By Dr. Micaela Wexler
EVERY parent should care about gay rights because the way gay teenagers are treated, and the way they react to this mistreatment affects ALL teenagers. Let’s start with the most grim of those reactions: suicide.
Teenagers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) have the highest suicide rate of any population in our society. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the numbers of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who attempt suicide every year may be as high as one out of three. This is regardless of whether they are in or out of the closet.
Those statistics alone should be reason for every parent to care, because as a psychiatrist I can tell you teenage suicide affects all teenagers.
But, there are other important reasons why every parent should support gay rights. One out of every four LGBT youth experiences bullying, which ranges from severe physical attacks to verbal abuse. Bullying, like suicide, affects all kids. It creates an atmosphere of vulnerability for everyone. We should want a world for our children in which people are not attacked simply for who they are, in which people are allowed to love whomever they want, and to have that love celebrated. We should want a world for our children which promotes diversity and acceptance. How does the child with a mental health or physical challenge feel watching gay children being attacked and not defended? How does a teenager who is slow to develop or who is not conventionally attractive, or is overweight, feel hearing the words “faggot” or “dyke” used as slurs? Don’t you think they feel vulnerable on some level?
And, how do you know your own child won’t be bullied for being gay? Children are often bullied for many reasons which are cloaked under the homophobic label. There have been several well publicized cases of children being bullied who never identified as being gay. Carl Walker Hoover, was only 11 years old when he committed suicide in 2009 after being the victim of anti-gay bullying. He was an athlete and a Boy Scout, and there was no evidence he had ever asserted his sexual preference.
That leads me to what I hear as a psychiatrist: parents are often the last people an LGBT child will come out to. Your child may very well be gay, and you may not even know it. Especially if you don’t support gay rights.
So, now that you know you should, as a parent, support gay rights, no matter what, the next natural question is HOW?
First, watch your language. Do you say “that’s so GAY?” Do you use the word “faggot?” “Queer?” “Homo?”
If so, then it will be easy. Just stop. Get the gay slur jar going: a quarter for every time one of your kids catches you using those words. If three kids catch you all at once, then you’re out three quarters. By doing something like this, you are going a long way to supporting gay rights: you are communicating to your children that homophobic behavior is wrong, and maybe, they might think twice about doing it themselves. Children raised in a home where cursing is not allowed tend to have better manners and better language. Why not extend that to homophobic slurs?
If you don’t use those words, you’re not home free. You might still be guilty of homophobic language. What was your reaction to the repeal of DOMA? Was it negative? Do you express to your kids that marriage should only be between a man and a woman? Why? Don’t you think that’s homophobic? If you really believe this, why can’t you keep it to yourself? Why do your kids have to hear it? I’m sure there are all sorts of beliefs, like your thoughts on S&M sex, for example, that you don’t share with your children. Why share your anti gay marriage thoughts with them? It’s not going to affect who they marry, any more than your thoughts about your friend’s husband will affect who they have sex with. But, keeping it to yourself if you don’t agree with it might help stop anti-gay bullying.
Do you lie about friends or relatives who are gay: “They’re just friends.”
Do you even HAVE gay friends? They’re out there: why haven’t you included them in your social circle?
Maybe there is someone at work who is gay, or someone on TV, and you make rude comments. Doing that is anti-gay, and contributes to anti-gay bullying.
Or, maybe you just make comments like, “I don’t care if people are gay, they should just keep it to themselves.” If you don’t CARE, then why does it MATTER if they keep it to themselves? I truly do NOT care if people dye their hair. I truly do not expect my 82 year old neighbor to keep that to herself. (I, however, will be keeping my own hair dye decisions to MYSELF, thank you very much.)
Maybe you are not one of those people who has to change their language. Maybe you have always been open minded and accepting, and your children know this. Wonderful! You are ready to really step it up for gay rights! Did you attend a gay pride event last month? Oops! You didn’t? Why not? You don’t have to be gay to attend a gay pride week event. How did you not know that? Well, there’s always next year. You have a WHOLE YEAR to plan. And, to TALK about it with your kids! They can help you plan. You can all do research on which gay pride event you want to attend. I hear Seattle has a great gay pride celebration with all sorts of family friendly activities. This would be a great vacation option for the family, and great material for that “how I spent my vacation” essay. Great way to set the tone for the new school year.
What about your bookshelf: are there books about gay topics? Go to the gay section of the book store and buy the book with the most prominent title. You don’t even have to read it. (Your kid might, so you should probably look through it. And, I wouldn’t recommend how-to books on gay sex – that might really freak them out.)
And, it doesn’t stop there. Supporting gay rights can actually be really fun, when you consider all the artists, musicians and fashion designers who are gay! Wait! Have you been wanting a Michael Kors watch or a Marc Jacobs bag? Well, now you HAVE to go out and get one. It’s your duty as a parent.