Coming out is never easy. But, coming out to homophobic parents can be terrifying, and in some instances, even unsafe. When deciding whether to come out to homophobic parents, consider first how they have they reacted towards or about other queer or LGBTQ+ people. Along with this, there are many other factors to keep in mind when deciding how to come out to homophobic parents.
What Does It Mean to Come Out?
“Coming out” is a metaphor often used to describe the time when an LGBTQ+ individual shares information about their romantic, gender, and/or sexual identity with others. It is during this period of self-disclosure that the person goes through the process of learning who they are, and becoming comfortable enough to disclose this information to others in their life. Coming out is rarely a one-time event or experience, but rather a continued process of self-discovery and self-revelation.1
How to Come Out to Your Homophobic Parents
When considering how to come out to homophobic parents or caregivers, safety should be your first consideration. It is recommended to find support and resources during this time, as these will aid you in your process of self-discovery, and will prepare for the coming out process when, or if, the time comes.
Here are some tips for coming out to homophobic parents:
Determine if It’s Safe
It can be difficult to predict with complete certainty how your parents will react to you coming out to them. However, most people usually have a general idea if their response will be a positive or negative experience. Focus on clues to how they have reacted to similar situations in the past, such as when another family member has come out. Were they cruel or judgmental? Or, perhaps they stayed silent until this person was no longer around, and then proceeded to say mean things. Either way, prioritize your safety if you fear receiving any adverse reactions.
Find Outside Support & Resources
Having outside support can make all the difference in your coming out process. For many, it can be a difficult experience to come out to family, and having external support will decrease loneliness and isolation. It will also remind you that you have people in your corner who support you. If you are in school, visit your school’s LGBTQ+ union or club. If you are near a LGBTQ+ center, this would be a great place to start. Always remember that the internet is peppered with support and resources at your fingertips.
When you decide to come out to your parents, the next step is to choose the intended location. Many decide to come out in a neutral location, especially if you are expecting them to react poorly. Ultimately, choose wherever you are most comfortable. Prepare what you are going to say and how you plan to say it, as well. You can try practicing coming out with friends or peers first, so you can tailor your speech if needed.
If you are more of a planner, you can tell your parents there is something important you would like to talk to them about and you would like to plan a date to do so. Others choose to come out more on a whim. Do what feels most genuine and comfortable.
Gauge Their Reaction
Many have an idea of how their parents might act, based on how they have spoken to or about LGBTQ+ people or issues in the past. Pay attention to how they talk about issues in the media or in social circles. Many choose to bring up the topic of LGBTQ+ issues before coming out to get a better idea of how homophobic parents might react.
Coming Out Day
For additional support, tell your support system that you are coming out on a specific date and time. Perhaps plan to meet later that evening for support. This will help hold you accountable if you get nervous–it will also give you a safe place to go after if it does not go well. When it comes time for the conversation, take a deep breath, and say it. You might feel some relief if you say it earlier rather than later, but do what feels natural to you.
Remember That You Are Worthy of Love & Acceptance
No matter what happens when you decide to come out to your parents, remember that you are always worthy of love and acceptance. Whatever their reaction is, you did it–you came out to your parents! Take the next couple of days to practice more self-care. Take a hot bath, go for a quiet hike, or go for coffee with your support system and share your coming out story.
Reactions to Expect
While many may expect a certain reaction from their parents, there may be times when our parents surprise us. Fortunately, a lot of people have had a neutral or even positive experience with parents who they thought would act negatively.
While it can be difficult to know for sure, the following are common reactions to expect
1. “That’s Against Our Religion”
When you grow up in a family that is conservative or religious, you can probably expect their reaction to be something like this, especially if you have seen them have this reaction before. Parents who have strong traditional or religious beliefs are commonly connected to negative reactions.2 However, this does not mean that you have to agree with their religion or their reasoning. Many choose to reason with their parents by showing them some of the faith-based support available. Do whatever feels safest and most realistic to you and your situation.
2. “We Didn’t Raise You that Way”
If your parents respond in this way, remind them, “you raised me to be strong and confident, and that is who I am,” or something similar. Explain to them that nobody raises children to have a certain sexuality or gender–it has nothing to do with parenting. But only if they are receptive to these conversations- do not try to convince them if it feels at all unsafe.
3. “We’re Disowning You”
If this happens to you, seek support, especially if you feel that they might kick you out of the house (a quick reminder that it is illegal to kick out any child under the age of legal majority). And if you are over 18, look into staying with a supportive relative or friend, at least until the tension settles and you can revisit the conversation with your parents–if you are able to do so safely.
4. “We’re Sending You to Therapy”
While this response used to be common for religiously conservative parents, it is becoming less so, due to mental health organizations speaking out against this unethical practice.3
However, parents might still want you to try therapy anyway. A good way to handle this is to agree–a therapist can help show parents that there isn’t anything wrong with a person’s sexual or gender identity. In this case, look for someone who is LGBTQ+ allied.
5. “We Don’t Understand It”
This is a common response, but one that is filled with hope. As a therapist who works a lot with LGBTQ+ people, I find that parents who admit that they do not understand something are more likely to ask questions–therefore, opening the door to support and understanding.
6. “We Don’t Agree, but We Love & Support You”
While still not perfect, this is much closer to the ideal response that we all hope for. It is a great start, and opens up the family to opportunities for learning and acceptance.
How to Find Support
When coming out to homophobic parents, supporting your mental health and safety is a priority. Building support at school, work, or in your community can make a huge difference in how you experience this process. Many choose to seek the support of a therapist who specializes in working with LGBTQ+ clients to help with this process. The process of finding an LGBTQ therapist is easier than ever with the internet–you can start your search for the right therapist with an online therapist directory.
Coming out to homophobic parents can be intimidating, scary, and possibly even dangerous. But, knowing that there are resources to help keep you safe will help guide and support you throughout the process. The coming out process is never just a “one and done”, but instead happens over and over. Coming out becomes easier over time–lean on your support network to help you stay grounded along the way.4
For Further Reading
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Pride Counseling – online therapy for LGBTQ clients looking for LGBTQ friendly or identified therapists
- LGBTcenters.org – list of most of the LGBTQ+ centers across the US.
- LGBT youth resources -resources and support for young LGBTQ people
- Coming Out – A resource for LGBTQ students
- LGBTQ Faith Based Resources– support and resources for LGBTQ people with religious families