HRC Blog

Petrow Talks Coming Out Etiquette for Parents

Post submitted by Bo Suh, HRC Digital Media Interncoming out letter

Earlier this week, out columnist Steven Petrow answered a question that worries many parents with LGBT children: how do you handle the “coming-out talk” when you already have suspicions about your child’s sexual identity? 

Petrow, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners”, told parents that they should treat a child’s coming out with respect and not dismiss it as a non-issue. Coming out should be on the child’s terms, not on the parents’. A direct question could lead to defensiveness, a forced coming out, or a lie, he said.

In addition, a supportive, open environment about LGBT topics can help ease the coming out process. Petrow talked about his own LGBT-inclusive upbringing and how among his parents’ friends was a gay couple that was frequently invited to dinner. This “open-table policy” sent a clear message that LGBT people were like everyone else and equal members of the community.

In order to raise a child, LGBT or straight, to be accepting of others regardless of sexual or gender identity, Petrow urged parents of children they suspect to be LGBT to be direct when talking about LGBT matters. This can be as simple as watching television programs with LGBT characters or talking about LGBT rights issues at dinner. Part of this openness includes not enforcing expectations that an LGBT child cannot meet, such as talking about finding a girlfriend or a wife to a son who might be gay.

The most important thing, Petrow said, is that parents express their love and support for their child. Wanting to handle coming out perfectly is all well and good, but coming out is more of a lifelong discourse than a single moment, Petrow said. “The exact words you use are less important than the love you communicate,” he said.

Learn more about coming out and parenting by going to HRC’s resources page.  

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