Homophobic Behavior and its Effects on Children

an article by Liz Armstrong

Excerpted from "PALISADES PARENTS TOGETHER," July 6, 1996 Newsletter. Used by permission of the author.

Friends often ask me, What do you say when someone makes homophobic or derogatory remarks or gestures about homosexuals? I answer that, although I know that such destructive messages come from ignorance or fear--I have learned that calling people scared or ignorant is not usually a constructive response.

Iıve found I have much more success when I really listen to what people are saying, and then ask a pointed question to personalize the issue and to challenge their knowledge and beliefs. For example, when someone makes a statement against gays having the right to marry, I ask them why and how they think this could possibly hurt anyone. I ask whether they feel it is fair to tell any child that his or her dreams of romance and marriage to the person s/he loves is disgusting. Would they rather have the child put all such thoughts out of their minds and plan to live a loveless and passionless life?

Laura Siegel commented, that the last time she asked, "What would you do if your daughter admitted to being gay?" the respondent admitted that she would have a hard time loving her daughter unconditionally. She could tell, however, that her answer bothered even her, and would like to believe she went away thinking things over.

Often, zoning in with a personal question is more effective than reacting and fighting. A friend's "Oh God, I hope not" at the suggestion that his grandson may be gay changed when he couldnıt think of anything awful about it except that society would treat this nice kid badly. He realized that this young person would need and deserve his support, not his fears. Similarly, a mother who was afraid to have her children around their adored lesbian aunt needed to be asked what she was afraid of, and educated to the fact that homosexuality is not contagious or learned, but, rather, is simply natural for some children and not for others. She also needed to learn that child molesters are overwhelmingly heterosexual males --95% according to LAPD figures; 97% according to FBI figures.

When I hear an offensive joke or remark I might comment, Thatıs a very destructive message. This kind of attitude youıre articulating is so damaging to individuals and to families. Teenagers who feel they are alone or hated can become dropouts, runaways or suicides, and their tragedies can break up entire families. The family you save by stopping this gay bashing could be your own.

If your kids participate, even tacitly, in homophobic comments, itıs important that they understand from you that you are disappointed and that you expect better of them. Children need to know that their family considers bullies to be cowards, and that, conversely, you have great respect for those with the courage to support what is right. They can learn that, while we all do stupid and childish things at times, it is admirable to grow and to become a more mature and constructive member of society.

Often simply asking people to think about what they have just said or heard causes them to reevaluate the myths. We need to be aware that there are gays and lesbians all around us who are invisible as such. They are our friends, our family members and sometimes our own children, and they are being hurt by thoughtless remarks that we make or that we let others make without challenging them.

Because I have been associating with gays for more that 20 years I have had many occasions to say, Hey, that hurts. My gay son and his gay friends are not perverts or child molesters. They are decent and valuable members of our community. It has been my experience that most people simply have never thought much about the subject and soon recognize the mistake they make when judging without questioning the facts or source of their feelings.

If your kid engages in name calling. Why is s/he trying to hurt this person? Are they abusing the power of strength, size or numbers in order to intimidate & hurt? Why? Is s/he insensitive, ignorant, angry, feeling weak or hurting? What does the name they're using mean to them? Does the child need discipline, facts, sensitivity training, or support. It's usually not possible to know if a person is gay at a young age but if s/he is, so what? Bottom line is "You're not only being mean, you're not being very smart".

Parents need to consider their own feelings and attitudes. If you think that suggesting that a person is "homosexual" is an insult, your child will get the message that you think being homosexual is bad and you've added power to the name calling.. If parents or teachers are alarmed or repulsed by atypical gender behavior, children are taught to fear differences and to value conformity. They are less free to appreciate their own uniqueness or the uniqueness of others.

To a 10 year old victim of name calling, a wise mother said, "Some people love those of the opposite sex. Some love those of the same sex. There is nothing bad about that. Love is always good. What is bad is the way people hurt other people by name calling. It hurts to be called names, but there is nothing bad about you and nothing bad about being gay."

"Do you know what 'gay' means? If when you get older, you do think you might be gay, I want you to tell me first, because I can try to help you find someone you can trust to help you sort it out. And if after that you do decide that you really *are* gay, I have friends who can help you be happy and healthy and responsible about it, and I will help you find a church where people will love and support you and not try to change you or teach you all kinds of hurtful things."

Back to "My Child is GAY! Now What Do I Do?"

Copyright 1996, 1997 by Liz Armstrong. All Rights Reserved.