[This post relates a true story and has been edited to protect the identity of the author's adult child. Names have been changed.]
It’s a quiet evening. You’re sitting watching a little TV and relaxing as the day winds down. Your daughter Cheryl comes into the room and sits near you, but not too close. She is there, but not saying much. You turn off the TV and engage her in conversation. You ask about her classes, what she has been doing, and engage in other small talk. Slowly, somewhat hesitatingly, she superficially answers. After a little verbal interchange, she gets to the point of her conversation.
“I wanted to tell you about my new relationship. I’m involved with somebody new and her name is Beth.” In that statement, Cheryl has just exposed herself in a very vulnerable way. She has told you, without using those words, that she considers herself to be a lesbian, or perhaps, bisexual.
The next words, reactions and body language that emerge from you may well have a lasting and profound effect on your parent-daughter relationship. How do you react? What do you communicate through your verbal and non-verbal responses? As the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles state on the church website mormonsandgays.org: “These conversations are not always easy to have. They deal with love and acceptance, aspirations and despair.”
For her whole life, you have pictured your daughter growing up to be a fine young lady, marrying in the temple, and giving you grandbabies. That idyllic image has just experienced a change of direction. Cheryl’s life may not be exactly as you pictured it. This may require some adjustment on your part.
However, Cheryl’s disclosure does not in any way, shape or form abrogate your calling and responsibility as her parent. You cannot allow thoughts such as: “Why are you choosing this?” or “What did I do to make her be this way?” These questions are misguided and counter-productive. You likely did nothing that either enhanced or promoted these feelings within her. To assume that she consciously chose to have this set of feelings and responses is and of itself erroneous. As the introduction to "Mormons and Gays" explains, “individuals do not choose to have such attractions.”
The LDS community needs to reshape some of its past beliefs and reactions. From the same website: “But what is changing — and what needs to change — is to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.”
Cheryl’s feelings will bring her enough challenges and pain because of the cruelty and intolerance of many segments of society, including those in the Church who are less than Christ-like in their comments and actions toward the LGBT community. You don’t want to add to that. Rather, be the same parent that Cheryl came to, or actually, even more of a loving parent than before.
As the Church has admonished: “Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors... everyone in God’s small world is our neighbor, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. This love is tested every day of our lives. We may know individuals with same-sex attraction in our workplaces, congregations and town halls. As people with hopes, fears and aspirations like everyone else, these neighbors deserve our love. But we can’t truly love the neighbors next door if we don’t love the neighbors under our own roof. Family members with same-sex attraction need our love and understanding. God loves all his children alike, much more than any of us can comprehend, and expects us to follow.”
The most important thing to realize from this experience is that nothing should have changed in your relationship with your daughter. She needs to know, more now than ever, that you love her. You were her caring, loving, friendly, engaging parent before she came into the room. If that has changed in any degree, within your heart, consider Christ’s example. Our Father in Heaven loves us unconditionally. Of you, it is required to do likewise as an earthly parent.
[Editor's note: further support and guidance is available from the Family Acceptance Project and PFLAG.]
[Image source: morguefile.com]