Q. We have a daughter who is 17 who has told us she is gay. We have discussed the issue, and we have accepted her as the wonderful child she is. Until recently, she has accepted herself. Lately, she has been confused by people telling her she is going to hell, opinions voiced by ministers in our local newspaper, and especially by “Christian” websites. Religion has been an important part of her life, and now she is very confused. Can you give us some information that would help her?
A. Since 1975, the American Psychological Association (APA) has not considered homosexuality to be a mental health disorder. In 1997, the APA passed a resolution stating that a licensed psychologist should not attempt to change sexual orientation or discriminate in any way with gay or lesbian clients.
First of all, let me commend you for being accepting of your daughter and your willingness to discuss the issue. Many parents refuse to talk about homosexuality, condemn their gay children as sinners, or advise them not to tell anyone. All of these tactics push children away from their parents and their religion when they need them the most.
Second, inform your daughter that there are many websites presenting outdated and non-factual material on homosexuality. Most of these websites are promoting their own agendas or religious beliefs and present no real scientific information. Some still quote an outdated and inaccurate 1968 study that concluded that homosexuality was the result of a weak father and an over-indulgent mother. Of course, some people continue to believe that homosexuals make a choice to live a sinful lifestyle. That is their right. Discrimination against your daughter is not.
Third, since religion is a part of your daughter’s life, it is important for her to attend a church where she feels accepted. According to Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson in their textbook, “Sociology Now,” 30 percent of Christian denominations now welcome homosexual members. Your daughter would likely feel comfortable at an Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, the Lutheran Church (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church in America, and the American Baptists. Additionally, the United Methodists have a policy of accepting individual differences even though they officially do not condone a gay lifestyle. Your daughter should seek information about these churches since many with similar names do not accept homosexuality. Of course, there are people in every religion, especially those who have known homosexuals or have family members who are gay, who will be accepting of your daughter, and others who will summarily be intolerant of her.
If your family is feeling alienated or discriminated against by your local congregation, you should explore other churches or denominations. There are many gay Christians and their families who attend church regularly with no fear of discrimination or intolerance.
Q. I have a gay son in his 20’s. He told me once that he could be bisexual, and I could live with that if he would just marry a woman. Isn’t there a cure for homosexuality?
A. According to the American Psychological Association, there have been no scientific studies to date that conclude “reparative or conversion therapy” can change sexual orientation. Alan Chamber, the past president of Exodus, a group that attempted to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality for 37 years, apologized for the harm he has caused to gay people and shut the doors of Exodus. Although there are still psychotherapist and groups who are proponents of reparative therapy, various well-respected research studies conclude that these therapies reinforce stereotypes and contribute to the negative feelings of self-esteem of gay people.
You state that your son identified as bisexual. As a psychologist, I have treated people who claim to be bisexual, but most eventually choose to identify as either gay or straight. If they are more likely to have a homosexual orientation and marry someone of the opposite sex, they often regret it later in life. If they are more heterosexually predisposed, they usually establish male/female relationships. People who continue in a bisexual lifestyle are often unsatisfied because they generally cannot have a satisfying relationship or commitment with only one person.
Your son may have been struggling with his sexuality and identified as bisexual or he may have told you that to appease you. From your letter, it sounds as if he has made the decision to identify as gay.
I encourage you to accept him, to love him and to acknowledge his choice of partners. This may conflict with your belief system, but he has the right to choose his own path. Your disapproval will not change him, but it will drive him further away.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to Nancy Ryburn, SEARK, 1900 Hazel St., Pine Bluff, AR 71603. The questions could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all correspondence remains confidential.