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Just Listen

This year, the LGBT community has broken new ground. In June, the Supreme Court officially legalized gay marriage nationwide, and just this month, the U.S. Justice Department voted in favor of a Virginia transgender teenager who was claiming discrimination for not being allowed to use the appropriate restroom for their identifiable sex. Another news story swept national headlines when the patriarch of a popular reality show officially came out as a woman. The public reaction to these decisions have not been entirely positive, which is rather telling when every recent amendment or decision is a brave and bold statements for the LGBT community. While others may not share the same tolerance, it would be a non-issue for my wife and I if our sons were to come out as homosexuals or transgender. The goal of this piece is not to reject differing ideals, but to briefly shed some light on just how far the LGBT community has come, and how much further they can go with their parents, peers and most importantly, the state, as advocates instead of enemies.

On March 26, 1973, a short while after marching with her son in New York’s Christopher Street Liberation Day March, Jeanne Manford held the first formal meeting for parents in support of their gay and lesbian children. The buzz surrounding these meetings would spread into other communities, and new groups would take form. In 1980, the representatives of these groups formed the largest organization of its kind: PFLAG, or Parents for Lesbians and Gays. As of 2015, there are over 350 individual chapters across the nation, where parents, family members and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can receive support and educational materials. Organizations such as PFLAG have the blazed the path for other groups that lend support for parents and the LGBT community, such as The Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention efforts for questioning young people between the ages of 13-24. According to the CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “LGBTQ youth are also at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7-12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.” In a small study involving 55 transgender youth, the CDC reported that 25% of them reported suicide attempts. Parents: If you have questions or concerns about your LGBT child, there is help and assistance out there for you. It’s been available for over 40 years. In seeking assistance, you can also become an advocate for your child.

Bullying has been a major issue in schools for quite some time. Parents send their children to school with the mindset that they are in safe hands - in any situation, including their sexual orientation. Because it threatens the physical and emotional safety of students, the results can greatly impact the individual being bullied. According to, preventing it at school is absolutely vital, and two of the recommended goals are for schools to “Create Policies and Rules” and “Build a Safe Environment.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of schools are not protecting LGBT students. According to frequent Huffington Post writer, Rebecca Klein, author of Few School Districts Have Anti-Bullying Policies Protecting LGBT Students, “nearly 30% of school districts have no official anti-bullying policy” in a survey of more than 13,000 school districts. Further, “of the 70 percent of school districts that do have anti-bullying policies, fewer than half explicitly outline protections for students who get bullied because of their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. Only about 14 percent of districts have protections based on gender identity or expression.” In a poll conducted in 2011, California school districts ranked near the bottom with only 0-10% having anti-bullying policies. This has to be improved upon. Parental reactions to their LGB teen, according to the CDC, “can have a tremendous impact on the adolescent's current and future mental and physical health.” While positive reactions will undoubtedly help the child deal with LGBTQ challenges, “stress and conflict at home can cause some youth to run away. As a result, LGB youth are at greater risk for homelessness than their heterosexual peers.” Moreover, “to be supportive, parents should talk openly with their teen about any problems or concerns and be watchful of behaviors that might indicate their child is a victim of bullying or violence - or that their child may be victimizing others. If bullying, violence, or depression is suspected, parent should take immediate action.” It's really all about supportive feedback and overall attitude by the parents. Hopefully, with time, this will improve considerably to reduce backlash.

When my twins were born, and we were asked to sign their birth certificates, it was an exciting and special moment. In the eyes of the state, my wife and I were officially their parents. The historical amendment to legalize gay marriage is a first step to washing away any barriers for same-sex couples, including those to have children. But, many states do not recognize same-sex couples on a child’s birth certificate, and there has understandably been a big push to change this. Many states include gender-specific language on their official documents, with spaces for one mother and one father - nothing for two moms or two dads. But, times are changing. In Utah, after a lesbian couple sued for not allowing both names on a birth certificate, a federal judge ordered the state to officially list their names on the birth certificate as the mothers of their new baby. In the states that have yet to make a similar ruling, or allows second-parent adoption, what happens when the couple splits up? The same couple where one of their names are missing from the birth certificate. According to Nolo - Law For All, in a topic titled Gay and Lesbian Adoption and Parenting, “when heterosexual parents separates and can’t agree on custody terms, courts will step in to resolve the troubles, but gay and lesbian couples don’t usually have these built-in protections. In fact, many courts say that a second parent has no rights regarding the child of a partner, even if the second parent has spent years helping with homework, patching up scrapes, and giving and receiving unconditional love. At worst, the second parent may be treated by the courts as a stranger.” Any variation of parental separation is tough for a child - amicable or otherwise. Personal experience will attest to this truth. If the “second” parent has no legal rights and is suddenly declared a “stranger” - not mom or dad as how you’ve always recognized them to be - where does that leave the child and the parent? Other states should enact this ruling because it removes any latter (and potentially painful) decisions regarding the welfare of the child and who their true parents are.

The senate recently rejected a federal prohibition against discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Senator Al Franken, who sponsored the amendment, said the following (as noted in an article in The Washington Post by Lyndsey Layton titled Senate votes down federal protections for K-12 LGBT students): “This amendment would simply provide LGBT kids with the same legal remedies available to other kids under our federal civil rights law.” The senate rules that 60 votes are required; 52 senators voted for the provision, and 45 opposed it. For many, this may sound like a defeat for the LGBT community. But, in my opinion, this is just a start. If it continues on such a magnified scale, as evidenced on the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, the transgender teenage in Virginia who will now be able to use the restroom they feel is most appropriate, the same-sex couple in Utah that officially scribed their name to their child’s birth certificate, and with advocates like Al Franken who are fighting for federal laws against bullying LGBT K-12 students, people will continue to listen and understand. If one or both of my sons were to come to me and tell me they were gay or transgender, I would listen and be supportive. I think it’s about time for everyone to do the same.

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand."

- Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A Changin' - 1964

*When the CDC is quoted, variations of LGBTQ are used to reflect relevant populations. Many studies consider lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, but do not include transgender and questioning youth.*

Human Right Campaign, America’s largest civil rights organization on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, is another fantastic resource for articles and information regarding the LGBT community.