Shortly after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a runoff election last month for the Alabama Senate seat, his son Carson Jones unexpectedly shared a bit of the spotlight too, when headlines about his sexuality started popping up everywhere.
Carson Jones, a 22-year-old zookeeper living in Denver, is gay. This should not be a big deal, but many people, including the man his father ran against in the Senate race, think homosexuality is a very big deal and should be illegal.
Just let that sink in for a minute. It’s 2018, and yet there are still individuals, congregations, and organizations of like-minded people who believe love and marriage between same-sex couples should be punishable.
But Doug Jones is not one of those people, and the news coverage surrounding the story was one of his wholehearted support of Carson’s sexuality. The news — which really shouldn’t be newsworthy, when you think about it — was that when Carson came out to his parents, his parents responded with just three words: “I love you.”
Without hesitation, Carson’s parents provided support and unconditional love. And while that’s certainly heartwarming to hear, I can’t help but think this should be the only response our kids here when they come out to us. Whether our children are gay or not, it should be made clear from an early age that homosexuality is not something to be ashamed of, a precursor for love loss, or a death sentence.
I know a little something about this myself.
From a very early age, I knew that I was gay. I didn’t have the language back then to describe what I was feeling, but I knew I was different from my family members and classmates. When I developed my first crush on another girl, I was giddy and lovesick. I was also terrified and determined never to let anyone know about my secret. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be gay, but the people in my life made it known that homosexuality was gross, sinful, and wrong.
Instead of growing up with self-confidence, I grew up with self-loathing. Instead of a feeling of security, I had a fear of rejection. Instead of a healthy understanding of sexuality and an inclusive course in sexual education, I had confusion and a high risk for self-harm, depression, and suicide.
That was 30 years ago. Unfortunately, LGBTQ youth and teens are still much more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol, drug use, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies, than their heterosexual peers. Being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender isn’t the problem; bullying, discrimination, and lack of acceptance and support are what cause queer individuals to think the only solution is death. A recent study published by JAMA showed that 40 percent of LGBQ teens seriously contemplated suicide.
Even though his parents had always been supportive of the gay community, Carson Jones admits that he waited so long to come out because of the conservative town he grew up in. Being out isn’t easy if you’re the only one openly holding a rainbow flag. But seeing many rainbow flags on the day the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 gave Carson the courage he needed to finally tell his parents his truth. And they responded appropriately.
But kids and adults shouldn’t need to have courage to tell their truth — especially to their parents. It can be hard to be ourselves in a sometimes cruel and ugly world, but the courage to stand up should be fostered at home. Bravery should be reserved for leaving home or never returning.
Creating a place of refuge and unwavering love and acceptance isn’t hard. When talking about the concepts of love, include gay couples and parents. Explain what it means to be transgender. Define homosexuality and bisexuality with the same matter of fact attitude as you would explain heterosexuality. Tell your kids it’s not only possible, but okay to fall in love with someone of the same gender.
If and when our kids tell us they are gay, bisexual, or questioning, our response should be an immediate, “I love you. How can I support you?”
But in order for our kids to come out to us, we need to create an environment that normalizes and accepts love in all of its combinations.
When it comes to their sexuality, LGBTQ kids should not come to parents with bated breath or a suicide note. They should be as free and safe as straight kids to experience the flutters of first love. And parents should be live-in allies for their kids and their kids’ friends. Even if your child isn’t gay, they will have a gay friend and that gay friend will need an ally.
Tell your kids that you love them no matter how their heart falls in love.
Raising healthy and happy kids means raising happy and healthy gay kids, too.