Lately I have become newly aware of how many parents, particularly (but not exclusively) Christian ones, are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that one of their children happens to be gay. I used to be one of those parents, but am no longer; instead I find myself in the very odd and ironic position of being jealous of them.
I have come to the conclusion that it is a luxury to have things to complain about. It is a gift to have something to give away or to even reject. If you chat with someone who has been unemployed for months, you won’t find them complaining about the bad dental benefits at their last employer.
When I talk with parents who have recently buried their infant daughter, I never hear them complain about sleepless nights up with their crying toddler. A friend of ours who spent years living on the streets of Seattle knows that he is more than fortunate to have found affordable housing. He wouldn’t dream of noticing the features in his apartment that aren’t exactly to his liking. It seems to me that it is those of us who have much who also have the extravagance of trivial grievances.
I think parents with gay kids are richly blessed. They have the luxury of being able to choose whether or not to love their gay child, because they have a gay child. But for those of us whose gay children have died, most frequently from the scourge of AIDS, the horrors of addiction or the tragedy of suicide, we no longer have that luxury.
When we hear of parents who have told their lesbian daughter that she is no longer welcome to come for Thanksgiving, of the transgender son whose mother refuses to acknowledge him as part of the family or the gay teen whose parents repeatedly remind him that he is headed for hell, we experience a plethora of acute emotions: shock, astonishment, envy, confusion and anger. Sometimes, even rage.
I have to be honest and say that if I had come across these words – my words – six or seven years ago, I would probably have felt defensive and upset. I might have stopped reading. But it would have been to my peril. Back then, I needed someone with perspective and wisdom to say the hard but true things. I needed someone who had compassion for my fear and grief to help me figure out why I was so scared, sad and deeply bothered by the thought of our son having a boyfriend.
Sadly, I let my fear keep me from understanding, cherishing and embracing my son. Instead of protecting Ryan, as I intended, my fear and reluctance backfired, causing a far greater danger and crisis than any I had ever imagined. This is not just our story; I have heard from hundreds of men and women whose experiences of rejection and alienation from family members have sparked downward spirals of depression, addiction and despair.
I wish someone would have told me what I did not know: that having a living, breathing gay child who challenged me, caused me to be uncomfortable and uneasy and whose desires caused me to lose sleep at night because of fear and worry was vastly, immeasurably, infinitely better than having a gay child who is dead.
No more challenges. No more discomfort. No more worries. At least not the kind we used to have. Instead, all of those relatively insignificant emotions were replaced by overwhelming sorrow, paralyzing grief and crushing regrets.
While your child (whether 14 or 49) is still alive, please treasure the fact that you have the luxury of having an LGBTQ child to enjoy, to love and to learn from. Please don’t take that gift for granted. It is a privilege far too many of us will never have again.
While your child is still alive, join a support group for parents of LGBTQ kids. Read books written by gay “children.” Make friends with people who are gay and ask them lots of questions. Let them teach you.
While your child is still alive, take advantage of every single chance you get to tell him that you love him just the way he is.
While your child is still alive, call her and invite her over for dinner and ask her to please bring her girlfriend.
While your child is still alive, ask them if you’ve done anything that has been hurtful, so that you have the chance to say, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”
While your child is still alive, reassure her that God adores her, and wants a relationship with her. God doesn’t only love straight and cisgender* people. He loves every one of His children, all of whom are fearfully and wonderfully made.
While your child is still alive, don’t worry about what your friends will think. Twenty years from now, your friends’ opinions won’t keep you up at night. But your remorse about not loving your child while you still had the chance will. Trust me on this.
While your child is still alive, pray and ask God to show you how to be a reflection of His love for him or her, so that your child can see God’s love shining through everything you say and do.
While your child is still alive, don’t miss an opportunity – not even one – to get to know each of the people your child loves, her world, her passions and her dreams. Adore your child, just like you did when he was small. Take lots of pictures. Make more memories than your heart can hold. Soak up every single moment you get with her.
While your child is still alive, make sure that they aren’t living in shame because of who they are. Shame causes us to keep secrets, to hide and run from God and others. God calls us with kindness. God delights in us. God is not ashamed to call any of his children His own. He loves us unconditionally because He is God, and God is love.
While your child is still alive, please do all these things and more. We who visit the gravestones of our gay children would give everything that we have to do just one of them.
Once you have lost a child, you get to know lots of other parents who have lost children. Many of our friends had a healthy, thriving child one minute, and the next minute, they were gone. In an instant, without warning or a chance to say goodbye. We never know how long we will have our children; today could be your last chance to love your child while he or she is still alive.
I have heard a lot of Christian parents say, “I love my kid, but I don’t have to like what he is doing. Don’t expect me to go marching in any of those darn Pride parades.” I get that; there were many years when that would have been far too difficult for me, in spite of my fierce love for my son. But don’t give up trying to get to know your child, learning to love him/her fully, and allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable for the sake of communicating unconditional love.
Learning to love is a task for a lifetime. We get to spend our whole lives learning to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and learning to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is so much more still to know about His love for all of us. I don’t ever want to stop discovering the depths of it; He has given me so many good gifts as He keeps teaching me how to love as He first loved me. I am so thankful He doesn’t give up on me, even when I am so slow to grasp His lessons.
I am regularly reminded, as I read my Bible, that when Jesus walked the earth, He was continually doing stuff that made the religious people say he was a heretic and a blasphemer. He was continually hanging out and loving the people that the religious people condemned. He was continually causing scandals.
So what would Jesus do? Jesus would make those religious people mad, by heading right down to the part of town where all the gay people live and causing an enormous scandal by marching in their parade, sharing a meal with them and making sure that they knew that they were loved.
So while your child is still alive, reconsider marching with them in that parade. It might just save their life – and yours, too.
* A cisgender person is someone who identifies as they gender/sex they were assigned at birth. For example, your birth certificate says female, and you identify as a female woman.