, and we are seeing that happen all the time, and not just as trans, but as gay, lesbian or bi, is that they are seeing all of those celebrities coming out.

Whether it is actors, politicians, or professional sports figures like Michael Sam, these people are having an important influence on younger people today. And they are influencing parents and families to have conversations even before a family member comes out to them.  So there is definitely a benefit to having celebrities and public people come out.

And the influence it has on straight people who don’t have LGBTQ family members (that they know of) is tremendous too.  They talk about it in the workplace, they discuss in their faith communities.

But for the everyday younger person today, the positive role modeling is causing them to feel less like this needs to be some grand announcement and instead that it’s something about them to share.  That’s major progress.

By the way, I said earlier that I was really torn on this. Let me tell you a quick personal story about why.

My partner and I have a very special “adopted daughter” that came into my life when she was only 8 years old. She has a wonderful mother who has raised her on her own. On Father’s Day a few weeks ago, now at the age of 19, we were grilling hamburgers outside and spending typical time together on a weekend.

We went inside for dessert and we were all sitting around with our dog and cat and their two dogs running around. She told us she had something to say and that she said she really shouldn’t have to announce this to us, because announcements are “silly” about this kind of thing.

She said, “I’m gay. I’m a lesbian. And because it’s Father’s Day, I thought this was a good day to tell you and to tell Mom.”

So a 19-year-old who thinks these kinds of announcements are unnecessary tells me that we are making major progress.

No doubt all those celebrity announcements have been helping to create a culture where those major announcements are becoming less necessary!

What to do when a boyfriend is reticent to come out as a couple?

Q: I have a unique situation. I am a very visible member of my college LGBT org, march in the parades, volunteer, etc. My whole family knows and supports me for being gay. My boyfriend is also out, but on a much lesser scale. His family has all but disowned him, he has several childhood friends who have shunned him, and as a result, he’s not comfortable “coming out” as a couple with me. He says he’ll get there, I’m growing impatient. What advice would you offer a couple that while otherwise happy is in two different places like this?

A: Thank you for that good question. First, know that this is more common than you might think. We find this to be the case, especially in less urban areas where influences such as family, culture, faith, etc. can have a major impact on one’s comfort level being completely out in their lives, including in their relationship.

I understand your impatience. This is a very natural response especially if you have had to hide any part of who you are, and now that you are in a relationship with someone you love, you want him to be as open as you are.

Family dynamics are complex, and if your partner isn’t where you are in feeling that he can be open as gay, and his connections to his family remain strong, I think you both should consider seeking out a PFLAG chapter in your area to talk with others who have had similar experiences.

PFLAG isn’t just for parents and family members and friends. PFLAG has always been an organization for everyone dealing with issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. We have so many wonderful PFLAG members who are LGBTQ.

And remember that all relationships are complex, and they can be very challenging.  Seek out professional counseling if you find this issue to be one that continues to cause more anxiety for both of you.  Your local PFLAG chapter and/or LGBTQ community center can find appropriate referrals for both of you.

Who tells mom’s conservative Christian family that a teen son is gay?

Q: I wanted to ask your advice on something. Before I do let me give you some background. My wife and I are what would be labeled as conservative Christians. Our son came out in April as gay. He was 13 at the time and quite frankly we were not surprised. We love and support our son. I am appalled at why any parents would shun or kick out their gay child. That is another topic for another day. Since then our son slowly has told friends and posted his sexual orientation on Instagram. My side of the family knows and they are fairly accepting of him. As for my wife’s family they do not know and she is not sure if they will be too accepting. My question is who tells her family? Is it our son or my wife? I would like to know what you think.

A: First, let me say thank you for being such supportive and loving parents.  You affirm what we at PFLAG know so well, that you can indeed be a person of faith, and be someone who loves their children, family members or friends who are LGBTQ.

Even at the age of 13, your son should be a part of the decision about who will tell the family.  So why don’t you and your wife sit down with him and tell him that you think that some of the family may have difficulty with the news that he has come out as gay. The best think you can do is to assure him of your love for him, and your support for him coming out however it is that he thinks is appropriate.

Explain to him that there is so much misinformation about this issue. Some of the family will assume that he is sexually active because he has come out as gay. That’s another misconception that people have, and so assure him that you and your wife want to be supportive of him and help educate the family about these issues. Assure him that he isn’t responsible for making everyone in the family comfortable or fully informed. He’s still a 13-year old. Assure him that you can help provide information and resources for the family so that he can just be who he is.

Finally, for you as parents, find a local PFLAG chapter as a resource for you. You may not think you need support or guidance, but you may indeed be needed in PFLAG as another great example of conservative Christians who love and affirm their son in all that he is.

How can a teacher help a student come out?

Q: I’m a high-school teacher in Northern California and I have a student who I very strongly sense is struggling to come out. His parents seem nice and supportive, but I have no idea how they would react to his being gay. He is struggling in school and his interest appears to be slipping. I’m wondering what I can say or do to let him know I’m there for him if he ever needs someone to talk to without making it seem like I’m pushing him to come out before he’s ready. Thoughts?

A. School teachers can be huge anchors for young people who feel different, don’t feel like they fit in with their peers, who don’t have strong family connections. You can find simple ways to integrate LGBTQ issues into your everyday work in the classroom that would send a message to your student, and to all of your students — that you are supportive and that you are there as a resource.

For example, Drea Kelly, R. Kelly’s ex, recently revealed that their child is transgender. You can reference this in your classroom in a positive way. You can say that these parents are just like other non-celebrity parents who are working through these issues and that they love their child. That’s an easy and non-personal way to raise the issue without directing it at your student.

And this kind of everyday reference to coming out “normalizes’ the topic for young people who may struggling with coming out. And just as important, it sends a message to students who are straight, and to the school faculty and administration, that you are supportive, that you are a resource. So you can be a role model for all of them as well.  It’s not just the big things we do, the clubs we join, or the advocacy we do — that’s all important for sure — it’s the simple things we do when we integrate LGBTQ issues into our everyday conversations that help to really cause people to stop and think.  That’s what changes hearts and minds, attitudes and culture.

Steven Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities.
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