Encouraging Parents to be Allies


Encouraging Parents to be Allies

by Lana Halperin

I’m an adult lesbian woman. I’ve come out to my parents, and while they were initially unhappy, they’ve slowly come around. It’s not that I don’t appreciate how far they’ve come, but, several years on, they’re still not good allies and it hurts. They don’t know anything about gay issues, and they vote for politicians who actively oppose my rights. I told my dad yesterday I was going to Pride, and he had no idea what “Pride” even was. How can I encourage them to become more informed? Thanks!
— Anonymous

Lana Says:

Easy! Buy a copy of This Is A Book For Parents Of Gay Kids, leave it on your dad’s pillow and call it day.

…Well, if only it could be that easy. But it definitely fits into what I’m about to say.

From what I understand, your parents have made it through the unhappy stage (which is awesome), but you feel like they’re lingering in the tolerance phase, when you’d like them to get to the actual acceptance stage of being the well-informed “good allies” you’ve always dreamed of. You’d like them to get there ASAP, now, yesterday.

To paraphrase the wise words of Anna Kendrick as a therapist-in-training in the movie 50/50: “You can’t change who your parents are; the only thing you can change is how you choose to deal with them.” 

As their lens into the LGBTQIA world, there are definitely things you can do to encourage your folks to be more informed. Engage them in conversations, ask them questions, actively listen to their answers, and be honest and open in your responses. Give your parents every opportunity to become familiar with and understand your life and the issues that are important to you. For example, you probably can’t expect your dad to have Googled the history of Pride, but you can seize the opportunity to explain what Pride means to you and why you’re going. Hearing your perspective will be more convincing and relevant to him than anything he’ll read on Wikipedia.

Even with your help, it might just take patience and time. Think about how long it takes someone to come to terms with their own sexuality. There’s no standard timeline: for some people, it’s nearly instant, while some struggle over many years or decades and others go their entire lives without ever coming to terms with it. Parents and loved ones go through a similar process. The process might be delayed by various factor— whether it’s their upbringing, religion or just a general unawareness of queer issues. Until you came out to them, they might have had no reason to deeply consider these issues, let alone reconcile all of that information in the context of having a gay child. They might just need some more time to catch up with all the progress you’ve made.

On the other hand, your parents may never completely catch up with you. They may never be “good allies” in the way you hope, or even expect them to be. These expectations may be above and beyond what they are capable of or willing to do and, if so, no amount of encouragement or effort on your part would change that. You might need to accept your parents’ limitations and come to terms with the possibility that they will only ever be allies in their own way and that trying to change that may only cause you frustration, disappointment, and pain and damage your relationship with them.

That doesn’t mean you should stop trying to bridge the gaps, though; it’s just about accepting that how they respond to your efforts is out of your control. You can’t single-handedly change your family without them being ready for it. If this is as close to allies as they are willing to be, just stay focused on those aspects of your life that are in your control and devote your energy to things that make you feel fulfilled and happy. Take care of yourself, surround yourself with friends and loved ones who make you feel supported, and be in the best possible head space to engage with your parents on these issues further when and if they’re ready.

Lana Halperin is a 25 year old law graduate from Perth in Western Australia, currently living and working in Canberra (Australia's largely forgotten, under-appreciated capital city). She recently helped establish a social network for LGBTQ young professionals in Canberra and will gladly talk for hours about musical theatre, reality television, ladies of comedy and/or her fondness for bicycles and trampolines.